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Here is another tale from….a hospital. I seem to be living a lot in hospitals these days. Anyways…

I had accompanied a loved one to a hospital recently when they needed to have a biopsy done. We reached the place early enough, 9 o’clock in the morning to be precise. The procedure was simple, would hardly take any time, ten minutes at the most, and even with the mandatory observation time of an hour afterwards, we’d be back home by lunch time. Well, that’s what we thought. What do they say about man proposing and God disposing? In our case though, it was the delay in sterilized bottles arriving that caused our plans to go awry.

Eventually the sterilized bottles reached and the patient was called in. By the time the procedure was over the time was 1-30 p.m. It was way past our lunch time. The nurse instructed that I should first pay the bills and then get tea or coffee for the patient. Get something for yourself too, the patient told me. Yes, I was wilting with hunger by then, having had a light breakfast quite early. But, I welcomed the opportunity to stretch my legs. I had been sitting in one place since morning, not daring to get up because that would mean I’d lose my seat.

After paying the bill, I walked downstairs where I had seen a kiosk. Just as I was about to ask for coffee (for the patient only, I don’t touch the stuff!), I noticed they had soup. Soup from the machine, but soup. Ahh, I thought, I will get soup for the pair of us. I hung my bag crosswise on my body, leaving both my hands free. Using a paper towel as base, I rested one (paper) cup of boiling hot soup in my left hand and picked up the other cup of equally hot soup by holding it by the edges with my right hand. As those who work in kitchen know, your right hand tolerates more heat than the left, that is, if you are right-handed, which I am.

I slowly walked up the stairs, not spilling a single drop. Reaching the broad corridor, I walked towards the waiting area. Half-way across it. Only a few more feet and I’d be inside the room, and then a short walk down another corridor to where the patient was seated. I almost congratulated myself on making it when something happened that caused me to remember Robert Burns and his lines from ‘To a Mouse’

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Two young girls coming from behind me, were hurrying to the waiting area and one of them bumped against my left elbow. The cup in my left hand wobbled, and tilted with me trying vainly to stabilize it. Steaming hot liquid fell on my right hand, which was exactly when ‘promised joy’ of reaching my destination gave way to ‘grief and pain’. Not just mice and men, it happens to women too. Sigh. One gone, but there was the other. I tried bravely to hold on to the one in my right hand, but the scalding liquid falling on my right palm shocked me into relinquishing my hold on it. Second one gone too.

I stared at the paper cups on the floor, the spreading soup. and then at my red and burning right palm. An old man coming towards me said, ‘You should have used a tray, or plate!’ Too late for advice, Mister. And why was he speaking to me in Hindi anyway? Probably thought I was from North India. Mallus are supposed to have long hair. Meanwhile, I could hear the girls whispering to each other. Should we buy her coffee? Should we go with her and get her another cup? I looked at them without really seeing them. There was a man too standing next to them, I noticed.

I bent down picked up the empty cups and walked to the dust bin to drop them. Nothing to do but go get two more cups of soup. The girls hadn’t moved. They were looking at me as if I was something from the zoo. An apology was nowhere in sight. Whatever, I started on my way. The young man with them then stepped forward and said, ‘I will come down with you and help!’ I protested thinking he was offering to buy me soup. He didn’t have to, I’d buy the soup. No worries, I told him. But I can help you carry them back up, he said. Oh. Okay. I agreed, and thanked him,

We went down, and I got two more cups of soup. He insisted on holding both of them as we walked back. I let him as my palm was still red and smarting. On the way back he asked conversationally, ‘What happened? Was the liquid too hot for your hand?’ Why was he asking me when he should know that one of his companions had bumped into me? I mean, hadn’t he offered to help as compensation? But I was loathe to blame his family members. After all the man was making reparations. So, reluctantly, I told him, ‘One of the girls, the ones with you, pushed my elbow while walking past and the hot liquid fell on my hand!’ The rest of the cascading effect was not hard to imagine.

‘Which girls?’ he asked. And then remembering, ‘Oh no. They are not with me.’ he said. ‘They are not?’ Now I was the one puzzled. I thought he had offered to help because either his wife or sister or girl friend, had caused the accident. Why, if this man had nothing to do with what happened had he helped me! Was he just a Good Samaritan? The realization made him grow in my eyes.

The girls were nowhere in sight when we reached the corridor. I guess they were in a hurry. It was a hospital after all and who knew what troubles they had and where they were hurrying off to? But a simple, ‘I am sorry!’ for bumping into an old lady and burning her hand wasn’t too much to expect, was it? Anyway, the good man insisted on walking all the distance right up to where the patient was sitting. Both of us thanked him profusely. It was nothing, he said, smiled and walked away. It was a small thing for you. But small things are what matter most. Bless you, young man, wherever you are. You will not be forgotten.

© Shail Mohan 2021