The doctor’s waiting room was full. Everyone was wearing masks. There was a little girl in a pavada, dressed in her Sunday best for this dreary room. Sitting next to her was a man completely devoid of hair on his head. He was bald to the point of being a mirror to his surroundings. He wore a loose collared t-shirt with the name of a notable MNC embroidered on the corner of his chest. The t-shirt was old and faded as was the logo of the MNC which had since changed thrice. Behind him, there was a little man breathing heavily into his mask. Every 30 seconds his glasses would fog up and he would remove them and rub them vigorously with the corner of his greasy shirt. His hands were crossed and he looked into the distance. On the far end of the room, there was a young man in torn jeans playing PubG on his phone distancing himself with a few chairs from a woman wearing shiny fake jewellery and a child dressed in overly colourful jeans and a ‘monkey cap’. The child kept fidgeting with his uncomfortable headgear and the mother kept knocking his hands away. To their right, an older woman in a perfectly tied sari sat still. She had her white handkerchief with pink trim and floral embroidery firmly placed over her mouth. Another man, presumably her husband, loitered around pretending to read the calendar, the only item on the wall, with total focus and consistently kept refusing to sit down much to the irritation of his wife.

As soon as I came in I was made to correct my mask, sanitise my hands and sit down. A large white board made from sticking some pieces of A4 paper on top of cardboard proclaimed “No masks. No entry”. Another sign proclaimed ‘Avoid touching surface’. As I was figuring out how to hover above my chair, the attendant came hurrying to me. He took me out again and made me download ‘Aarogya Setu’ a Govt of India app that tracked COVID cases. It took me a good 10 minutes to do it because 4G was not working. Of course.

By the time I got in the room again, the little girl and the bald man were inside the doctor’s room. I watched the attendant diligently spray and sanitise the space they were sitting in. People kept getting their turns and soon it was my turn. I was bumped into the chair right outside the doctor’s cabin, a proclamation to the world that I was next. The buzzer rang and the door opened. The PubG guy stepped out and I was ushered in. The doctor was sitting in a large sparse room with a steel bed at one end of the room and a table stacked with medical journals on the other. He didn’t look up when I entered. He was wearing a mask. When he finally looked at me he asked me, “What happened”. I told him about the rash on my back that had been bothering me. He asked me to show it to him. I lifted up my shirt and moved closer to him under the light. I turned to see that he had pushed his chair further back, much further. He barely took a glimpse from where he was and asked me to wear my shirt again. I asked him, “Are you sure you know what it is?”. He nodded and continued writing a prescription. He handed me the piece of paper and with that, my consultation was over. He said, “Payment here!”.

I took out Rs 500 to give him. Keeping up with the precautionary tradition of the space, I tried to wedge the note between two books on his table. The doctor looked up, took the note from my bare hands, folded it reverentially and put it in his shirt pocket, his personal treasure chest.

I left with an unbearable itch on my back.

This story has been written for the Inktober Oct 21 prompt word — “Treasure”



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Pranav Mathur

I work for other people in the day and on myself in the night. Wait… that sounds wrong.