Universal Language

The pharmacy was taking a long time to fill my prescription. Clearly, I was not the only person in this dilemma, as the rather sad little waiting area was full of people flipping through magazines or staring at the L’Oreal hair color displays while waiting for their medications.

The old man in the chair next to me smiled politely and, in halting English, offered to move his canes which were propped against another chair, so that I could sit down. I politely declined.

His name was called right before mine. Slowly and haltingly, he stood up, took one cane in either hand, and made his way the few feet to the pharmacy window. He was short. Shorter than me. Which meant that he was maybe five-foot even. And I noticed that his left shoe had a substantial ‘riser,’ indicated that one leg was much shorter than the other.

His English was rather minimal and the pharmacist was having difficulty explaining the directions to him. Another man who spoke Spanish translated, and the older man shook his hand in gratitude for helping.

As he passed me waiting in line, he stopped, smiled at me again, pointed at my legs and asked me a question in Spanish. I was pretty certain he was inquiring about my skin condition, and also that – based on his tone – he was being sympathetic and polite.

Not knowing what else to do, I smiled and said, “No habla espanol.”

He again made a sympathetic-sounding statement in Spanish, waved and then slowly made his way down Baby Lane, past the diapers and bottles.

I’m not sure if he was expressing concern, or perhaps trying to say that he knows what it is like for people to stare or ask rude questions, or merely wishing me luck.

And really, I’m not sure it matters. We both understood was was said, even though our languages were not the same.

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