Happy New year

Always seemed logical until today

Today is Saturday and it’s New year’s Eve and I’m on call this weekend. 

Don’t call me unfortunate. Special days like Christmas and New year, birthdays, anniversaries and the like are not that big of a deal to me. Last year, I was on call both on Christmas day and New year’s Eve and New year. If I hadn’t been on call this year, I’m sure I would have been at home sleeping soundly. No pomp, no pageantry, no fireworks- just another day. 

So, I’m ending the year like I started it- in the hospital.

Anyways, for some reason, we don’t have call meal tickets and I had to pack breakfast from home (never mind that I finally got the time to take said breakfast at 4pm today). Even if I had the meal tickets, I’m not sure if the canteen will open tomorrow morning. 

In any case, very soon I’ll start feeling hungry, so I went out of the hospital to some roadside vendors to buy some supper for tonight. 

Yea, I can hear you thinking- what’s that? Haven’t you heard of Enteric fever?

  • First, the fast food courts are so expensive and their food is either not tasty or too small or both.
  •  Second, the key is to look for a vendor whose food practices are relatively hygienic and buy from them. If you end up with food poisoning, you can at least trace it back to source. 
  • Third, in any case, I prefer my own cooking and only use this avenue as an option of necessity.
  • Fourth, street food aside, I follow every other necessary step and precaution to minimize the risk of getting a food-borne infection. 

As she scoops the meal into the styrofoam container, I ask her if she’ll be out here tomorrow. She responds that she’ll come out in the evening, no earlier, as she too would like to take some time to celebrate and get her affairs together in preparation for the new year. 

I’m slightly disappointed as I thank her, pay for the meal and start walking back to the hospital. I haven’t figured out how to eat tomorrow morning. 

However, as I walk back, I think to check up on my favorite fruit vendor and wish her a happy new year in advance. Her daughter just recently finished high school and occasionally sells along with her. The young girl is waiting for admission into the university to take the first steps to what would hopefully be a better life for herself and the rest of the family. 

She is close to my age, but I don’t tell her that. Just a few days ago, I had a reunion with my high school class… We’d graduated nearly a decade ago. In that time, I’d gone on to medical school, finished and have now practiced as a doctor for a couple of years, but she is just graduating high school now. In any case, slow progress is still progress. 

I don’t see my vendor or her daughter. They’ve probably taken the day off to be with friends and family. Most of their neighbors are also not around. However, there are a few people around. They are hawkers, selling off trays perched on top of their heads, or selling from wheelbarrows, occasionally, they occupy a vacant table. 

I walk up to the first one and wish her a happy new year. She either doesn’t hear or doesn’t respond. Her face is an intricately carved mask- part apathy, part longing, part resignation. I follow her eyes to the other side of the street and I see people with plastic bags full of groceries and other items hurrying home to go and celebrate with their neighbors, friends and families. 

I would feel bad too, if I had to be out here- no friends or family to celebrate with, no exciting trips to shops, no laughter, no holidays. Only the harsh sounds of enthusiastic car horns and customers haggling. 

Wait. I too, am without friends or family this period. But I have a cogent reason. I’m saving lives, or so I’ve been told. Moreover, this is the life I chose. How many of these people with drawn faces and dusty feet actually chose this life? How many of them would actually rather be here in the streets haggling for a few pennies worth of profit, than be with their children and lovers, friends and neighbors, parents? I don’t know. 

Maybe, she cannot see how different her life will be, come next year, which is only a few hours away. Today is like any other day for her and happy might not be the first word that comes to mind. I don’t know. 

I don’t read minds, despite what most people who see me for one ailment or another think. 

I look at her and look back at the street. I am tempted to repeat myself, maybe louder this time, so that she can hear me. But then, as I roll around the words in my mouth, I take another look at her face- there are worry lines and hungry eyes, a runny nose and dry lips. 

I shake my head and walk away. 


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