Mobile number please – Chemist guy tells me
I ignore, continue speaking into cell phone – He’s complaining of intensive pain, near intestine, says difficult to breathe.
Sis – Will we have to admit him?
Something about sis’s tone shakes me. I look up, chemist guy holds medicines I had requested in a bag and stares at me from across the counter. Then I recollect – dad doesn’t have insurance.
Images of dad in hospital, blood tests, urine, pipes, catheters, ECG needles zig–zag fast & slow, credit cards swiped multiple times – a beep sound, light flashes – print out curl & roll. The amounts show
Small prints, big receipts, big print outs & small receipts – they roll out together. I exhale, sis sighs, long and hard.
This time it’s the chemist guy’s assistant. An assistant to an assistant? They can afford it. This shop is a franchise, part of a chain, like the hospital, like insurance – that we didn’t have. The chemist shop can afford an assistant’s assistant. We may/may not be able to afford dad’s illness.
His diet needs monitoring, he’s turned diabetic recently – sis changing subject, or was she?
And i had fed him fruit this evening.
Add a Thumbs-Up – I tell the chemist shop assistant’s assistant. Will need sugar tonight.
What’s that? – sis asks
Nothing – i declare. My cell blinks, messages – could be work. i hadn’t informed them.
I need the job.
When does Shruti come back? – Sis.
Shruti, my brother’s wife – she takes care of dad’s diet after mom. It’s been difficult.
I look up. Now, there is a manager on the scene, his uniform is blue, to distinguish from the assistants in white. Genius.
She’s back next Tuesday. – 6 whole days from today. I calculate that as the manager hands the Thumbs-Up I had ordered to the assistant’s assistant to bag it. The assistant quickly adds the sum to the bill.
What will you give him for breakfast? – sis manages after an awkward pause.
Cornflakes? Muesli? – I say tentatively.
Sir, we have cornflakes! – Startled, I look up, it is the assistant’s assistant who had said that. She invited sharp looks from the assistant in white and the manager in blue. She looked at me hopefully.
It’s starch, sugar, fat – you can’t do that – sis reprimands in her soft, steely voice.
I shake my head in a no to the assistant’s assistant. Let down, she looks at her feet.
Stick to soups, salads, very light meals – saying that sis signs off.
I put the phone down. There are two other messages. One is from M, my buddy. There’s another from A – buddy with benefits. Both enquire about dad. I reply to M.
Sir your mobile number? – The assistant tries again.
I had just mentioned in passing about dad to A.
We need it sir – assistant’s assistant this time.
No you don’t.
It’s not like that between A and me.
For billing sir? – The assistants voice pleads.
Sorry – i say.
I turn to walk away. As I walk, I’m truly sorry, for not knowing my dad’s diet, for not having insurance, for not being part of a chain, for not wanting anything more to do with A.
Please sir, take the medicines.
I turned. It’s the manager guy. My mobile beeps again, it’s my boss B, he’s offered help. How does he know about dad? Another beep, Shruti has sent a diet chart.
I return to the counter, take the medicine, ask how much.
Cash or card Sir? – It’s the assistants assistant.
Mobile beeps again – its M. She has put 30k in my account. Just like that.
I smile at the assistant. She doesn’t smile back. I am still smiling as I pay by cash and leave.
Writing credits ~ Soni A A.