I am browsing bags of dried beans , when a man stumbles into the doorway of a East London health food store clutching his crotch.
The door is wide open to the spitting English wind.
Moments earlier, I had tromped across the threshold into the narrow, cluttered shop, in search of cheap bulk goods. The only people in the place were the old man and I. We exchanged a tacit greeting. I turned my nose to the shelves, he turned his to an invoice, and we sniffled companionably about our business.
“You know if cherry juice is good for…for…this?!” The man claps a hand to his corduroys with dire implication.
The owner pushes his spectacles up his nose and answers, “Yeh, cherry juice, cherry juice is good fer it but only a particular kind of cherry juice-”
I assume the old man behind the counter owns the shop. White hair is spackled to his pink scalp. He wears the classic Old English Man getup of pilled-wool sweater, yellowed collar, and self-contained irritation. The attention he gives his tea mug and his invoice is equal. I deduce that the hand-labeled bags of rice, quinoa, and wheat germ are the work of his green pen.
“For-for what I got?” The man props himself in the doorframe with his free hand.
The owner sighs, “I sed, only a particular kind of cherry juice-”
“Do you have it?”
“No, not that kind,” the owner explains patiently from behind the counter, “But I can order-”
The man moans, “Is killin me! They say it’s gout but- auhh!- right where me leg meets me, me crotch!”
“Gout,” The owner considers.
The man is whining, “D’you think me hip is gone, tote-ally gone? Is there somethin-”
“D’you drink the carbona’ed beverages?”
“It’s gout they say-”
“Hey- I listen ta you,” The owner presses his hands to his chest, “You listen ta me-” he stretches his hands towards the dude with the afflicted crotch.
“I know you listen ta me, I know, it’s why I come to-” The man blathers.
“I listen to you, you listen to me,” the owner wets his lips, “Listen: Do you drink the carbona’ed beverages?”
“Yeh, yeh, coke, pepsi.”
“Stay. Away. From the carbona’ed beverages. Don’t drink ’em. Coke, pepsi, ginger beer, fizzy water- none of ’em.”
The man dips his head shamefully,”I’m gonna fill my fridge right. Throw way all the ol’, fill it up right wif healthy thing-”
“No, no, now, yer not listening. I didn’t say throw all out, get all new, hey-I listen to you, you listen to me. I said, do not drink carbonated beverages. You know why?”
The man sniffles,”Why?”
“The carbona’ed beverages steal the calcium outta your bones. Right from your bones. The carbonation will steal the calcium right outta yer thumbs.”
“I’m gonna change my food and all-”
“I listen to you. You listen to me.”
“No more carbona’ed beverages,” the man concedes.
The owner goes on, “You know what else you gotta do?”
“Deadly deadly nightshade,” the owner intones solemnly. He raises a finger, “The nightshade family is deadly to ya.”
“All the vegetables in the nightshade family. Avoid ’em. No tomatoes. No aubergines. No potatoes-”
If possible, the man looks more stricken. He staggers back a step, “No potatoes?!”
“No. Potatoes. None,” The owner expounds, “The nightshades, they’re not the cause of the gout, but they’re makin it worse. You hear me now. Don’t eat the nightshade family. It’s deadly to ya.”
“Righ’, righ’, all righ’,” The man shifts and plucks, “Gon’ fill my fridge up wif all new stuff, get healthy-”
“Now I didn’t say that. I said no nightshade. Deadly, deadly. And stay away from the carbona’ed beverages!”
The man shambles off of the doorframe, “Righ’, righ’, thanks a, thanks a, you listen to me, I dunno what the doctors are doing for me and-”
The owner’s voice warms one degree Celcius as he repeats again, “You listen to me, I listen to you. All right, now.”
The man limps back into the rainy street. The owner of the health food shop turns smoothly back to his binder full of papers. I pick my way carefully through the maze of a half-unpacked arborrio rice shipment on the floor. I quietly collect groceries until I am too tempted, and I toss a question towards the counter:
“Do you have any nutritional yeast?”
“Nutritional yeast,” The owner repeats.
“Yeah, I like to stir fry it with tofu.”
The owner points to its spot on the shelf, and when I present the canister to pay, he shoots a probing look through his glasses.
“Good for you,” He nods, “That kind has added B12.”
I say, “Okay. Cool.”
I wait for him to continue, and he seems on the verge. He is studying me as he types on a manual cash register, noting the distinctive caw of my American accent, the backpack I brought to carry my purchases in, the misshapen purple bowler perched on my head. I don’t have any other questions, and he doesn’t have anything else to say. However, as I thank him and leave, he seems to be taking note. As if preparing to remember me.
I launch out of the door wondering whether the hell carbonation robs the calcium right outta yer thumbs, already looking forward to the next trip to the health food store.