"Ready to go for your covid jab?" asked Robin.
"Indeed I am," I said.
Robin drove me to the vaccination station, just in case I had an adverse reaction to the injection. We didnt think that was likely when Robin had her jab all she got was a slightly sore arm and a bit of a spacey feeling for a couple of days. But you never know how these things will turn out and so we decided to err on the side of caution.
Theyve been doing covid jabs for quite some time now and the system is well rehearsed, very streamlined and very efficient. As soon as we walked through the door the receptionist asked, "First jab or second one?"
"First," I said.
"Fill in this form," he said, handing me one. "And read this leaflet," he handed me one of those as well.
"Do you want me to do both of those things simultaneously?" I asked, anxious not to break the system.
"Yes," he said, and grinned.
The form was very simple. It just wanted my name, address and phone number. I filled it in and checked what Id written with my right eye while, at the same time, I read the leaflet with my left eye. The leaflet explained why the vaccination was necessary in English, Maori, several Pasifika languages, Cantonese and Sign. It contained no new information in any of its languages.
"Take your form over to the desk," said the receptionist, pointing to the desk in case Id never seen one before, "and give it to one of the people there. Theyll check you into the database and assign you a queue number. When your number is called, go into the main hall for your injection."
I thanked him and took my form over to the desk. One of the people there took it from me and tapped away on a keyboard for a minute or so."Thank you," he said. "Your queue number is 180." He scribbled the number in the top left hand corner of my form and handed it back to me. "Take a seat over there," he gestured at several rows of chairs where a small crowd of people were waiting patiently. "When your number is called, go into the main hall over there."
"Thank you," I said and I went at sat by Robin who had already gone over to the chairs and claimed a couple of them.
As I sat down, the lady standing by the entrance to the main hall called out, "159!" in a voice that completely filled the waiting room. She was clearly ideally suited to her job. A man, presumably the person whose number was 159, stood up and walked over to the number caller who looked at his form and then let him through into the hall.
"Whats your number?" asked Robin.
"180," I said, showing her my form. Since we were only up to 159, there would clearly be a reasonable wait before my number would be called.
Robin frowned as she examined my form. "Are you sure its 180?" she asked. "It looks more like 186 to me."
I looked at the form. She was right. The zero at the end of my number curled round and twisted in on itself leaving a tail at the top which made it look very much like a six. Or possibly it was meant to be a mutated omega-variant covid virus with only one super-sharp and super-deadly spike. I took the form back to the person who had issued the number to me. "Is that 180," I asked, "or is it 186?"
He checked the form against the information on his screen. "Definitely 180," he said. "Sorry about that. Im not very good with zeros. Theyre far too circular for comfort. Im always frightened that they will roll away and fall off the edge of the paper." He scribbled over the imitation 6 until it more closely resembled a zero. "There you are," he said and I went back to my seat.
"161!" called the numbers lady. "162 and 163!"
"Thats strange," I said to Robin, "I dont recall hearing her call out 160. Did you hear it?"
"I wasnt listening," said Robin. "I was reading my book."
"Perhaps she called it while I was re-checking my own number," I said. "That would explain why I missed it."
For the next few minutes she called out numbers at random intervals and people scuttled past her into the main hall, looking anxious. I listened closely, and finally she called out, "171!". My suspicions were confirmed. She definitely hadnt called for 170. I began to worry that I might not get jabbed at all if she continued the trend and missed out 180. Perhaps Id have to sit there for ever, endlessly waiting for my number to be called until I slowly disintegrated into dust and got vacuumed up and thrown away by the cleaners. I listened nervously for a few minutes as the numbers slowly mounted up and then I heard, "181!".
I took my form over to the number caller. "Im number 180," I said, showing her my form. "You just called 181 but you didnt call for 180. What should I do?"
She looked at me, bewildered. Clearly multiples of ten were not part of her numerical vocabulary. "I dont know," she said. She shrugged helplessly. "Youd better just go in," she said. "Jennifer will look after you."
I went in to the main hall and a nurse with a name tag that had Jennifer printed on it collected me. "Just come with me," she said. She took me into a small booth and sat me down on a chair. "Now I just have to ask you a few questions to confirm that its OK to go ahead," she said. "First of all, are you willing to have the covid-19 vaccination?"
"Yes, of course I am," I said, slightly puzzled. "Thats why Ive come here after all. Are you seriously telling me that people actually show up, then have second thoughts, and refuse the jab?"
"It happens," she said. "Not very often, but it does happen. So thats why we have to check." She made a note. "Now," she asked, "do you have any allergies?"
"Im allergic to nuts," I said, "and Im quite intolerant to eggs."
She made another note. "Thats fine," she said. "Neither of those will have any effect on this injection. Are you taking any blood-thinner drugs?"
"No," I said. I looked around the little cubicle. There was a large sheet of paper pinned to the wall and the questions she was asking me were all listed on it. Presumably it was there to act as an aide mémoire. She went through the questions on the list one by one and when I had answered them to her satisfaction she asked me to roll up my sleeve. "You missed one of the questions out," I said, pointing to the list. "You didnt ask me if I was pregnant."
She smiled. "No," she said. "In my experience, men are seldom, if ever, pregnant"
"How do you know Im a man?" I asked
"I can tell by the size of your enormous..." she paused for a heartbeat, "Adams Apple." We both had a little chuckle. "Learning about the differences between men and women is one of the very first things we study at nursing school," she said. "Ive had lots of practice at it over the years, and Ive really got quite good at identifying men. I hardly ever get it wrong. Also your beard is a dead give away."
"Thats amazing," I said. "I had no idea such skills existed. You learn something new every day."
"Yes, you do," she said. "Then you die and forget everything youve learned. Bit of a bummer really, eh?"
I nodded agreement and rolled up my sleeve for her. "There," she said. "All done."
"Are you sure?" I asked. "I didnt feel a thing."
"Quite sure," she said. She filled in the vaccination details on a little card and gave it to me. "Hand this in to the lady at the desk," she said, "and then go and sit in the waiting area for twenty minutes or so just to make sure that you dont have an allergic reaction to the injection. The lady will come and collect you when your time is up and then you can go home."
I did as I was told and went to sit with Robin who had already gone to the waiting area. "How was it?" she asked me.
"Excellent," I said. "The 5G reception is just brilliant. Ive already had a welcome text from Bill Gates himself. Actually, Ive had 83 welcome texts from Bill Gates. I think the chip they injected into me might have a bug in it."
"No it hasnt," said Robin. "Its just a typical Microsoft product. They never quite perform exactly to the specification."
After about twenty minutes I heard my name being called. "Thats me," I said.
The lady Id given my card to handed it back to me. "Are you feeling OK?" she asked.
"Never better," I reassured her.
"Thats good," she said. "Well see you back here in a few weeks for your second jab. Dont forget to bring this vaccination card with you."
I put the card away in my wallet. Robin and I walked out to the car and she drove me home. By the time we arrived, the body magnetism was starting to kick in and I noticed that the kitchen knives were quivering in the knife block when I walked past them. "I hope the magnetism doesnt get any stronger," I said. "Those knives are sharp! If they fly out of the block under the influence of my amplified magnetic personality I could get seriously injured."
"Dont worry," said Robin. "It doesnt get strong enough to do that. The worst youll have to put up with is paper clips. You simply cant get rid of them. They fly in from absolutely everywhere and you wouldnt believe the orifices they work their way into. Ive never itched so much in my life."
"Ill look forward to that," I said. "Perhaps I can pretend that Im wearing chain mail."
Over the next few days I developed a slightly sore arm. And as Robin had predicted, I soon managed to build up an enormous paper clip collection, which was very satisfying. As an added bonus, I also developed an uncanny ability to use my body magnetism to distort the pictures on television screens and computer monitors. My dog and cat both became autistic, of course, but that was only to be expected. On balance, Im very satisfied with how everything has turned out.