‘If life is a race, I feel that I’m not even at the starting line,’ I said to the doctor in French. (I’d composed, polished and rehearsed the sentence in the waiting room beforehand.) She was a sexy piece in her early fifties with a husky voice. She listened to my halting effort to describe my depression with a smile playing lightly over her scarlet lips as though I were relating an amusing anecdote with a witty punchline lurking just around the corner. I further explained in French that I had been properly but briefly depressed once before, about 15 years ago. Here my tenses let me down badly, and from this point in the interview, until the confusion accidentally came to light near its end, she understood me as having been frozen in a catatonic stupor for the past 15 years. By that time she had already written out in triplicate my prescription for three months’ worth of Rirex or Amusant or whatever drug it was that she had plucked from her pharmaceutical arsenal, and I’d handed over €25, and she’d rummaged through her purse for the €4 change.
Not that I’m willing to put my trust wholly in antidepressants. Surely heart and soul remain aloof to changes wrought elsewhere by manufactured chemicals, no matter how well-designed and beautifully packaged they are. What I really needed was a damn good haircut. From the pharmacy I went straight to a busy four-chair barbershop. It was a Saturday morning and the place was crowded exclusively with North African males aged from eight to 80, many of them shouting at each other in Arabic. The appearance in their midst of a shuffling, elderly European with a head like a chrysanthemum and food stains on his 25-year-old fleece surprised everybody.