It had started out such a good morning - the day after Holi. The sky clear and blue. A fresh cool morning breeze.
I exercised, took a cool-water bucket shower, ate half a papaya, and then headed to the clock tower. At the chai wallah's, I sat on a narrow wooden bench with the locals and sipped my sweet, milky tea.
Being early in the day, the streets were unusually clear. An hour or so later, they would become bedlam. Auto rickshaws, bicycles, trucks and taxis sounding their horns, swerving, darting, hucksters screaming at passers by to purchase their goods, shopkeepers keeping up a mind-numbing stream of "Yes, Mam. Please come, Mam.:" Children yelling, mothers scolding, aunties and sisters chattering, cows lowing. But now the street was blinking in the morning sun, stretching and langorously yawning. Men slowly setting up stands. Women, slowly laying blankets on the ground.
Enjoying the openness, I strode happily along the main avenue on my way to the Railway Booking Office to take advantage of the Special Tourist Quota.
Then, as I walked past the Hotel City Palace Restaurant (in India, a "hotel" is usually just a restaurant), a large tan dog ran out from where it had been lying on the cool steps of the restaurant, came charging at me, and before I could take in what was happening, sunk its teeth deep into my right calf. Then ran off.
I felt pain, but denial is so pervasive, I hoped it was just superficial. Pulling up my pants leg, I stared in panic as blood ran from four huge fang punctures.
Men gathered around me in a circle and stared. Black eyes, furrowed eyebrows. Blood running down my leg. Four fang punctures. A moment in timelessness.
Finally, words broke through my tight locked lips.
"Hospital. Hospital," I stammered.
A well-dressed man broke through the circle of men surrounding me - the manager of the Hotel City Palace.
"Not my dog! Not my dog!" he repeated. He commandeered a rickshaw and gave instructions to the driver.
"Driver take you to hospital. You pay him 40 rupees, Madame.
The young driver pulled out into the street and before I could think or speak, we were off.
I stared down at my leg in horror and morbid fascination. My main fear wasn't death by rabies, although from accounts I've read, it certainly wouldn't be my first choice of how to go - a horrifying two weeks of excruciating pain and insanity - but for me, the fear was: will the puncture wound affect my calf muscle and impede my dancing?
At the first clinic my driver stopped at, an old man cleaning the floor with a dirty old rag, waved us away and we darted off again.
The driver pulled up to the Government Hospital and turned off the engine. He helped me out of the rickshaw and ushered me into the dark emergency entrance. He explained what had happened to me to various curious people, maybe hospital staff, maybe not, I had no idea Finally one young man in cheap jeans and a navy blue polo short dotted with the tiny white lint balls that form on cheap polyesther fabric came over and listened intently to my driver. Since he had a stethyscope dangling around his neck, I assumed he was a doctor. He ushered me into an examination room and told me to sit on a metal stool.
"Ok, Madame?" my driver asked. You want I wait?"
"No. No, thank you," I said and dug through my purse for his 40 rupees.
He took it from me with the typical waggle of the head, but his eyes returned to mine.
"Ok, Madame?" I felt his reluctance to leave me, his ward, his injured passenger.
"Yes. Yes. It's okay. You can go."
"Okay, Madame." He smiled weakly, turned and left.
The lint ball doctor's face was more Chinese than Indian- Round, his skin color very light. He spoke good English.
"Okay, Madame, you will have to wait a bit. Main doctor coming soon. Please just sit and relax." He spoke gently and slowly, with sweetness and compassion while just outside the doorless opening to the room a cluster of dark-skinned people stared at me. When I turned my head toward them, I met the black eyes of twelve black faces that studied me, expressionlessly.
"Excuse me," I said to the Chinese-looking doctor, "is it possible to clean the wound with some antisceptic while I'm waiting for the doctor?"
"Oh, yes. Please follow me, Man."
We parted the lake of waiting patients and he led me to the next room where two tiny yellow-saried nurses with white nurses caps were busily sorting through some stacks.
Sunil, my guardian angel, was from the far North of India.
"You don't look Indian," I said.
"In the North everybody look like me. Chinese type face. Near Tibet. I"m a medical student here."
He had just completed his all night shift in the emergency ward when I walked in ashen-faced and bleeding from four fang punctures.
He engaged in intense conversation with the two nurses. The more aggressive of the two turned to me and in very pidgeon English said; "You eat? Morning." She pointed vigorously to the floor. "Morning? You eat?"
"Half a papaya and chai," I answered when I could finally figure out what she was asking me.
How this figured into the treatment for a dog bite - the possibility of rabies and infection - I couldn't imagine, but she was adamant about the need for me to eat something.
After wetting tiny wisps of cotton with some liquid and bare-handed dabbing at the fang holes and wiping the blood spilling down my legs, he simply tossed the bloody bits of cotton on the dull gray cement floor, and rubbed his hands together, spreading my blood evenly over them before finding a tissue to wipe them with.
The tiny vociferous nurse kept up a diatribe and when he led me out of the room, he told me I must go out and get something to eat.
"But I can't walk," I said in a pitiable whine as I hobbled out of the room.
"Okay Mam. You sit on this tool and wait here. I'll be right back with something for you." And he grabbed a motorcycle helmet and disappeared out the back door of the hospital.
He was back in just a few minutes and handed me two packages of orange-creme-filled biscuits.
The idea of eating anything seed repugnant, but I forced myself to eat three, afraid of the fierce nurse, and drank some water.
"Okay, Mam, main doctor come now," said Sunil and he ushered me back into the first room.
A tall doctor in jeans and a blue shirt looked superciliously down at my leg as Sunil explained my situation to him.
'Please step on the scale to be weighed," Sunil said.
"Forty-seven k," he announced to the doctor, who made some notes on a piece of paper and waved me out of the office.
So once again, Sunil walked, as I limped into the room with the two nurses.
Thank God, the tough nurse was a good stick. One injection in my right upper arm. One injection in my left upper arm. One injection in my hip. And one injection at the spot in my calf in the middle of the teeth bites.
Sunil led me out, told me to lean against the wall and went up to the dispensary. He returned with a packet of antibiotics to fight the infection. A tube of iodine ointment. And a packet of paracetymol for the pain. He patiently explained how I should go home, wash well with soap and water and the schedule for the remaining four more anti-rabies shots.
"How you go home, Madame?" he asked.
"Rickshaw," I said.
"Come Madame. Please," he said. "My shift finished. I take you your guest house."
I climbed onto the back of this saint's motorbike and he took me to where I was staying.
"Thank you so much," I stammered tears flooding my eyes.
"It's alright," he said looking down at the ground. No problem."
And this dear saint drove off.
I stand watching him turn the corner and feel like Blanche Dubois. "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."