Today a grey-haired British man chats me up at breakfast. His name is George. He is, of all things, in the assessment business. He’s consulting with one of Pearson’s competitors, ETS. He says I should have dinner with him and his colleagues sometime, but we shouldn’t talk about anything confidential. Then he hears me cough.
“Did you pick that up over here?” he asks, looking frightened. I tell him yes. “Well then I’m staying away.” Apparently, he would have welcomed a good old American virus aboard. On his way out, though, he offers his assistance. He’s staying in room five if I need anything. He knows a doctor in the area. Not that there are room numbers on any of the doors.
Today there’s a story in the paper about dengue fever. How timely, I think. It seems there’s an outbreak in Delhi, where 60 cases have been recorded. They think it’s particularly bad this year because of the early monsoon season which left a lot of standing water around. Dengue is transmitted by a particular kind of mosquito that feeds during the day. You’ll know if you have it because you’ll be bleeding out of your eyeballs. Okay, that’s only the dangerous strain III, but still, it had to be said. That and God bless DEET, of which I still have an ample supply.
On the way to work, Palminder sneezes at least three times, and coughs more than five. I wonder if this is the same virus I have or a different one. If Palminder gets me sick again… I figuratively wave my fist in the air at him. Of course, there’s the possibility that I got him sick. But I was never sneezing in the car. Chances are it’s a different virus. I need to start carrying my antibacterial gel with me. It’s such a big bottle, though. I should have brought a small bottle too. I should have brought a space suit with its own little sterile environment inside.
At work I have email from Susie. She wants to know how I’m doing, and she’s also excited that she finally got her rat problem fixed. They found a dead rat and several live ones in her ductwork and blocked off the hole that gave them access. So now it’s rat free living in Malviya Nagar: nothing but the finest.
At lunch I’m talking with Amar about different places in the city that I’ve yet to see. There’s Nizamuddin, the grounds of a famous Sufi saint. Amar got married there. I ask Amar how he met his wife and he pauses. “I told you this story, yes?” I didn’t think so. “She was walking and she got some paan spit on her.” They did tell me the story about Tehseen getting spit on in Delhi, but I didn’t realize this was also the story of how they met. The notion makes me laugh uncontrollably. I have to apologize. I think it is one of the best wife-meeting-husband stories I’ve heard.
All morning I’ve heard strange banging noises and kind of tuned them out. In the afternoon I figure out where the noises are coming from when I go upstairs to wash my hands after lunch. There are handwritten signs affixed to the bathroom door with packing tape: “Out of Order” “No Entry.” I fold my arms. Here it is. The fruit of my blog. The ladies’ restroom is getting repaired because the CEO read something I’d written about the state of it in an earlier entry. People are jokingly coming up to me like I’ve got Aladdin’s magic lamp. “Write in your blog that I get too much glare on my computer screen!” “How about a total revamp of the air conditioning system?”
I tell them I’ll see what I can do.
In the afternoon, Jonaki is excited to find a book rental service online. You have to pay to rent books. And the more books you rent per month, the more expensive it is. I just now realize that the public library system is an American thing.
What if we didn’t have libraries? I’ve never thought about life without them. I’ve never thought about people who don’t have them. How different my childhood would have been. All that summer reading. All that learning and discovering. Unlimited books. I remember taking them home by the armful. I remember Mrs. Senders the librarian asking me if I needed a bag. I was a book hog. The library was Mars and the ocean and the 1800s and a science lab and whatever else I was interested in that week.
After work, I step out of the office and it’s hard to breathe. The air is thick and my chest is congested. I think for a second I’ll have to run back inside. It feels like I’m breathing dust through a straw. I seriously wonder if I’ll pass out on my way to the car (which is about fifteen total steps from the air conditioned front lobby).
As we drive home, I can see that it is one of those ozone warning days—only here there is no warning. People are walking about in the thick haze that blurs buildings in the near distance. I was planning on walking to the market today for dinner, but now I’ll need another plan. Even if I were feeling well, I wouldn’t want to spend any time outdoors in these conditions.
I remember seeing a commercial for McDonald’s delivery service. I call Julianne to see if she might have the number. Coincidentally, Julianne is at McDonald’s when I call. She walks home while we talk, then digs out the number from her collection of to go menus. She’s not sure they’ll deliver to my neighborhood, but I should give it a try.
I call the number and it is staffed by an entire call center operation. “What city are you calling from?” the operator wants to know. I tell him Delhi. “Where in Delhi?” Defence Colony. I kind of grit my teeth waiting for the news that they don’t deliver here, but he doesn’t even pause. He asks for my phone number, my address, then wants to know what I’d like to order. I’ll have the McVeggie combo meal with no mayonnaise. He repeats this back to me in perfect English and tells me the order will arrive in about thirty minutes. It will cost me 149 rupees.
Astonishingly, the order does arrive in about thirty minutes, and they even get the mayonnaise thing right.
I sit on my bed and flip on the tv. Seinfeld is on.
I watch Seinfeld and eat my McDonald’s suddenly feeling more American than I do when I’m in America. Comfort food and comfort tv: good ways to get me over the remaining ick of my bubonic flu.
On the floor of my bedroom, the ants are having a bad night. I think Pachu’s sweeping must have been a little too brisk today because there are dead ants. Two carcasses, specifically, that these other ants keep carrying around in circles. They look lost. I feel sorry for them. They just keep circling and circling. I wish I knew what they were looking for; I’d provide it for them. Do they need somewhere to bury the dead ants? Somewhere to hide them? I don’t understand. They are still circling when I turn out the lights and go to bed. Maybe they’ll go to bed too.
Do ants sleep? I think. And do they have libraries? What about McDonald’s deliveries? My roommates lead mysterious lives.