Uttaranchal, India, 2008
'We have to go to the emergency room,' says Ivy* with determination and a bit of panic recognizable in her voice.
She's had a sore big toe for an hour or so, but she's been persistent in telling us it's all okay. Nevertheless, we see the pain in her face. Now that she's a bit worried it might be more than a possible fungi case, she's starting to panic a bit as well and obviously feels an I'm-a-bit-scared-but-maybe-it'll-pass-if-I-try-to-look-cute look is in order.
Mars, Will* and me aren't panicking much, since she hasn't mentioned anything up until half an hour ago. We've just met up, but we'll jump back into the car and go to the nearest emergency room. We circle around the block in a hurry and I get an uncomfortable feeling since I become aware of the fact that it must hurt quite a bit and it's not to be ignored anymore.
Zagreb is packed with one-way streets, so we ― not wanting to waste any valuable time ― drive down to the hospital in the wrong direction. It's two in the morning anyway and not a soul seems to roam the obviously abandoned street.
We get out of the car half-laughing in order to try not to panic much. We're wearing our usual clothes, which still might seem a bit weird to regular observers. Baggy shirts, wide Afghani-style pants, scarves and who knows what. So we pretty much orientalize across the street and get to the main entrance.
There's at least five people wearing white, obviously chain-smoking the night shift away and talking about anything other than medicine. We start walking up to them and I get the feeling I'm being scanned by an extraterrestrial vessel. All of a sudden everything goes slow motion and I can feel their horizontal green-laser gaze move vertically over the bunch of us.
It's somewhere in between a Hackney Wick rave and a Star Trek episode, but the scan is obviously finished and the slow-motion bubble bursts ― from what it seems ― all to abruptly.
'Is the ER open?' someone of us asks the white-clad assembly.
They giggle between them like they're communicating telepathically and already know what the answer is going to be. Our obviously stupid question opens up an Olympic-swimming-pool-sized space for an even stupider question-response from their side.
'Are you... those... what do you call them... Hare Krishnas?'
I'm sure they can read the expression from our faces, bordering somewhere between how the fuck does that help you? and are you going to help us or not?
They're all reluctant and now pretty much seem like a couple of school kids being questioned by their oh-so-strict teacher about who wrecked the classroom window. One of them extinguishes his cigarette and invites Ivy to follow him. The three of us seem to be stalling our departure from the funny lot for no obvious reason, but eventually start moving towards the door.
'You know, we shouldn't even take your friend in.'
'Umm, why not?'
'Well, you came in the wrong direction.'
'Yes, we know. Because it's an emergency.'
(In fact, we're the assholes here, because we didn't want to take the one-way street around the whole quarter, but just cross the 50 meters towards the hospital. Naturally, with extreme caution, not wanting to endanger any possible oncoming traffic.)
The guys are persistent.
'There are cameras, you know.'
We take the game on.
'Then we'll take the fine and that's it. People do far worse things for no apparent reason. We just wanted to bring our friend here as soon as possible. I'm sure our prompt officers are mailing us the fine as we speak.'
They obviously took us for kids, judging us purely on our looks, but being medical staff and all, they seem to appreciate the fact that we're just worried for our friend. They also realize we're not a bunch of morons (well, except driving in the wrong direction) and they seem to appreciate our sarcastic remark, finally easing up and joining on the conversation about our police, the country, the smoking ban and all that follows.
'We'll just go inside and check whether our friend is okay and we'll be back,' we say and start making our way towards the entrance. It doesn't pop into their head to say something reassuring like oh, don't worry; she's getting all the help she needs, so we pick up our pace a bit.
The hospital is, for the lack of a better word, spooky. It's being renovated or reallocated or whatever, but having just seen an extremely weird film, both our perception and imagination were wildly propped up.
The small entrance contains a wooden bench and an old cupboard with drawers turned towards the wall ― or what was left of it. There was a poster on the door, but we couldn't recognize what it showed through the milky glass, so we passed through the next door. The hallway was most definitely bound to be turned into a horror-film set.
Plywood walls all around the hallway with every second neon light turned on, every second of those blinking in an unnatural rhythm. There's a row of half closed doors on both sides of the hallway, but we're a bit too paranoid to peek inside. There was a tiny waiting room on the left with a light on and a single bench ― right in the middle of the room. You can't see outside from it, since it's hammered out by some more plywood, so it basically looks like a walk-in solitary confinement. We joke around because it's just too surreal.
Still no sight of Ivy.
The three of us really feel like we're on a shooting set and just glance at each other, eagerly waiting for anyone to suggest having a cigarette outside. Bingo!
We're out before you can say cashew, creating a mirrored image of the smoking medical bunch on the opposite side of the entrance ― only a bit more, as they thought, Hare Krishna. I'm already half way down my cigarette and the entrance door it still screeching. I've never heard a longer and, considering the circumstances, a spookier door screech.
We're talking about the staff not reacting to the screeching operetta since they're probably set designers and this is in fact the door they use all the time anyway. One of them goes inside right before the door was finally about to close, prolonging the screech to, from what it seems, another two-and-a-half centuries.
We're too nosy to find out what the poster on the inside says, so we go back in. The door is still closing, so we simply slide in during one of the screech aeons.
When was the last time you laughed?
That's what it says. In the emergency room. Honestly.
Simply. Too. Surreal.
Mars takes out a pen and draws a couple of smokes on both granny and grandpa's face and we laugh about it. At the peak of our paranoia that we'll be caught, Ivy is coming down the hall, her face expression insanely similar to what one would imagine on someone who's been abducted, probed and left in the middle of a corn field.
'They don't know what it is,' she says, obviously irritated by the whole thing. 'They told me to go to another emergency room.'
We look at her in amazement, at the same time looking for signs of a candid camera. This is too surreal, if that's even possible.
She tells us they checked it out and that the x-ray shots didn't show anything. She should check with a dermatologist, so in the end it looks like we'll have to wait for the morning shift.
Ivy is a really open type of person, so she doesn't mind expressing her dissatisfaction out loud, in front of the whole staff. The three of us are waiting for the Exorcist theme to start playing out of an imaginary music cloud above out heads and for the guys to draw some scalpels and retractors from their pockets. Our facial expression must border somewhere between being scared shitless and waiting for someone to trip over something we've planted.
We thank them and start walking towards the car. They toss some jokes at us from over the street, so ― in order to make Ivy feel a bit better ― we start telling her the whole story about what has happened while she was away, the supposed cameras in the street and mirror smoking. She laughs and at the same time can't believe what happened.
She's telling us how she walked down a similar-looking hallway with this dodgy-looking guy and all the neon lights flashing in between all the plywood and the tool boxes on the floor. For a moment there she turned back, probably to memorize the way out ― just in case. She's been taken to a couple of different rooms for the examinations, the x-rays and alike.
As we occasionally tend to say (usually after getting insanely wasted), she uses the expression for a moment there, I thought that was it and starts telling us about her whole underground experience. The upcoming story definitely seems like it's gonna take a while, so we decide to take the long drive around the neighbourhood after all.
*Names slightly changed.