Story: Stay Well
By: Merlin Flower
The house looked as if it resented the conversion to a clinic. The notice board announcing, ‘Dr. Baanshyam, M.D., Senior Psychiatrist. Chennai- 89” failed to give a clinical air. I opened the rusty gate destroying a new web of the poor spider. A large Mango tree stood right in front of the house with branches all over the place. In the shade: A man in faded brown shirt and dhoti, watering the crotons seemed concentrated on missing the dust on the leaves.
‘Is the doctor in?’ I asked.
He looked up with an expression of a saint- the empty glance. The hair on his head looked white like someone had deliberately painted titanium white paste, while the beard looked black. His cheeks grew inward towards a cute nose.
“The doctor is in the pooja room. In ten minutes the Gods will be free,” he smiled, “See the bench over there, you guys can wait, or go in.”
The bench was rusty too. Who uses metal benches anymore? I hesitated but Anjali just swiped the bench with her bare hand and sat down. I am not sure if it helped one bit, but I mimicked her and realized after seeing her ‘I am trying not to laugh’ smile. Huh, every time.
‘The doctor must me praying,’ I said, voicing in a pleading voice, “Please God, pleeese convert more people to crackpots. I beg you.’
‘The world is already full of crackpots , ya,’ said Anjali, adding, ‘Ha, I thought doctors didn’t believe in Gods.”
‘It’s good to believe in something. When days are bad, you can give all your worries to God and be relieved.’ I ventured. A strong morning wind arrived and my hair seemed to float in all direction. ‘That’s why I believe in a superpower,’ I said trying to smooth over the hair overthrown by the breeze.
“I don’t,” she said. I glance at her calm face which had a smugness that comes with conviction. ‘If there’s a God, it’s sadistic,’ she said, looking intently at a black ant in the bench. Should she argue on every word of mine? And, for God’s sake, hasn’t she seen any ant in her lifetime?
“I…,” well, I was cut short by the fat woman in a blue and red salwar Kameez. Must be the doctor’s daughter. What a pun. I stood up with a deep force of habit, though she looked to be just five or so years older to us. Anjali remained in her seat, still following the walk of the ant.
“Sit. Please sit,” she said, “Who’s the patient?”
I pointed to Anjali with hesitation. She looked up.
‘The doctor will be here in two minutes. Please go in,” she said and tottered towards the rusty gate. Is she going to meet her lover in the park?
We walked into a room filled with plastic chairs and many fans. Obviously, someone had envisaged a packed waiting room. We were the only ones in the dusty room. We had to wait but for two minutes. The doctor summoned us into his room. He had evidence of the pooja on his forehead. A white vibuti, then some sandalwood paste followed by vibuti again. It looked similar to colourful trucks caught in a traffic.
‘Who’s the patient?’ he asked. Ah, that salwar kameez girl must be his daughter.
I looked at him without expression.
‘I,’ said Anjali. A single syllable. He looked at her. Anjali with chopped hair, very curvy eyebrows, parched lips, innocent eyes and fiery glance. From her face his eyes moved to her chest and stayed. Bastard.
‘She’s joking,” I said, ignoring their almost similarly surprised glances. “I am a journalist, doctor. This is my friend.’ He looked at us, convincingly bored.
‘I am on a story about rape victims. I wanted to know more about the treatment given to victims of rape. I heard that you’re an expert on the subject.’ Behind him the walls were filled with photos of degrees and diplomas. Can education provide common sense?
“Which newspaper did you say you were working for?’ he asked, with the edgy look of a man with sharp pebbles under his belt.
‘The Daily Herald.’
‘Oh, Daily Herald, I love the paper, very relevant,’ he said, ‘would you like something to drink?’
‘No, thanks,’ I said. ‘I just wanted to know how you enable a rape victim to live a normal life. Often, they cease to enjoy sex, withdraw, wash themselves ten times a day and get angry at simple things.’
‘First, there’s nothing called a ‘victim’ of rape. No penetration happens without the consent of the women.’
I gulped a nonexistent saliva down my throat, twice-over. Now, what did I expect? I shifted in my chair, Anjali remained steadfast.
‘Do you mean every woman wants to get raped? That every rape is consent? The violence justified?’ I was insistent.
‘No. I didn’t mean any of that. All I am saying is, just as how a thread can’t pass through a needle without its consent, no penetration can happen without the woman’s approval,’ he went on upping the ante.
I didn’t want to ask anymore, nor hear the voice coming from the puny old man.
‘Have you seen the man outside? His daughter was allegedly raped by three men. You see, I had to give my expert opinion in court, which I think helped the accused. Now, I am a believer, I only say the truth. The girl, unfortunately, committed suicide. But look at the girl’s father working for me. Why? I convinced him of my theory. He’s a model employee now,’ he said. Sure, the man looked like the sort of employee who murders his employer.
‘Thanks doctor, we’ll be in touch,’ I said
‘I know one of your colleagues, Sridhar. Do convey my regards to him,’ I nodded. He stood as we left.
We passed the ‘model employee’ who gave us a smile. Anjali seemed light hearted, me the opposite. Outside the gate, she stopped me, looked into my eyes with a searchingly radiant smile and took me into a tight hug.