Steps after steps paced along the corridor, an unknown urgency floating in the air. Maybe these people, these patients knew exactly where to go and chose to seize this momentary control. I, a misfit, felt quite the opposite. The lights in the long corridor of the hospital were white, blinding, almost present with the objective of sucking any life that might be left lurking in the corners. I had reached a quarter of an hour earlier than my scheduled appointment and now had no choice but to wait.
The din became more deafening and unable to calm the disquiet within, I decided on getting some fresh air and returning when it was time for my turn. The December morning was dark and chilly but beads of sweat had begun lining my forehead. I had taken the earliest appointment possible to avoid prying eyes but now I felt sick. The stars were slowly fading away and I watched the day break along with me.
“Pharmacy” the bold, red letters announced. Just what I needed. I rushed my way into the shop attached to the building, almost as if to look for all the missing life that might’ve collapsed onto it from the bigger structure. The walls of the tiny room were lined with shelves full of medicines and held a mild reek of disinfectant. Spotting no one inside, I mindlessly stepped further in, almost repulsed by the unpleasantness. It must’ve been a few moments later that I realized I wasn’t alone. Behind the cash counter separating us, someone knelt with their head bowed in the direction of one of the walls, praying on the unwelcoming winter tiles. His head was covered with a handkerchief and though I could only see part of his face, I stumbled out with an eerie feeling of having intruded on some sacred, intimate space not meant for my eyes. Standing on that threshold, trying with all my might not to look, I almost forgot where I had to be. In the moment, I belonged nowhere. He must’ve heard the unintentional shuffling from when I had walked in seconds ago because the man hurriedly opened his eyes, got up and signaled at me to come in. “Sorry madam, Namaaz nahi chhod sakte,” but he wore no look of a man who had just been praying. “I’m-I’m sorry. Mujhe dikha nahi.” He just smiled sheepishly with empty eyes not quite looking at me. “Ekk Crocin. And bhaiya-mask pehen lo please. Corona khatam nahi hua abhi, aapko bhi khatra hai.” He pulled off the handkerchief that had been covering his head and tied it around his mouth, then opened a drawer on the counter and started looking for what I had asked for. Such a common medicine must be kept handier than others. He pulled out a strip of the blue tablets, cut out one for me and put on plastic gloves before handing it to me. “Madam, please kissi ko bolna mat. Woh Namaaz ke time saans lene mein dikkat hoti hai.” I nodded comprehendingly and was just pulling out my purse as he spoke again. “Aur ab waise bhi lagta hai jaan bachaane laayak kucch bacha nahi.” I was a little taken aback but was aware that the acting government had been a source of distress to the rich and poor alike, neither of whom left any opportunity to vent about it to most anyone who would listen. “Ekk beti honi thi, woh bhi duniya mein aane se pehle hi chal basi. 9 hafte ho gaye aaj.”
I felt the life inside me ebb away. Who was this man and why did he think it was okay to share all of this with me? The clock said it was time for me to go back into the building but something paralyzed me, some fear of never knowing what had happened with this stranger. As if his truth was more important to me than my own and I had to make that known to him. But at a loss of words, I could only nod in solidarity. Trying to get a hold of my money and my words, I was interrupted midway. A tall man with an intimidating air about him had walked in and was now demanding a refund of some kind in an aggressive tone. The voice within my throat had failed me, and him, the one who probably needed to hear it the most.
After paying, silenced for an entire lifetime lived in that absence of stories, I slowly left the shop. The chemist had been too preoccupied dealing with the other man to notice the change I had placed on the counter before him, let alone reading the desperation in my demeanor right before I walked out. The sky was translucent now, a light blue with specks of sunshine glowing through the nebulous clouds. It was finally dawn. After breathing in all I could, I got into my car and just before hitting the ignition, pulled my phone out and began writing. “I didn’t get it checked. I’m keeping it even if it’s a girl,” and this time, I drove off without waiting for a response.

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