I’m going to die here. Perish in a steamy room that smells like an open sewer, in a city planned by schizophrenics, in a hotel where the only scenery next door is a junkyard for defunct cars.
I opened my eyes, staring at the ceiling fan whirring above.
I survived SARS in Vietnam.
I emerged unscathed from a dengue fever outbreak in Brazil.
H1N1 never came knocking.
I can’t shake this.
After my birthday, it reappeared. The burning hotness on the back of my neck. The fissures forming on my arm. Dammit, it was time to do something.
But when you’re alone in an unknown country, sometimes you freeze.
I didn’t know what to do. I come off brazen, an impulsive adventurer who gets on that boat with no lifejacket or hang-glides even though she gets vertigo.
Nah, this time I was scared.
Nothing was right. By now, I should be in Rishikesh, not waffling in Agra. By April, I wanted to be in either Sri Lanka or Thailand. It’s now March 31.
The blog is suffering. Who has time to craft words under duress? Shit, no.
Back to panic mode, I did what I know how to do best. Decided to leave.
I was supposed to stay at a Mystique Moments in Delhi earlier in March, but that got nixed because my Scottish travel companion convinced me to stay in the horrible Pahar Ganji area. Sure, it’s central. If you can endure tout after tout badgering you non-stop.
I remember the owner of Mystique oozing with niceness from his previous emails. I recall his guesthouse being far, far away from skinny Indian boys trying to sell me stuffed tigers.
I emailed him, begging for a room that day, saying I was in pain and needed some medical care in Delhi. Oh, and could you answer in the next half hour before check-out closes in on me?
He replied with only having a queen available and the cost is 1,200 rupees.
My heart plummeted.
I typed: 600 is the most I can do.
He replied back. No problem. What matters is getting you healthy. I know some good doctors here.
And you know why he does? He is one. Retired. And Hostel World gives Dr. Malik’s former practice, now guesthouse, an 80% rating.
Tears came. Maybe it was relief. Just a reaction to the stinging on my neck or side effects from those weak ass antibiotics I’ve been popping.
I packed up lightening fast, paid my standing hotel bill, lined up a driver to Delhi, because dealing with the train was out of the question.
Just when I felt cornered on all sides, wondering if I paid too much for the car, sucking back worry, my driver turned to me.
“You need anything. Tea, water.. I will stop and we can take our time. “ He is a man of girth, so was his smile. Broad and welcoming.
When we did stop, he paid for my tea, refusing to take payment when I pressed some rupees into his hand.
He weaved seamlessly, skimming past tractors pushing us against medians, even illegal oncoming cars – our headlights nearly dancing with theirs. He showed me acres of farmland with thatch huts. A Sikh temple. A Hindu temple the color of snow, so grand it was tempting to snap pictures. My angry body advised against it.
He handed me a ratty notebook, I didn’t know why. Inside were glowing reviews from travelers all over the world. Handwritten, wishing him a happy life, many thanks, with email address tagged on. This one-man show has driven people as far as Varnasi, as close as Agra.
His name is Balbir and I like him.
I grew drowsy, relaxing a little. The last images before drifting off was the transparency of the blue sky, how impressed I was with the attractive landscaping planted in the median. This is what runs through an ill person’s mind. Skies and concrete.
Four hours on the Agra-Delhi highway, one hour getting through the city and some mobile calls for directions, we finally found Mystique tucked in Pitampura.
A guesthouse employee stood on the street waiting to take my stupidly large backpack. I almost crumbled against him with gratitude.
My driver offered his number in case I needed him in a pinch. I took it happily. We parted, shaking hands.
By now, my bloody neck was fully throbbing and I was dog-tired.
I climbed a steep staircase and entered Dr. Malik’s office. He’s a compact man with gray hair, glasses and a rotund belly. Not the grotesque kind, where your instinct is to censure or look away. I wanted to poke it affectionately. A cell phone hung from his neck, which you could easily mistake for a toy. His smooth, round face lacked any tension. A face you can rely on.
He immediately asked if I was alright. I blubbered, finally sobbing out the last breath of my tale.
He told me to relax, taking his toy mobile, using a magnifying glass to punch in the numbers. It was beyond cute.
Within two hours, I had a bed to sleep in, a doctor’s appointment with his med school buddy, and stronger, smarter drugs at a chemist stall down the street.
Yes! I made it.
But, I couldn’t do it alone.
Solo travelers always gotta prove something. That we’re indestructible. That, golly gee, we don’t need anyone.
Sometimes we do.
It’s okay to ask for help. To let a hand reach out or a smile reassure you.
It’s that feeling of being taken care of.
We all need it. It shows keenly the interconnectedness of everyone on this planet, bucking culture or the strangeness of a place.
The world is truly small, the human heart big.