He was not an optician like all the others. There was a funny atmosphere hanging about in his out-dated shop that you could perceive the moment you crossed the threshold. Maybe it was the shape of the premises, long and narrow, maybe it was how crowded it could get on a Saturday afternoon. A row of people on one side of the counter attended the always numerous customers crowding along the opposite side. His prices were unbeatable.
It was a family business. The optician was unique, with usually two or three pairs of glasses on his nose – he who, of all people, sold glasses. Besides the optician, there were his wife, a sister and a brother-in-law, who didn’t use to work, but sat on a chair watching the village life pass by outside the shop window.
Apart from the set-up of the place, the peculiar way that these people dealt with their custom was bound to take the newcomers aback. Immediately you stepped into the shop you were attended by someone who, as in all shops, greeted you and asked if they could help you. You were then showed, say, a tray with frames and you started choosing. But all of a sudden you were left alone because another customer had entered the shop, and without much ado they were gone to attend him regardless of how long other people had been waiting for their turn.
You were left wondering how long that would take – probably long – when out of the blue another member of the family, maybe the wife, would come to ask if they could do anything for you. So you had to start from scratch explaining what you were after, until she too would disappear leaving you in the lurch, because the optician had summoned her to fetch something from the back shop, or she had rushed to attend the last arrived customer who, according to the strange rules of the place, had priority on all the others already waiting. The quickness with which you were attended when you first arrived was indeed a double-edged knife.
And so the sister might come to greet you as if you’d just arrived, and enquired what you were looking for. You might well have been there for half an hour, hold a pair of glasses in your hand, and have another already sitting on your nose, but it didn’t matter: you had to start from scratch again.
If the mess was not enough to enliven the situation, you could be lucky to witness a squabble between the sister and the brother, where the latter usually shut up the other’s mouth with some blunt remark and she took it in disgruntled.
You could consider yourself lucky if you managed to make up your mind in this mess of a shop. But if you did succeed, the optician would come, scrutinise you and make some remark on your choice. If you had reached a small degree of certainty, his comments would certainly knock it down. “Are we really sure? This frame looks good, but the other was much nicer on you face!”.
Once a friend went to buy a new pair of glasses and in the general confusion she settled on one pair that – as it turned out when they were eventually delivered – was exactly like the glasses she already had, but in a different colour! If you know the place you couldn’t really blame her.
Finally, when you picked up your glasses you usually had to wait for the invoice which took an excruciating long time to get by, because the optician went to the back of the shop and typed it on a writing-machine that gave out the sound of one-finger typing. Lastly, the farewell was accompanied by the wish “Break them soon!”
What drew so many customers to this optician’s? Most certainly the good prices, but maybe also the entertainment, although not all were of this mind. Once I saw a man leave slamming the door and complaining at being kept waiting in that chaotic situation. The optician looked up at some customer and phlegmatically wondered what might be the matter, why all the hurry? But if I had time on my hands, I took it sportingly and had a good laugh.
The shop was taken over by a niece and her husband who run it with a different style. But I recently went to chose a new frame and after some days I received a call in which the man said he had a doubt about the item he had received. From his description it seemed a completely different frame, so I went to recognise it and found it had nothing to do with my choice. Maybe not all has changed at that shop!