“Come, Penny! Come an’ sit here with Mommy.” Her gentle voice reached out across the waiting room to the little girl pushing the magazines around on the table. Some patients looked at the little girl playing with the magazines, whilst others briefly glanced at the petite mother before continuing to browse through their magazines.

The baldheaded old man who sat opposite the mother, frowned, glared at her and grunted, “Penny! Umph! What a name to burden the child with!”

All eyes were immediately focused on the grumpy old man. He surely got everybody’s attention. The mother looked rather bewildered and sheepishly responded with a soft, “What do you mean?”

The old man went into a coughing fit—a serious congested cough. Some patients put hankies in front of their mouths and noses—swine flu being the buzz word. Settling down after the coughing episode, the old man started his tirade, “Do you know what a penny’s worth? It’s absolutely worthless! Worthless, I tell you!

“In my day a penny had value, but today—it’s worthless, worthless. Do you know what the recession has done to my savings? The stock market has crashed and every penny I’ve saved over a lifetime has become worthless—worthless, I tell you. And inflation! Do you realize what inflation has done to my pension? Every time I go into a supermarket I get less stuff in my trolley for my weekly allowance. My money has become worthless! And then you name this little child, Penny! Do you realize that every time you call her, you’re calling her ‘Worthless!’ Shame on you!”

There was a stunned silence in the waiting room. All who had to cough suppressed it. All who had to sneeze kept it in. The atmosphere seemed more like that of a funeral parlor than a doctor’s waiting room. The silence was broken as the old man went into another coughing fit.

The petite mother was taken aback and her complexion swayed between shocked pale and embarrassed pink. Tears started to role from her eyes as she softly muttered, “Penny is short for Penelope.”

The old man discharged the second barrel of his double gauge barrage, “Penny—short for Penelope! Umph! Why didn’t you rather use ‘Elope’ as a short name. Then she would’ve been able to run away from this mess we’re all in, instead of being worthless in the middle of it!

“Woman, don’t you know the importance of a name? If your name’s ‘Stupid’ and everybody calls you by your name, you start responding to ‘Stupid’ and eventually you not only believe you’re ‘Stupid,’ but you actually start behaving ‘Stupid.’ And then finally, you simply are ‘Stupid!’ Do you understand what I’m saying? What’s your name, anyway? No, rather don’t tell me. By you calling your child ‘Worthless’ I can easily guess your name, personality and character.”

The receptionist interrupted the spectacle, and said, “Mr. Spike Thorne? The doctor is ready to see you now. You may go through.”


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© Emil Kirstein

(Author of Quest for Freedom)