Monday, November 26, 2007

Lessons from the bedside


She sits. Here. Hospital bed number 5. Two weeks past, she sat on the street. The street, her home. A hard enough home for the healthy, and Kovita was not healthy. Not after the taxi that hit her left her immobile on the sidewalk, a pair of open wounds on her ankles, two circles of black skin and blood and the edge of bone.

Kovita. Short hair, bright orange nightie. Her eyes are big and brown, and she smiles when we come around the corner into her ward. When we sit, she speaks to us in slow, slow Bangla. We are beginners, she knows. "Kalke Darjeeling didi eshechilo," she tells me. The Darjeeling sister came yesterday. That would be Lily, our British friend who first found Kovita on the sidewalk. "She brought me three mango juice drinks," Kovita continues, her eyes wider than normal, her finger poking the air for emphasis. "I drank two, and I gave her one." She motions to the elderly lady in bed number 6, who manages a wan smile.

Kovita is the hospital personality of her floor. She knows everyone's name, and she's not afraid to introduce herself to new visitors. One by one, she tells me the statuses of her fellow patients. Most of it I cannot understand; even when she speaks in slow and measured rhythm, there are many words which haven't made it into my small bin of Bangla vocab.

There is a problem with the bill tonight--something about how the hospital cannot change her dressing until we pay more. Sheila, who possesses a determination and gumption I do not, marches downstairs to sort the situation out. I stay perched on the edge of Kovita's bed. She is worried, about the bill and about the sorry lack of our Bangla. We do not know enough to adequately explain what we are trying to do. "We are straightening things out," I want to tell her. "It is going to be okay." But Kovita moves first, easing the conversation past its awkward halt. "What did you eat today?" she asks, leaning forward to touch me gently. This, food talk, I can do. I grin. "Bread and fruit and sweets and..." I pause. "Pasta?" I venture the English word, hoping she might recognize it. No. "Noodles?" I offer. Ah, yes, a nod. Noodles she knows.

"You did not eat rice?" she asks me, concern falling over her face like a curtain unrolled. I say no sadly. To go a day without eating rice is a grave offense in West Bengal. I do not tell her that I am trying to avoid rice, that I am actually tired of rice, that I will eat rice if Aunty serves it but I stopped voluntarily choosing it months ago.

Kovita. Our new friend who wants to come work at Sari Bari when her ankles heal, who motivates me to study Bangla although my leaving day is coming close, who teaches us about joy and life.

The road of love is paved with many tiny stones. I remember this today. Visiting one sick woman in one hospital in one Kolkata--it's a stone. Today, God asks me to lay this one stone with a pure heart and a set of willing hands. I will not lay the whole road today, nor in my lifetime. But with every new brick I am handed, I long to be faithful.


  1. Lara, I will pray for Kovita and for you. I am sure that the Lord is even now meeting your longing to be faithful with a quick word, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." Hang in there. You are and will continue to lay key bricks and pebbles until the last day is done in Kolkata. May the Lord give you peace and strength.

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