Next, we will focus on both Colette and Mussola, the most important characters of the short story “The Chemist’s Assistant” by Moya Roddy.
No information is given about Colette's age, but her childish behaviour reveals that she is rather young, probably between 10 and 15 years old.
The first thing we find out regarding Colette’s inner characterisation is her fear of her father, who is quite violent:
You won’t believe this but my father keeps a cane hanging on the wall. On one side of the room is a picture of the Sacred Heart with eyes that follow you everywhere and on the other side, the cane. Like a big question mark saying: what have you done? My friend Maudie says it’s corporal punishment and someone should report him. Everyone’s afraid of my father. (ll. 1-5)
Soon, Colette reveals why her father beats her – because she tends to steal: “I’m still sore from last night. I know I shouldn’t have robbed the money but it was only sixpence. I don’t really remember taking it but I can remember buying Nancy Balls” (ll. 5-7).
When it comes to the girl’s relationship with her older sister, Anne, Colette reveals that she does not like her because she is her father’s “pet” (l. 5). Then, the expressions “Goody-goody” (l. 87) and “sugar and spice” (l. 68) are used to show Colette’s dislike for her sister, who probably tries to behave perfectly. Colette’s relationship with her mother is not detailed, but we find out that Colette always needs to collect prescriptions for her mother, who got sick years before Colette’s birth when she gave birth to a still-born son. However, no further information is given about the woman’s condition.
When she is punished because she stole money, Colette daydreams about going to the cinema. The following quotation is very important because it reveals Colette’s passion for adventure:
I love the Pictures, especially ones with women in them (…) Horror’s all right although they always make the woman do something stupid, like, if there’s a vampire on the loose she has to go for a walk on her own exactly where he’s lurking. D’ye ever notice that? Course that way the hero can come along in the nick of time and rescue her. It never happens the other way round. (ll. 9-13)
When she thinks about going to the cinema, Colette also daydreams about what it means to be beautiful. She clearly admires Angela, a beautiful and attractive neighbour, but she is aware that beauty breeds jealousy: “My mother and the woman-across-the-road were always giving out about her. Whenever she’d click-clack past on stilettos they’d shake their heads, make tight purses of their lips. Jealous, you could tell. No wonder Angela moved” (ll. 16-18).
When she hears her mother talking about the new chemist’s assistant, Colette is intrigued and decides to see the man for herself. The following quotation reveals that Colette is a regular customer in the shop, as she is always there collecting prescriptions for her mother:
Mussola is another important character in the short story, as his presence is the one that changes Colette’s life and perspective.
His outer characterisation reveals that he is black and also that he is the first black Colette sees in her town:
When I walk into the chemist, I nearly drop dead. Behind the counter there’s a new man in a white coat. But that isn’t it. He’s black! I’ve never seen a black person except in films. And here’s one. In the flesh. He smiles at me. His eyeballs are really white just like in films. (ll. 35-37)
When it comes to the man’s inner characterisation, the first thing you should note is that he is very kind and friendly towards Colette. He is polite and wants to befriend Colette and he is also amused by the girl’s reluctance to shake hands with him:
‘What’s your name?’ the black man asks. (…) ‘I am Mussola.’
(…) ‘Lecky,’ I smile back, adding ‘Colette.’
(…) ‘Don’t you shake hands in this country?’
‘Only if you’re older.’ (ll. 38-46)