He leads her to a building that could be a mom-and-pop motel: single-story cinderblock with doors all lined up in a row. Shes got the last rooms on the end, the farthest from the hospital; Tamding opens up the door and shows her where shes going to live. This won't do at all, she thinks, her heart drops down another inch: the walls a shade of green like something growing in a swimming pool. She tries to see her husband here, how Richard thought it wonderful; the bed a musty block of foam, the kitchen doesn't have a stove; she looks into the bathroom: just another hole where shes to go. Tamding brings her bags inside and stacks them neat against the wall, wangs his hands before his face and goes out backwards through the door. Shes glad, at least, to be alone, to have some time to recompose; her stomach gripped with anxious fear, she thinks this was a bad idea. Richard was the one who dreamed of coming back to India - never was the kind of man who needed to be comfortable. She wants her husband desperately, perhaps she would relax a bit: he'd take her out exploring, wander through the winding market place.
She lies down on the bed but can't relax enough to fall asleep; she wonders if the water in the tap is safe to brush her teeth. The only nice thing in the room is a sunny wooden window seat that overlooks an alley with a glimpse of snowy mountain peak. She pulls the curtains back to let some light into this gloomy space, wanders through the tiny kitchen, sniffs a hint of rat perfume. Then on a table by the bed she finds a letter with her name, held down at one corner with a textbook as a paper weight. She looks first at the massive tome, the English title on the spine: General Practice Guidelines for the Rural District Hospital. She flips through several pages filled with pictures of advanced disease: liver cysts from parasites shes hoping that she'll never see. Shes thinking she won't be much help with everything so different here - Richard was the surgeon, could have operated anywhere. But Mary is an internist, knows medicines and lab reports: a specialist in geriatrics, treating grandpas gout and stroke. She opens up the envelope, her name spelled in a hasty hand; it takes some time to read the words, decipher Vikrams doctor-scratch.
At first she doesn't understand, she has to guess some of the words; but then it all comes clear why there weren't patients at the hospital. And she thought that she hit bottom when she saw where shes supposed to live, but now she knows her heart can sink at least another couple feet. Shes thinking now would be the time to quietly just disappear, leave a note for Vikram on the box of shattered medicines. But then she hears the whistling, the flute of Tamdings puckered lips - hes knocking nonstop on her door until she starts to open it. Breathlessly hes talking in a language she can't understand, motions with his hands so that she knows to quickly follow him. With no idea whats going on, shes led across the hard dirt yard; shes running through a list of what might be the worst that she could find. Shes thinking its a heart attack, a motorcycle accident - someone with a bleeding cut, an artery thats gushing blood. They cross beneath the walnut tree, the speckled light of twitching leaves; he leads her to a room that smells of nasty disinfectant spray. But no ones on the table that is centered in the trauma room, just a woman on a bench, a bundle cradled in her arms. The bundles covered with a shawl and Marys trying to catch her breath; the woman looks up briefly but then turns her eyes away. The womans dressed in local clothes, a pattu made of homespun wool, a scarf ties back her long black hair, silver hoops pierced through her nose.
And Tamdings somehow disappeared so Marys not sure where hes gone - doesn't even know exactly why he left her standing here. She doesn't have her stethoscope, she isn't in her long white coat; she couldn't even start to ask the questions that a doctor must. Shes trying to imagine what required her so urgently; this woman isn't bleeding, isn't writhing round in agony. Mary tries to guess her age - she could be forty-five years old, she could be half of that but Mary finds it difficult to tell. Right then the woman looks at her, the saddest eyes shes ever seen; now Mary understands what made them call for her so urgently. Her heart skips several beats at first, a lump forms large inside her throat; she motions to the mother that she'd like to take a closer look. The mother pulls the shawl back so that Mary sees the babys face - Mary has to swallow hard to keep her gasp from being heard.
Reprinted from Himalayan Dhaba by Craig Danner by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © Craig Danner, 2002. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.
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