"You are going to need some antibiotics for this."
It is Saturday at a quarter past eleven. I standing in Room 18 of my local walk-in clinic in Peckham with my trousers around my ankles. The doctor, who didn't give his name, is a slim Asian man who appears to be in his early forties. He is squeezing and poking my right testicle with both gloved hands. I am holding my cock up and to the left in what I hope is a modest and appropriate manner. I am wincing. I am in considerable pain.
Earlier in the week my testicle grew to three times its size, becoming hard, red and angry. Elsa tells me it looks like a yam. She's right. It feels like someone is continuously jabbing at my scrotum. With my balls in this condition, a number of things become difficult: getting out of bed, walking more than a few feet. I have a fever, and I cannot face the walk to the clinic until the weekend, by which time, my fever has come down, but my testicle has grown larger, if anything.
I arrive at the clinic shortly after half-past nine. A form asks me who I am, and what is wrong with me. I write my name and 'SWOLEN TESTICLE'. Then I worry about the correct number of 'Ls' in 'swollen'. I decide it doesn't matter. It asks me my ethnicity. So many different shades of 'white' to choose from. I tick the first option: 'White - British'. It asks me to accept or decline a test for HIV/AIDS. I decline.
I take a seat in the waiting room, which is already quite full. The patients are mostly parents with young children and the elderly. Of the men closest to my own age, two turn out to be Italians - probably guests at the lodge across the street which is popular with Italian tourists. The other man is gay, a fact which I can deduce from the long necklace he wears which suspends a symbol for Mars somewhere in the vicinity of his navel. From his glassy eyes which are continually scanning the waiting room - particularly when two policemen show up later - and the peculiar smell that accompanies him, I conclude that his problems are more severe than my own. Of the other men within twenty years of my age, all are accompanying or are accompanied by children. None of them have checked 'White - British'.
Elsa joins me a few minutes later. It is now almost ten o'clock. Elsa goes outside periodically to call real estate agents about flats. In between, we comment on the other patients in my extremely limited Chinese. A couple and their four beautiful children sit down in front of us and begin talking in a heavily accented French that I find difficult to understand. I run them through my probability matrix and decide they must be from Ivory Coast.
"How many people in their family?" I ask Elsa in a stock phrase from Chinese In Steps: Volume 2. She laughs at my question. How is it possible for anyone afford four children in London? Do all the children share a room? How does it compare with Ivory Coast? Elsa asks in return "How many people in our family?"
At a quarter to eleven, Elsa has to leave to view an apartment. I am left to watch the scrolling LED display that announces patients' names. The names are accompanied by ridiculous animations of tanks and helicopters. A small plaque tells me that the walk in clinic was opened by Harriet Harman, who represents Peckham, Camberwell, and the far left of the Labour party at Westminster. Eventually my name appears on the display and I stagger off to find Room 18.
The doctor asks what he can do for me. I run him through my symptoms: difficulty urinating, fever, blood in my urine, pain in my lymph nodes, gigantic ball. He asks to see the family jewels. I have been dreading this moment, not for what he might see but for what he might say. I have been diligently applying the stoic's technique of imagining the worst possible outcome: having my testicle removed. Will they provide a silicone testicle to maintain the pleasing aesthetic balance of my scrotum? What vanity! Will I be able to get the job done with only my left testicle? After all, did not the Good Lord see fit to provide every man with two, lest one should become seriously fucked up? Praise be!
Eventually after much prodding, the doctor prescribes heavy doses of two antibiotics: Flucloxacillin four times a day; Ciprofloxacin twice a day. His scrip is accompanied by a dire warning: if things don't start to improve by Monday, I will need to visit the hospital for emergency procedures. They all sound excruciating.
At twenty to twelve, I am in the pharmacy next to the clinic waiting for my prescription to be fulfilled. The antibiotics will cost £15. While I wait, an old black man pulls up outside the pharmacy on a tricycle. He gets a cane out of the basket on the front and hobbles inside where he announces loudly that he needs a pregnancy test. I hope the antibiotics are efficacious.