A petite woman, dressed in a blue tunic and matching slippers, greets me warmly when I turn up for my first lesson. She gives me breakfast, a tray of lightly fried vadas and a yoghurt dip, before sending me into Ibal’s clinic in another adjoining room. Ibal is dressed in a blue shift – he calls them scrubs – and instructs me to wear the same. I exchange my slippers for a pair of operating theater shoes. I tremble. I am so excited and nervous. Suriah leaves with Heart, slipping into the interior of the house. I can hear Heart calling after me.
Ibal shows me the various cabinets for the medicine, tools and bandages, all sterile and clean. He passes me a pair of plastic gloves to keep my hands clean and away from the blood.
The patients start to flock in promptly at 10 at the sundial.
Most of them have minor illnesses, like the winter flu or cough. I watch Ibal chatting amiably as he examines the patients, first with the tongue depressors and followed by the listening of the lungs. He scribbles prescriptions which I take and pack the medicine in white paper bags.
After lunch, a man staggers in with a deep laceration across his right arm. He has wrapped cloth over it to stop the bleeding. Ibal takes one look and tsks loudly.
“You should have used your hand as a compress,” Ibal tells the man, a young vegetable seller from Lamb Quarters, in a kind voice. “Now the blood has stopped and clotted. Bear with me while I remove the bandage. Saline and cotton swaps, please, Kindness.”
I am glad I did not faint at the sight of dried blood stuck on an obviously painful deep cut. Ibal mutters “Watch!” before he begins sewing up the cut, opened up like a gaping mouth with swollen lips. He is a deft hand at sewing, his gnarled hands steady, his manner calm. After cleaning the wound once more with antiseptic, he teaches me how to wrap the wound with clean gauze.
I return back to the room, tired but happy. Heart plays with my hair, giggling. Sa is sitting at the balcony. The antibiotic shot seems to have cleared everything up. Sar color is back.
“Looks like you have fun,” Sa says without even greeting me. Her words are literally bitter on my tongue.
“If you want me to apologize, I will,” I glance at Sa. Without the turban and sprawl, Sa looks like a slender and short-haired woman. Sa is a woman, but sar thinks otherwise. “But not with your kind of tone.”
“Tone?” Again with those stormy angry-sea eyes.
“You are bitter, aren’t you?”
Sa laughs, a brittle sharp sound that sends shivers down my spine. And the taste of bile once more in my mouth. “No. You are the one skirting the issue.”
With Heart in my arms, I have to keep calm. I inhale deeply, trying to recall Ibal’s serenity.
“No, Sa. You are just angry I refused to listen to you. The school is not for me. I want to be elsewhere. Being a physician’s apprentice is still school.”
“So you are just going to let the fire burn unchecked within you?”
“You will end up hurting people!”
The truth hurts and bites straight into me. I glance away, for fear of Sa seeing my tears.
“Can you just let me do what I want?” I whisper, knowing that Sa has heard me.
“Grow up, Kindness. The world is not a nice place.”