It is 4:00 PM, and it is drizzling. There is a lot of shouting going on in front of the main building. Trainees in half pants and T-shirts are bent over the railings, some using umbrellas, some just ignoring the drizzle.
It is the primary millennium trophy and a soccer match is going on the football ground. The mixture of mud and rainwater reeks of rotten mud, and the players are covered with mud, their beautifully colorful jerseys showing patches of a darker brown where it had come in contact with the mud.
I am the one in jersey number 2, and the skinny me invokes a lot of jests from the crowd but I ignore them. I have become accustomed to this type of jeers. The mud-ball continues while the intensity of the rain increases. I can’t run faster when the player from the opposite team crosses me with the ball.
Curse the cigarettes. Curse the WILLS. Curse the NAVY CUTS.
I clutch my chest and bowl over. Sherab comes to me asking, “What happened? K.K.” He is our goalie.
“ Nothing,” I answer. I can see the concern in his eyes. I can see the concern in my friend’s eyes.
I sit at the side of the ground for the remainder of the match, as a spectator. Meanwhile my chest pain has subsidized a bit.
The next morning I go to the general office and register myself in the ‘hospital visiting register’ so that I will be taken to the hospital by the institute vehicle (especially the bus, now that the other vehicles are out of condition) during the lunch hour. The hour before lunch is ‘Curriculum Studies’ by A.K.S. Rana (Rana being his nickname which somehow overshadowed his real surname which is Singh- the ‘S’ in his initials) who takes 15 minutes extra while enthusiastically teaching about the history of education in India and the need for a curriculum in education.
Needless to say I miss the bus. I have to endure a 30-minute walk in the scorching heat to the hospital reaching where another grim sight awaits me. There is only one doctor and there are about 50 patients waiting to see him; women, children, old men, sick men, even group of sick prisoners from the local prison escorted by fat and lazy policemen with no weapons (maybe the prisoners are trustworthy, or maybe the policemen can really run fast enough to catch them if they try to run, though they are cuffed).
As I wait in the line, someone calls to me and says “ Sir, the trainees are given the first preference especially during the lunch hour”, so I go inside and the doctor motions me to sit on a tool in front of me.
“ What happened?” he asks.
“ My chest pains, and I have difficulty breathing . . .” When did it happen? Which area feels the most pain? Etc. . . And he brings out a stethoscope and probes my chest with it, after glancing at my mere skeletal body.
He presents some medicine and I whisper to him, “I used to smoke, maybe this is caused by it.”
His glasses nearly falls off his face. “Do you?”
“ Well, I used to,” reply, “ but I quit.”
“ When?” he enquires.
“ Two days ago ” I give the answer. I leave him with the prescription in hand but his last words still rings in my ears.
“ Charo, Give up smoking for good. You don’t want t die before reaching the age of 30.”
I smile. I want to be able to age up to 100. So that’s why I stop smoking.