She had just told me which fabric to buy. Thinking back, I don’t remember asking. I liked the little bit of her that I could see, that wasn’t covered in black. Hasina then invited me to her house. I have regretted not going with her right then and there. Somehow at the time, it was more important to my American sensibilities to stick to the plan and not be late to the very forgettable event scheduled for later that afternoon. How was I to know that it was rare indeed in Delhi to have a woman in the market invite me to her house?

In the past eight months, I have gone back to that very same Monday street bazaar many times, praying for the ladies and children and praying that I would meet someone, perhaps Hasina. In fact, I celebrated Memorial Day in the police station when my wallet with all my ID was stolen in that bazaar on one such Monday outing. Since then, I even have gone so far as to ask ladies what they think about what I’m buying, not really looking for an opinion but an opportunity. Ladies will ask me how much I’m paying for my onions, but I was never again asked to tea.

Today I went to the clinic in my neighborhood. After taming my initial urge to run as fast as I could out of the clinic, I actually had a good time. I loved being around so many women. Both the staff and the clients were predominantly female. When I arrived a little past 9 a.m., I thought maybe they were closed because the 8-year-old girl who sweeps the floors in that building was moving a pile of papers and dirt down the deserted hall. The clinic was not deserted. Rather, it was like our city traffic: chaos thinly varnished with very subtle, nearly indistinguishable order.

The health director greeted me told me I could do whatever I wanted, introduced me to the doctor who was seeing patients, and then disappeared. All I could think was, “Oh. This was a very bad idea. WHAT am I doing here?”

The staff was very kind. Only a few of the patients were very sick. In four hours, the doctor saw 55+ patients. There was no privacy. Often a woman would push up to the desk and start rattling off her complaints while the person ahead of her had a thermometer in her mouth. The pharmacy was in the same room where the doctor saw patients.

Towards the end of the morning, an older woman with her daughter progressed to the front of the line in a big gaggle of other women in black burkhas. They were looking at me and whispering and smiling. While her daughter was being assessed by the doctor, she stood near me and greeted me. She rubbed the material of my dupatta between her finger and thumb and then commented, “Nice. Very nice.” Not long after that she pulled on my ear as she fingered my earrings. “Nice. Very Nice.” Finally the light switched on. It was Hasina. I told her that I didn’t come to her house because I lost her address. So after apologizing, she invited me to her home again. She will pick me up from the clinic on Thursday. I left the clinic, glad that I hadn’t flown over the heads of the clinic crowd like I do to escape in my dreams.

No. It was a very good day at the clinic. Thanks be to the King!


©2003 Thrive

View the original print magazine where this article was first published.