Saturday, January 05, 2008

THE CLEANER (part 1)

(this is a story from my imagination, any resemblance of names is only a matter of accedent)

It was only after about 3 months when I get started to adapt well to my new life as a resident doctor in pediatrics in Al Hilla Babylon, started to make friendships and had again the ability to laugh from my heart, accepting the living in a room shared by another doctor, and not seeing my family more than 2 days after a 10 days of continuous work…It was only then when my fear from patients decreased, and I started to deal better with emergencies, even if I could not diagnose or treat I could manage to find a solution someway or another, especially by making phone calls to those who are more experienced than me….

It was only after about 3 months when I saw her the first time. It was late in a hot afternoon of summer when temperature reaches about 45 centigrade when she came to the emergency unit holding a paper in her hand, a paper on which we can write drugs to be freely given to patients from the pharmacy of our hospital. I knew she was a cleaner from her blue dress, but she didn’t act as all other cleaners, nor any other sub staff, who usually came to us in the middle of our work and may interrupt our talking with a patient saying: “Ammu (means my uncle, but it is usually used in our health system to call those who are superior to you), Ammu, Ammu, just, just write kiflex capsules, Fenestil drops, and Tusiram syrup here, yeah, don’t forget to sign it, and write here 30 so that they give me 30 capsules”… Well it is a long story, but I can summarize it this way: our salaries were around 3 to 5 US dollars, and many workers in the health field take free drugs from hospital to sell them to pharmacies out side hospital, and some doctors were doing that too…

Having shocked by that fact in my first 3 months, I stopped my arguments with anyone asked me to write him/her a prescription….but I could not respect them…. and I did noticed that some workers don’t do that… to those who were shy of doing that I had a great respect….

So, she was standing there with her blue suit, there was a patient talking to the doctor sitting next to me, while I was just looking at that cleaner in her late 50s, standing far away from us but looking at us, far by about 10 meters, looking at me then at the doctor next to me then to the paper in her hand, she was hesitated. When I noticed that she is looking at her paper while biting her lower lip, I felt how beautiful she is. When the patient talking to the doctor next to me started to leave, the doctor next to me stood up and was about to start speak to me. At that moment I looked at her face, she was so anxious, her eyes were fixed on my colleague’s face, as if examining the possibility of asking him to write her a prescription while he was about to leave. I was asking my mind: why she doesn’t come to me? My mind answered: she may know that doctor better than you…I wanted to talk to her, so while I was nodding my head for my colleague telling him that he can go, I said to her with great respect as if am talking to my senior: “please come here..” and I referred with my opened hand to a chair on the other side of the table I was sitting on…Her face became more red, while she smiled a little and came walking cautiously towards me with her head tilted a little below but her eyes were fixed on mine.

- How are you doctor? (she said with a real smile, grateful that I had invited her, and I notice that she did not use the Ammu when calling me, but she used Doctor).
- Am fine, thank you, please take a seat.
- No doctor, thank you, I know you are tired but my daughter phoned me and told me that her daughter is having frequent bowel motions, and I don’t know what to do...(so she is a grandmother I told my self, but she is so beautiful).
- Oh, ….well……how old is she?
- About 2 years…
- Did she vomit?
- I don’t know….but I think not, cause my daughter did not mention it…and I know my daughter well…if there was a vomiting she would be frightened and would told me about it in the first place…(then she returned her eyes to me after she was talking while she was looking at the table as if remembering something).
- Why she would remember vomiting?
- It is a long story doctor…I just know her..

I noticed that she is calm, her voice is little low pitched for a female, it was a deep voice, and I noticed that she differs from other cleaner, she seems very clever and wise I thought...and my heart beatings were thrubing my chest and head...a type of palpitation a was having at that time that could be evoked by many situations....but in this situation i suspected that I liked her...

- Well.... frequent bowel motions can lead to dehydration in children…and it is better to be seen by a doctor, and its treatment in children is different than its treatment in adults…and….mmmm….well….(I looked at the paper in her hand)…if you want I can write you any drug you want, but about that child, she got to be seen by a doctor…
- Oh yeah I thought that too, yeah, I will go and take them to the nearby health centre…sorry to bother you doctor…I will go return this paper to its place, unless you want it?
- Oh!, no I don’t want it…thank you…(I said that with little surprise and my face turned red I thought, and I bit my lower lip…)
turning into her face I noticed that she is examining my face with her narrowly opened eyes, when our eyes met, she smiled and told me:

- It is me who must thank you doctor, take care.
- Iake care.

The following days I knew that she works in the obstetrics and gynecology emergency unit, which share us the same entrance door and a big waiting lobby, and its door is next to ours. I have seen all those who were working in that unit, but did not see her before, all the staff working in the maternity unit knew me, and we were greeting each other daily, but that lady is not so social….
I saw her the second time while the staff were changing shifts, the morning shift were going out to their homes, and I was walking in the opposite direction, I was on the afternoon shift that day, all were greeting me as they were walking out and she was coming, wearing her black ABAYA (a conventional dress for women in middle east), she saw me from a distance, then perverted her gaze away and she passed just next to me. My eyes were fixed in her face. She is tall, white, wrinkles around her black eyes, her sclera is little red here and there, her nose is average one, her mouth is little wide but her lips are turned to the inside, from outside her lips seems so slim, and not so red, angles of her mouth were turned down, her eye brows are so slim, slim by nature, she doesn’t use make up, her eye brows are so short, but you can see them as individuals, not stacked together, she is so beautiful, and while others were walking with their colleagues, she walked alone, not fast, not slow, she is at ease, she knows how she does it, and she interred my heart, no more, no less….

That day I kept remembering her, I asked the afternoon maternity cleaner:
- The cleaner working the morning shift, she missed a paper on my table, what is her name?
- Oh, you mean UM SABAH (um sabah, means mother of Sabah, means she got a son called Sabah, and in our culture we call women by the name of their son, we call the by the word UM “um = mother of” then we put the name of her oldest son).
- Yeah, that beautiful lady..
- Hmmmm…beautiful lady…hmmm…Ammu!!!
- What?
- Nothing, just give me the paper I will give it to her.
- No, I will give it to her….thank you…
- Hmmm….(she rose her eye brows and smiled, I smiled too, hoping that she would tell UM SABAH that I called her a beautiful lady, but would that be good, would she like that? the obsessions of a poor young lover started wearing me…oh god help me).
I didn’t saw her for about a week. I was looking about her, but did not went inside the maternity unit where I think she spent her time, working. I needed to find a cause to go there…

It was our salary day, and all gathered there, in a major large lobby where no patient allowed to inter, only for the sub staff, I was having headache, so I decided to go to sleep and decided that I take the salary on the next day, but I blamed my self for that mistake, cause almost all workers take the salary on the first day, and it was a great opportunity to see her. the next day I was working as a donkey carrying for free heavy merchandise in a mountain, so I forget again my salary.

On the third day, at about 2 pm, late in afternoon, I went to take my salary, they gave me what was about 5 US dollars (15,000 Iraqi Dinars), I was the only one in that day taking salary, no one in the lobby, I was to go to the main door but she opened it, she came in, looked at my face longer than previous times, she looked at my hands holding money, she turned her face to the salary giving room while the tip of her tongue appeared to lubricate her 2 lips, then she introvert her 2 lips inside her mouth, then opened her mouth to take a deep breath while she gave me another long look, during which I was frozen but my head moved slowly and a little bit to one side, I think to the right side… she came to take her salary, that woman, is surely not like others, I stayed in my place while the 2 women working in giving salaries were happy to see my lady, and were treating her in a very special way, and both of them gave me some examining gazes, so I decided that I should pretend to count the money, then went out, feeling that that lady now knows me better…

One morning I saw her again, walking in a the hospital, I knew her from a distance of about 300 meters, she noticed me I think from about 100 meters, she fixed her gaze in the space in front of her, not on me, I was to my right, she was to her right, she is to my left, so, she fixed her gaze not on me, and the moment we passed each other she looked down, and I turned 2 times to see her….

I was to greet her, if she just looked once to my face, but she didn’t do that, and her look freezes me…but I got to break the cold glassy barrier that separate us, but she seemed to put those glassy barriers to most people working in the hospital…so….I got to be aware, of not to make silly things….

After about 2 months or maybe three of no talking to this lady, I decided that I must not freeze anymore like a stupid child, like a moron, and it was late in afternoon one day when I saw her sitting in the patients lobby, which was almost empty, looking from the window…..while my heart felt like it is wrapped with hot hot honey, that its drops are falling in my stomach, making sound like this: blup…..dup……in a very slow rhythm, I walked to her on that slow rhythm, not knowing whether I would be courage to talk to her when I would reach her….I reached her, she turned her face to me, and I said:
- How are you UM SABAH.
- Fine thank you doctor…(she said that while she smiled, and her hands met together at that moment with her fingers first intermingled, then with the left hand she started to pressure on the right)..
- How is that child….the daughter of…
- Oh, she is fine now, your advice helped us really, we took her to the nearby health centre, and they gave her some treatment and she is good now, thank you doctor..(she is so kind, I didn’t gave them great help, but she is exaggerating to let me feel that I did rescue their child, even if I did not told them to take her to the health centre they would did that, I smiled, then she added):
- Are you new here doctor?
- Yeah, about 6 months…
- Yeah, doctors come and go, and we stay here..
- Since when you work here?
- Oh, it was a very long time, before this hospital was built I was in the old surgical hospital, when they built this hospital in 1977 I came here to work here in many wards, and now since few months am in the emergency unit, but I will change this soon cause I don’t like it, and my age is no more helping me to be that active….(at this moment I turned my face to look through the window, and she was looking into my face, I turned to her, asked her):
- Do you know my name?
- I would be happy to know it….(her face turned red, and her voice hesitated, while her lips were turned inside her mouth, then her tongue’s tip appeared to lubricate her lips, the her eyes became more narrowly opened to focus in my face).
- But I know you name UM SABAH..
- Yeah..(she turned her face to her hands for a while, then looked at the window, then at me again).
- How I knew your name?
- You asked I think.
- Yeah….(both of us smiled, and then I add)..I won’t tell you my name, you got to ask about it…(she raised her eye brows and smiled giving me a gaze which I thought it means who do you think your self? , a facial expression of ridicule, so I decided to go ridiculous to the end and said):

- And you know what UM SABAH, I give you only three days to know my name…
- And if I fail to know it? (she that with a malicious smile)
- I will punish you… (I said that with a challenging smile)
- What will be my punishment..(smiling)
- The punishment is that you give me a kiss.
- Oh…(she laughed in a low voice)..and if I will know you name, will you give me present?
- Yeah…I will give you a kiss…
- Oh..(she burst into laughter)

after that conversation I decided not to mention that to her again, I mean not to ask her about my name, but when I saw her after three days she gave me a very nice smile, so I asked her if she knows my name, and she said:
- Yes, I know it now.
- What?
- Samer..
- Samer?...this is not my name.
- So what would be my punishment..(at that point I thought that she did that deliberately…so that there is no punishment nor a present).
- It is something like samer..
- What? usama?
- No…
- Hmmm…so …
- So….one day I will punish you…

she made a wide smile, she was happy about that game, and me too, and both of us didn’t want it to end. that same day, when I was going back to the doctor’s house where we have our lunch, she was leaving home.
- Oh, hi UM SABAH, are you going home.
- Yes.
- Do you live in Al Hilla?
- No, in a village near it.
- What is its name?
- A difficult name for you to remember. (oh god, what an answer, what did she mean? that can have multiple meanings).
- Oell me and we will see.
- El Jimijma.
- I will remember that for all my life.
- ……
- Ok take care, see you soon.
- Ok Dr. Sami, see you. (oops, she knew my name).

she went walking on the other side of the way, I walked more slower than her, till she left from the front door of the hospital.


dahmane said...

Awwww, Dr. Al Bedri, what a sweet story, you must write more...! Thank you. and, i missed you very much, i am so glad you are back. love, tracy

Anonymous said...


saminkie said...

thank you Tracy and the dear anonymous for your encouragement...i am preparing part 2...
Anonymous, why i got the feelin that you are the one who taught me the word (lobby)?