Oom Jakkals does not resemble a jackal in any respect. How he got his nickname no one knows. He is not alert as jackals are, or light on his feet as they are, or as well adapted to his environment as every jackal is.

His environment happens to be a pharmacy. Oom Jakkals is slow, so slow that customers try to avoid him. The kinder ones do it while pretending not to. The favourite method for this manoeuvre is to pretend that you are studying products on the shelves when he is not busy with a customer. Then the moment one of the other chemists is free you jump at him or her and hand in your prescription, allowing someone who is not yet initiated into the ways of the place to be the sucker who is served by Oom Jakkals.

For obvious reasons, I try to get Miriam to buy what we need from them, while I wait in the car. On more than one occasion when I did that and she could not avoid being served by Oom Jakkals I eventually went into the shop to see what had happened to her. Each time she was alone with the oom while Ntombi and Gertjie, the owner, handled one customer after the other in quick time.

He must be over eighty and his short term memory is in big trouble. Once when I managed to avoid him, I was served by Ntombi instead. She took my payment, but looked puzzled at my entry on the computer. “Cash or account?” she asked.

“Cash,” I said. “I always pay cash. I don’t have an account.”

“You do,” she said. “In fact, you have five accounts.”

“I’ve paid cash every time I’ve bought anything here,” I said.

“I can see that,” she said. “So why did you open five accounts?”

“I haven’t opened any,” I said.

She bit her lower lip, looking very thoughtful. “I see,” she said, glancing at Oom Jakkals. “Shall I close them?”

“Please do,” I said.

“On the other hand,” she said. “We don’t charge people for having unused accounts.”

“I’m glad of that,” I said. “Nevertheless, please close them.”

Once while Gertjie was serving me, I asked why he kept Oom Jakkals on the staff.

“Because he’s old and has no other income, and because kind people like yourself don’t mind waiting a few seconds longer.”

Thanks awfully, Gertjie, I thought, but that chicken-shit psychology does not work with me. At least, that is what I tell myself. We still go back there and still occasionally get suckered into being serves by Oom Jakkals. But what the hell, we’re kind people. Gertjie says so.

Oom Jakkals