Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Kitty Party

This morning I awaken and feel sick. I only talk to Scott for about four minutes, then flop back into bed where I stay until 9:30. The guard calls down to tell me my driver has arrived. “Tell him to wait until ten o’clock,” I say, hoping he understands. I don’t want to miss the whole day of work, but I do need a little extra sleep.

Downstairs I miss the morning rush and the table is already cleared from breakfast. Pachu brings me a banana, an apple and toast. The mango season must be over. I’m sad.

A woman about my age in a pink sari walks up to me. “Hello, I’m Ms. Sonu.”

Ms Sonu!

She’s not as evil as I pictured her. I had this vision of Ms. Sonu in a severe, black business suit with dyed black hair and a giant fake smile. This Ms. Sonu is just a friendly Indian lady. She sits down. She’d like me to look over the invoices before she sends them to finance and make sure all the charges appear correct. There is a charge for parking that I don’t understand.

“So this is because your driver paid for parking these two times for whatever reason, and he needs to be reimbursed.”

Parking mystery solved. Sonu wasn’t ripping me off when he had me pay for parking. Palminder billed me for the two times he paid.

At work, I Google “diseases fleas carry,” and find that fleas convey three types of plague. The symptoms are headache, fever, chills. It doesn’t say anything about a sore throat, but it does talk about swollen glands, and I figure that could be causing my sore throat.

I see Debamitra in the bathroom. She asks how I’m feeling. I tell her I might go to the doctor and get some drugs.

“Do you take drugs so easily?” she asks me. I don’t know. Do I? “Don’t take drugs. You should just rest and see if you get better.”

She is the first person I tell about the flea bites.

“Oh,” she says. “That’s different. You should get that looked at.”

As always, I take Debamitra’s advice and have Shabnum make an appointment for me. She calls the hospital and gets an appointment for 4:30. Is this okay? Can I go by myself this time, or should she come with? I can go by myself, I tell her.

I have to tell Palminder how to get to the hospital and am somewhat proud that I succeed in giving him directions. As we pull up, I feel a bit of dread. Should I tell the doctor about the fleas? What if they quarantine me, lock me up? It mentioned quarantining online.

At the front desk, the clerk can’t find my name in her records. I have to fill out another intake form. I spell my name “Krajewski,” and she enters it in the system, “Krajeuuski.” It seems the “w” is not a concept in this hospital.

She points me upstairs to room 2229. There are guards every few feet that help me find my way. I feel a little lonesome here by myself, but I also feel good that I made it this far on my own.

As I sit outside the room, I run through a few scenarios in my head. What if they want to draw blood? I’ll make them show me that the needles are new. I’ll have to see them come out of some kind of packaging. That’s what the Travel Clinic recommended. I don’t want to get HIV while I’m trying to discover whether or not I have the plague. HIV is rampant in India. In fact, some of the Google searches I did on plague turned up articles on AIDS. I don’t care if it’s rude or ridiculous to freak out about the needle. It’s my life and I need to defend it.

The doctor calls me in and asks what the problem is. I tell him about the flea bites and getting sick. I tell him my symptoms.

“You don’t need to worry about these bites,” he tells me. “You have an upper respiratory infection. They’re endemic this time of year in Delhi. It’s partially due to the population density, partially due to this wet weather.”

He seems pretty sure it isn’t Bubonic Plague.

He writes me a prescription for some cold medicine and a fever-reducer/pain reliever that I get filled downstairs for two dollars. Outside I wander around looking for Palminder. He finds me and waves.

I was lucky this time. I didn’t get any strange disease from the dogs. But I know my relationship with them should end. I know there’s a reason I’m the only one petting them. The locals know better. Poor Acha and Baloo and Baby. They won’t understand why I just walk past them now instead of stopping to give them attention.

In the taxi, I tear up. My friends are dangerous. I just want to pet dogs. I just want to meet my neighbors. But these things are not so simple here. Why can’t they be simple? Why can’t they be safe?

Back at home, I pop open the daytime medicine the doctor prescribed and get a new bottle of water out of the fridge. I take two of my limited supply of Ibuprofen to help with the fever. I know I’m sick because the air conditioning has been off all day in my little room and I’m still freezing, full of goose bumps. I have to climb under the covers to stop from shivering.

I sleep until eight thirty. I wake up feeling better with enough time to get ready and go to the kitty party at Mister Kundari’s house. Julianne was going to go with me, but she called and said she has a Skype date that she can’t miss. Still, I figure it’s safe to go because there will be plenty of people around—and plenty of women.

A servant lets me in and points me toward the living room that has a marble floor and lavish d├ęcor. There are embroidered draperies, colonial-looking chairs, and tables with intricate inlaid marble patterns. The walls are lined with family photos and a large Chinese watercolor.

Two little girls in matching dresses and pink sweaters act shy and mill about.

Mister Kundari stands up and shakes my hand. “Vicki! Hello!” He shows me where I should sit. There are two circles forming: one of men, one of women. As people arrive, they press their hands together and bow their heads in greeting, then they take their seats on their respective sides of the room. The men drink bourbon and water and laugh jovially. The women drink lemon water and speak seriously. Servants in black bowties bring out food on gold and silver trays: paneer tikka, chicken, fish, corn, breaded vegetables. The food keeps coming. The ladies are surprised when I tell them I’m a vegetarian. Two ladies have a conversation about it in Hindi. I only make out the repeated word “vegetarian.”

Mister Kundari wants to know, would I drink some red wine if he has it? Certainly. His servant finds a bottle, uncorks it and pours me a glass.

The ladies are mostly older, in muted-colored saris, though there are two younger women who talk with each other as the evening wears on. Much of the conversation is in Hindi, except when someone wants to talk to me. They ask where I’m from. They ask if I’m a buyer. I guess these are the sorts of white people they’re used to having around because of Mister Kundari’s garment business. They are somewhat puzzled when I tell them I work with textbooks. Why am I at Mister Kundari’s party, then? Because I live in the neighborhood, at least for the next few months.

I am prepared for an onslaught of questions about why I don’t have children, but this never comes. These ladies are polite and reserved. They don’t pry into my personal life. One grey haired woman asks half way through the evening if I have children, then tells me she has a daughter married since 2002 who also has no children. “I tell her she should adopt,” she tells me, then says that Achla, sitting across the table from me with the nose ring and the jeweled bindi, is a social worker and does adoptions. Her husband is a lawyer who also specializes in adoption.

Several of the ladies get up and come back with plates full of food. Dinner is served, buffet style, on the glass table in the adjacent room. I’ve eaten so many appetizers I don’t think I can eat much more. I get up to get some food and Mister Kundari asks how I’m doing. He’s sorry he can’t look after me.

“I’m great. I thought we were done eating!”

“Oh no. Have some dinner,” he says.

The table is full of food: dal and two different vegetable dishes and mattar paneer and more chicken and more fish and a few dishes that I can’t identify and avoid because they might have meat in them. I eat with my plate on my lap next to the grey haired woman on the couch. She tells me about the times she’s been to America. They were in New York on 9/11, she says. Her husband went out for a walk and they thought he was a Muslim. They were screaming at him. They were supposed to go to California but instead they cut their trip short and came back to India.

As we finish eating, the bowtie men take our plates from us. Dinner is cleared from the table, and now it is full of dessert: gulab jamun, apple strudel, banana chocolate pudding and ice cream. The woman wearing a western-type shirt who arrived late and looks like an Indian version of Meryl Streep wants to know if I take eggs. Yes, I tell her. Then the desserts will be okay for me, she assures me.

We eat and the bowtie men clear our plates. It seems less than five minutes after we finish that a man walks over and says to his wife, “You feel like you want to move?” She gets up. They are leaving. Then everybody stands up. Everybody is leaving. I hate to eat and run, but it seems that is the way it’s done—at least at this party, it is. It’s probably because we started so late. The party didn’t begin until nine, then it was at least ten o’clock before we ate dinner.

On my way out the door, I thank Mister Kundari. “Happy?” he asks. Yes. It was a very nice party. I'm glad I went. “What about Sunday?” He wants to know if I’ll go to the temple with him and his sister and Diljesh. I tell him okay.

Outside, Diljesh tells me to wait, he’ll drive me home, even though it’s just about a block away. I am surprised that Diljesh and his wife drove to the party. They are my next door neighbors, so also live little more than a block from Mister Kundari’s house. It seems that pedestrianism is not a concept here, and I understand why. The roads are very difficult to walk on. There are piles of dirt and broken up building materials everywhere.

Back at home I lay in bed, unable to sleep. My stomach is so full that it’s uncomfortable. I’m not used to eating so late at night. And I think my fever is coming back. I’m shivering again. I take some more of my limited supply of Ibuprofen and try to sleep but have little luck. I finally give up and turn on the BBC World News.

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