Thursday, September 25, 2008

On Unaccepted Charity


As if something or someone were trying to prove a point to me, I spend Wednesday sweating my brains out. Is it hot in the office, or is this a symptom, a sign?

Palminder drives me home and as I walk into the Ahuja Residency, the shaky feeling is less bad than it has been. I’ve looked the thing in the face and told it, “I know what you are and you’re not going to scare me.”

Up in my room, I decide to test out the pepper spray my sister-in-law sent me to have when I walk to the market by myself at night. Comically, it has “American Defender” emblazoned on the side of its casing. She said it has a kind of safety on it like a barbeque grill lighter, but I can’t find it. I depress the pump and push hard. A little burst of red liquid issues forth. I’m hoping it doesn’t drip down onto my purse when I realize I’ve sprayed it in front of the air conditioner—and the air conditioner has an oscillating vent in it—and it’s about to blow my way. I can feel it when I aspirate one or two tiny drops. The pepper spray works.

I run into the next room and stick my head in front of the other air conditioning unit trying to breathe in as much fresh air as I can. I think it’s going to get worse and start burning and making me cry, but it doesn’t. You must have to use a lot of it. I’ll make sure to be generous should the occasion arise.

After recovering from this small incident, I dig out the business card of Mohinder Singh, the man I met at Mister Kandhari’s kitty party who deals in international adoption. He told me at the party that he would take me to see an orphanage if I wanted to while I was here. I think I’d like to go.

I stare at the card for a while, debating whether I should call him. I wonder if he’ll remember me. He does. I ask if the offer still stands. He says we can go on Saturday. I should call him around ten o’clock. My plan is to buy up all the five rupee packages of biscuits that I can get my hands on from the drain vendor at work and bring them to the kids. I concocted this plan last night before I fell asleep.

After we hang up, I grab my pepper-sprayed purse and head out towards the market. I only get a few feet past the Ahuja Residency gate when I see this small black dog with white feet trotting its way toward me. I stop and pet it. It looks young, maybe seven months old, and it’s so skinny. It must have worms or just be underfed. It’s loving the attention I’m giving it when a man walks up to me and says hello. Where am I from? I tell him I live about four hours from Chicago. Telling someone here you’re from Iowa typically doesn’t mean that much.

He wants to know what I’m here. How long have I been here? How much longer will I say? What do I do with my evenings?

“Pet stray dogs,” I say.

“But you must do more than this,” he wonders. I acquiesce. Yes. I walk to the market sometimes. I read. I write.

Don’t I get lonely, he asks.

I’m okay, I say. I’ve met a lot of nice people while I’ve been here.

Well we should go out sometime, he says. He can show me a nice club near here. He travels a lot for his business so he knows it can get boring; it can get lonely, especially in the evenings. He just spent three days in Duseldorf. There was nothing there to do, but he met a woman and became great friends with her. They will keep in touch now. She lives in Toronto.

He didn’t catch my name.

I’m Vicki.

I’m Fredi.

We shake. Do I want to join him for a walk in the park?

It’s nice outside and there are plenty of people around. Plus now I’m confident in my pepper-spraying skills, so I figure I’ve nothing to lose.

I met the gentlemen who maintain this park, I say. He doesn’t know them. Too bad. They’re very nice. We do a few laps around the little paved pathway and the little dog scrambles behind us, ears flopping happily.

Have I gotten to see much of India? Yes. I’ve been to Agra and Himachal Pradesh and Amritsar. What about Mumbai or Goa? Maybe next time, I say. I’ve had no time to make it down there.

Well I should go before I leave. He’ll take me. He has an apartment right on the beach in Goa. He’ll pay for everything. I’ll be his guest. It’ll be a great time. Three days right on the beach. He has speakers outside so there’s music. The whiskey will be flowing. It’ll be crazy. It’s freaky. He’ll show me a freaky time, he says. Freaky. And I won’t have to worry about any expenses. He’ll be my host in India and when he comes to the United States, I can be his host.

“Well I don’t have any apartment on the beach,” I tell him.

Where do you stay? he asks.

“Me and my husband have a townhouse,” I specify. He is not discouraged.

“If God gives you a good life, you should enjoy it, you know? Let’s go to Goa.”

I tell him thanks but I don’t think I have time.

Time? What time? It’s just three days. What’s three days? I should do it.

I tell him I can’t, but thanks.

Why not? I should at least think about it.

Okay, I say because I am so bad at just saying no and I’ve already tried two times. I’ll think about it.

He is finally satisfied.

I tell him I have to go, but it was nice meeting him.

He says he’ll take me out to dinner tomorrow night or Friday. He’ll give me a call at the guesthouse. I might just be busy when Freaky Fredi calls back. I shake his hand and walk out of the park. “I feel lucky to meet you,” he tells me. “I really mean it. It’s just too bad we didn’t meet sooner.”

Well it’s not every day a girl gets an all expenses paid vacation offered to her, even if it is from Freaky Fredi.

The little black dog follows me out of the park and rubs its head against my leg. I can’t say I feel unloved tonight. The dog looks so starved I decide to feed him my leftovers. I walk the half-block back to the guesthouse and the dog follows me. I tell the guard and his friends that I’m going upstairs to get some leftovers for the dog. The guards say, “Already lunch here today.” They fed the dog lunch at the guesthouse. I ask if they think the dog will stay while I go upstairs. “Yes, yes,” they say, “two days already.”

I get the Swagarth leftovers from the night of the bombing. They’re pretty tired but still okay to eat, especially for a stray dog. I go downstairs and the dog and the guards are all waiting expectantly. I put a little food down and the dog actually eats it. The guard finds an old board that I can put the rest of the food on without making a mess of the pavement in front of the guesthouse.

We all watch as the little dog has its dinner. He likes the mixed veggies and paneer, but only picks at the okra. One of the men makes a joke about the dog not being a vegetarian. They chuckle.

I walk off toward the market hoping to avoid Freaky Fredi, and I do. Mister Kandhari is sitting in his courtyard. He waves for me to come talk to him. I ask him how the election went. He was elected to the committee, but Mister Singh and his other friend were not. It’s too bad. Mister Singh seemed so excited about it. That stinks.

“How is everything going,” he asks me.

“It’s going good,” I tell him. Just then a car with two old men pulls up.

“My friends are here,” he says. He has to go. I get up to leave and ask him if his daughter is in town. “Yes,” he says. “You should meet her. Come tomorrow. Come tomorrow morning or evening… Come tomorrow evening,” he finally decides.

“What time?” I ask him.

“Eight o’clock,” he says.

His friends are walking into the courtyard as I’m leaving.

“Hello, American Beauty,” says a smiling old man in a blue turban. His comment isn’t creepy. It’s grandfatherly, like he could pinch my cheeks if I let him.

If a girl needed her ego stroked, tonight was the night. With an offer of a free trip to the ocean and a salutation like that, how can I feel like less than a woman? I fold my hands and bow my head in greeting, laughing and saying hello, good to see you.

At the market I figure on another veg burger and rose milk soda. As I’m walking to Kent’s, I see this little blonde dog with his tail tucked between his legs cowering between the moving cars. He looks so lonely. I walk behind the car he’s hidden behind wondering if he’ll be scared or if he’ll want some attention. He acts like he was just waiting for someone to notice him and love him. He presses his head against my leg and follows me every time I try to walk away. I feel like the patron saint of stray dogs tonight. I think I’d like to round them all up and get them the veterinary care they need and give them a huge, green farm with plenty of food and nice places to play.

At the outdoor stand, I order a rose milk soda and a veg burger and ask for two pieces of bread for the dog. “There is no charge for the bread,” the man at the register tells me. I feel like I’m having one of those Pay It Forward moments where an act of kindness begets another one. Only here they call it karma.

The men hand me two pieces of bread in a little plastic bag. I break it up and hand it to the skinny dog whose ribs and hips are sorely visible. In typical Indian starving dog fashion, he refuses. He just wants me to scratch his head.

After the men were nice enough to give me the bread, I feel slightly embarrassed. I hold it out for the dog who just yanks his nose away from it. I wonder if this is something how Freaky Fredi felt when I told him I wouldn’t go to Goa. Why won't you go to Goa? Why don’t you want this bread? It’s perfectly fine bread!

I thank the men anyway and tell them I know another dog who will appreciate it, so their gift won’t go to waste.

On the way back to the guesthouse, the little black dog is hanging out with the guards who click at him and talk to him. I offer him the bread but he refuses it too. The mixed veggies must have filled him up.

As a last resort, I break it up for the birds and put it out on my balcony. Somewhere, somehow, something will eat this bread. I refuse to let it go to waste.

I hope the kids at the orphanage will eat the biscuits I’m bringing them on Saturday. If not, there are going to be some really fat birds at the Ahuja Residency.

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