I love that question. I drained my Starbucks latte so I could give the subject my full attention.
“Vaccines are dangerous. When I have kids, I’m not letting that needle near them. Just look it up on Google. Five minutes and you’ll see what I mean.”
“Cecilia, the internet’s full of hysteria,” she said. “That’s what keeps it going. Hysteria, porn and funny cats.”
“But the stuff I’m talking about is real.” Bombarding people with the truth just makes them more resistant. I’d learned to take a more oblique approach. “Look, we’ve known each other since we were eleven years old. More than fifteen years, right?”
“And you know me. I’ve always been a sceptic, right?”
“Remember English lit? Mr Kemp – remember we used to call him Creepy Kemp? No reason except that it sounded good?”
That got a laugh. “Yeah, I remember. Hope he never knew.”
“Anyway, remember when I showed him the websites showing Shakespeare was a front? He spent a whole lesson trying to tell me Shakespeare really did write Romeo and Juliet but I never believed a word of it.”
“I remember. I don’t know how you didn’t get a detention for that. He was a very patient man.”
“No, it was because he knew I was right. He just wasn’t allowed to say it. His job was to get us through our GCSEs.”
I couldn’t read Jenna’s expression, but I hoped it meant I’d laid the groundwork.
“Yeah, that’ll be it,” she said. “Perhaps you’d like another coffee?”
“No. Yeah. But vaccines. Look, measles is natural, right. Kids have always got measles. No problem. Now they want us to vaccinate. Why? ‘Cause someone’s making money. That’s why.”
“Actually, I did a bit of Googling. You know about four hundred children die of measles every day? If that’s nature, I’ll take the vaccine.”
“Where did you see that? I bet it was some conspiracy nut’s site.”
“The World Health Organisation.”
“Oh, them.” It was all I could do not to roll my eyes. I couldn’t understand how a woman as intelligent as Jenna couldn’t see it. “Do you know what the pharmaceutical industry’s worth? Billions. Trillions, probably. World Health Organisation, CDC, National Health Service, they’ve got them all in their pockets. You ask a big pharma executive if their kids are vaccinated. I bet you get a big fat no.”
“Have you asked one?”
I was losing her. I couldn’t blame her. The truth is scary. That’s why so few of us acknowledge it. It’s not that people don’t know it. They do, deep down. It’s so scary that they prefer not to believe it. To live it.
“Of course not,” I said. “We’re little people. Our job is to be good little consumers and ask no questions. They don’t talk to us, they talk at us. Through their PR and advertising people. Getting the truth from them, well, it’s about as likely as,” I waved my hand to indicate the interior of the Islington Starbucks, “as this lot paying their taxes.”
“And the World Health Organisation.”
I was getting through to her after all. It was a much bigger buzz than anything served from the counter.
“Will you sit down,” said Jenna. “Everyone’s looking.”
“Oh, don’t worry. It’s not illegal to speak the truth. Not yet.”
“Cecilia, please. Can we talk about something else?”
Jenna was giving me the smile that showed her teeth without wrinkling her eyes. I’d seen the look of someone humouring me often enough to recognise it.
I deflated back into the chair. “Just think about it, OK?”
I hated the begging sound in my voice, but this was Jenna’s future children we were talking about. “Think about is. That’s all I ask.”
“I will,” she said. “I promise. Now I’m getting you another latte and we’re going to talk about, I don’t know, Britain’s Got Talent. Our husbands’ most annoying habits. The budget. Actually no, scratch that. No politics. Nothing serious. Right, Cecilia?”
“Right. Another latte.”
As she got up, her mouth twitched into a smile. A genuine one this time.
“Definitely a latte. You’ve drunk enough koolaid already.”
I was talking to her back.