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HARI, A HERO FOR HIRE

HARI, A HERO FOR HIRE

AN EXCERPT FROM A FORTHCOMING DETECTIVE NOVEL BY ZAC O’YEAH.


A doctor came to examine Hari’s leg, and to check out all the other human wrecks that had drifted into the emergency ward on a stormy night like this.

About Hari’s own age but more well fed, indeed fat, like educated people with good pay packets usually were. The doctor’s body was full of curving S-like patterns: his nose was like the lower half of the S, the brow the upper half; his moustache two tilted S’s head to head; his double chin a series of intermingled S’s. Past life: Perhaps a boa constrictor that had died from indigestion after swallowing a hippopotamus. He even had a tattoo on his lower arm of two intertwined snakes. The thing that worried Hari wasn’t so much the doctor’s young age – or whether he was fresh out of medical school – but his nametag that gave his name as ‘Viral’. It was a common enough name and in any other line of work it’d have been perfectly ordinary.

But Dr Viral acted competently; he pressed around Hari’s ankle with both thumbs, performing a more thorough leg examination, ‘Move your foot sideways.’

Hari doubted it was possible but fixed his eyes on his foot. And he made it a point not to crack a joke about the doctor’s first name.

He willed the foot to move. And it did. It moved left, then right.

‘Very good. You haven’t damaged the muscles or the nerves,’ Dr. Viral stated. ‘But it is nevertheless a serious bone fracture.’

The doctor declared that this required super-specialist surgery and that the operation must be done immediately. Hari agreed. Head Nurse Kolaveri came back with more papers on a clipboard. ‘We need to confirm your Medi Assist card particulars.’

‘Simply haven’t had time to fix one, but printing out the insurance letter is the first thing on my agenda.’ He’d get his uncle to forge some semi-authentic insurance papers.

But it wasn’t good enough for her. She explained the deal. For an expensive surgery they required an advance cash security deposit from patients who didn’t have insurance, because a rowdy-sheeter treated on credit wasn’t likely to come back and pay later – he might well be dead by that time. The estimated cost for the procedure was 60,000 rupees, out of which a third had to be paid in cash upfront; the rest to be settled before he was discharged.

‘Without a leg, how will I run without paying?’ he argued. ‘The only way I can skip the bill is by dying on the operating table.’

‘Be that as it may, the question remains: how will you pay?’

It was easy. There was no way he’d hand over 20K to them. He decided to call their bluff and turned to his trusted right-hand man, Gaadi:

‘Let’s go, boss. I think the leg is fine now.’

Miracles did occasionally happen. The pain was totally gone. He swung his good leg down from the gurney, a bit light-headed from the strong painkiller injection, and reached out for Gaadi’s shoulder.

Gaadi steadied him. ‘Sure you’re okay, swami?’

‘About fifty per cent, give or take. The quack misdiagnosed me.’

He took one step and the broken leg folded like a three-way jack, first at the knee, then again between the knee and the ankle, and Hari started sinking towards the floor. The doctor hadn’t tried to cheat him. They had to lift him back up on the gurney.

Gaadi took off to get cash. Not from an ATM, because none of Hari’s friends had a credit or debit card, but from loan sharks who advertised ‘no security required at weekly interest’ with stickers on lampposts, urinals and bus seats.

Gaadi came back a little later, not so upbeat.

‘What happened?’ asked Hari.

‘Swami, they’re willing to lend towards buying a vehicle or a house or something that can be used as collateral. But no moneylender would risk a rupee on your life.’ Gaadi shuffled his feet. ‘I collected as much as I could, but it doesn’t come to more than a thousand.’

Hari tried to smile. ‘Thanks.’

‘What to do, want me to sell my auto?’

‘No, not that, absolutely not,’ said Hari – he was touched by the gesture but knew that Gaadi’s identity and his auto-rickshaw were one and the same, without his three-wheeler he’d be a lost soul.

The head nurse returned again, assistant nurses in tow, to find out if Hari was planning to vacate the gurney. She informed him, ‘There is a traditional bonesetter down the road. He’ll “fix you” for fifty rupees.’ It was brutal but at least she was honest – people had survived in the many millennia before Western medicine came along, and by cheaper methods.

‘But please, Kolaveri Didi,’ gasped Nurse Diamond.

Hari considered the time-honoured budget option, but the way Nurse Diamond covered her worried gasp by pressing a hand to her lips made him think twice: did she visualize him as a cripple? For it was a well-known fact that people who went for traditional solutions, where the broken leg was put into bamboo splints, often limped for the rest of their lives.

‘Aunty, is there no other option?’ Hari finally said, the tension returning bit by bit, pain stinging his leg again.

Head Nurse Kolaveri gave it some thought. Then, for some strange reason, she started shooting off questions at him at a speed that Hari had difficulty keeping up with.

‘How’s your health other than the leg?’

‘I follow my astrologer’s advice and he says health is wealth, so by that token I’m rich.’

‘Do you smoke?’

‘What’s that got to do with my leg?’

‘The doctor will need to know everything, so, for your own safety, answer the question honestly.’

‘I’ve no unhealthy habits,’ lied Hari.

‘Drink?’

‘Never anything but fresh lime soda sweet and salt,’ he lied again. Small lies: the occasional bidi or drop of gin surely couldn’t matter? Hari chewed his lip, hoping that the random meaningless questions might lead to a reward of some sort.

She snapped, ‘Any existing medical conditions: Infections, hepatitis, HIV, cancer?’

‘No, Aunty. Aren’t you going to ask if I have allergies?’

‘Do you?’

‘None whatsoever.’

‘Then why should I ask?’

‘For fun?’

She turned to the nurse, ‘Diamond, run urine, serology and blood tests. We also need chest and kidney X-rays, and abdominal ultrasound.’

‘Why?’ asked Hari. This didn’t sound like it was going to come cheap. They were planning to rip him off big time.

‘We want to eliminate any possible risks.’

‘What risks?’ It was indeed beginning to sound risky.

‘None as long as we do the necessary tests to eliminate them. So how old are you?’

‘How does it matter?’

‘You want the surgery or not?’

‘Sorry, won’t interrupt again.’ He gave her his best smile, the one where every tooth showed.

‘Let me see what I can do,’ she said.

She walked out of earshot and made a call, standing under a sign that proclaimed mobiles must be switched off. After a few minutes she was back.

‘It’s your lucky day,’ she said. ‘There’s a foreign surgeon in residence at our sister clinic across the street. We pool our resources. He’s willing to perform the operation together with our own Doctor Viral.’

Hari remembered having noticed the posh Mediclinix Resorz under construction bang opposite. Jackpot indeed, sometimes the worst day of one’s life could turn out to be the luckiest one. He noticed that Diamond smiled too.

‘Okay, what’s the catch?’ asked Gaadi.

His sober growl reminded Hari that strings were attached to every special offer. ‘Yes, why would he do it?’

‘Goodwill work under our charitable slum-dweller scheme. Since you obviously don’t have a medical insurance, or cash, it won’t cost you a thing. Doctor Glas Philipovich,’ she pronounced his fancy foreign name with care; ‘will do this for a bit of exercise.’

‘Is he going to experiment on me like some kind of guinea pig?’

‘Behave yourself. You can take it or leave it. But if you have the surgery, you’re going to be walking again in about three months.’

‘Three months!’ To somebody with his restless temperament that was equal to serving a life sentence in the Central Jail. But then again… When the choice was between a foreign style luxury surgery for free and a bonesetter who’d tie a bamboo stick to his leg and give him an eternal limp, the choice was easy. This also meant he’d get to investigate two hospitals at a go, a great gig – like killing minimum three birds with one stone.

‘So what do we do next, madam Head Nurse-ji?’

She fetched a document consisting of two stapled pages. ‘Put your thumbprint on the form. Our nurses will run tests while the operation theatre is made ready.’ She seemed to take it for granted that someone like Hari didn’t know how to read legal documents.

But she was wrong. Hari glanced at the ‘charitable slum-dweller scheme application form’. It contained a lot of gobbledygook that he was supposed to accept, but thanks to his advocate uncle he understood that it also absolved the hospital of any responsibility if something bad happened during surgery. ‘What if I don’t accept?’

‘Then nothing happens.’

So the irony was that after all he had no choice in the matter. Might as well auction off one’s soul on eBay, he thought as he pressed his thumb on the dotted line.

He was swiftly admitted, his body was washed and disinfected by the orderlies, the tests were run, and he was given a private room on the ground floor, rather than a bed in the common ward. Nice, he thought.

Another doctor came with Viral to look. An older man, thin and tall, stylish suit, greying at the temples, the indeterminate face of a multinational corporation, and the only disturbing characteristics were the Band-Aids that covered much of his hands and even neck. Previous reincarnation: a pimple?

‘Why has he cut himself so badly?’ whispered Hari to Viral in the local language, Kannada, getting apprehensive about the surgeon’s scalpel skills.

Viral replied in a mixture of Hindi and other languages, like the cosmopolitans did.

‘Voh nicotine patches hain. My colleague is trying to give up smoking. Just don’t do anything that might irritate him and you’ll be fine,’ said Dr. Viral.

‘Oho. Will the surgery be painful?’ Hari asked.

‘You’ll be sedated while your bones are realigned and a rod is inserted to keep them from moving out of position during the period it takes to heal,’ Viral said.

‘And you’re sure I won’t die?’

‘Doctor Philipovich never makes any errors.’

The eminent Philipovich listened to Hari’s heart and gazed into his pupils while humming to himself. Thorough. Dr. Philipovich mumbled in some singsong lingo and the cosmopolitan Viral appeared to understand what he was saying. Hari’s own European vocabulary included words like ‘spaghetti western’, ‘pizza delivery’ and ‘mafia,’ none of it useful there and then.

But Hari presumed he could not be in safer hands.

***

When he was wheeled into the operation theatre the sedative was administered by Head Nurse Kolaveri with the Florence Nightingale cap, and he drifted out of consciousness, as spaced out as a cartoon character.

There was no turning back, he thought in one of his last lucid moments before his eyes glazed over with the transparent screensaver that most people are equipped with by nature.

Maybe better that way. He heard the drilling and hammering, drowning out the beeps of the ECG. Whenever the doctors spoke to each other, they did so in their secret foreign language.

Later he woke up for a fraction of a second to see the doctors wash their hands. The surgery was over. The last he noticed was two red plastic buckets filled with ice in the corner of the operation theatre, by the washbasin. Then he fell asleep.

Being under sedation was like visiting an alternative reality. Everything merged, his imagination, the Wikipedia, all the Google-searching he’d ever done. A human is nothing but a virtual extension of the Internet. One is nothing but an extension of the net? He must have read this somewhere or was it the dream talking?

His eyes popped open and he saw his body crucified on the hospital cot. His torso was feverish as if filled with stir-fried adrenaline. He tried to change his position. What was this? He couldn’t feel a thing in the lower body! He forced his head up from the pillow, about to cry. He envisioned himself in a wheelchair, everything amputated from the nipples down, a vegetable with USB-dongles plugged into his ears.

Looking around, he found that he was back in his private room. He made out his body, it was hooked up to two needles sunk into his hands, transparent rubber tubes ran to a stand and hanging plastic bags with liquids in them, plus two more hoses draining fluids from low down. One of them was scary, filled with a gore-coloured fluid. Had he been contaminated by something when he fell into the Main Drain?

He tried to shut his eyelids but he was still in post-traumatic shock, his eyeballs pushing out of their sockets and making it hard to avoid the horrific sight. He counted and re-counted the limbs. There were four of them – two arms, two legs – yes, way to go! No need to overreact. The broken leg was bandaged and propped up on pillows, but otherwise very solidly where it belonged. He was in hospital, safe and being nursed back to health.

Gaadi sat in the corner next to the door, on a plastic chair, snoring in a low key. Royally loyal, thought Hari; should sleep, me too. But all the drugs in his system made his thoughts spin in a most surreal manner.

He simply couldn’t get the cute Nurse Diamond out of his mind. He remembered that one of her front teeth was chipped, the only flaw in her beauty. He let his tongue play along his own teeth until it wriggled its way into the gap where a tooth had been knocked out during a street fight – a strange coincidence, but their mouths were indeed compatible, made for each other like filters and cigarettes.

What to do? He tried out some tentative pickup lines. ‘Your smile is the world’s second biggest.’

‘What’s that?’ said Gaadi, suspiciously, suddenly wide awake. No smile. He clenched his fists. He sounded grumpy too.

‘Sorry, talking in my sleep,’ said Hari, on the defensive.

‘You woke me up.’

‘So sorry about that too. Just a nightmare, boss. But I’m alright now.’ However, when he tried to sit up, his head was spinning. The pain was returning, not just to the leg but the sides of his stomach too. ‘How many days have I been out?’

‘Your surgery lasted until three in the morning, swami. So go back to sleep.’

‘I can’t.’ Too weak to be up, but too worked up to sleep.

Gaadi started to push Hari down on the cot. ‘It’s six a.m. and if you don’t stop talking nonsense I’ll ask them to put a stitch across your mouth.’

But Hari was genetically unable to shut up. The eagerness to talk nonsense was boosted by all the drugs that had been pumped into him.

Gaadi went to the door and shouted into the corridor for a nurse to come fast. He must have woken the entire hospital. Hari noticed then that there was no buzzer at his bedside, but he started smiling in anticipation of Diamond entering his room, even though he wasn’t quite done rehearsing, yet. He said to Gaadi, ‘Get me a glass of water, will you, boss.’

‘What… water?’

‘In case they give me sleeping pills to swallow. You want me to shut up, right?’

Gaadi went to the washbasin in the corner.

‘Not regular tap water,’ said Hari. He wanted Gaadi out of the room. ‘Filtered water.’

‘What nonsense!’ said Gaadi, as if Hari had asked for perfumed sherbet.

‘I’m fragile, I’ve had surgery, and I’m afraid the smallest bacteria might kill me.’ It was a small lie, he actually felt quite heroic.

Gaadi felt it was thoroughly uncool to display emotions – like fear, worry, love, whatever. But he took off to go find the nearest water dispenser. Hari straightened his hospital gown and licked his teeth clean of night fluff. Then he remembered his hair and ran his fingers through it to put all the curls in place. He heard girlish footsteps.

***

When Diamond crossed the threshold, his smile stretched until the corners of his mouth got hooked around the ear lobes. His mental cameras zoomed in on her face from multiple directions, in the blockbuster version of existence that constantly played in the sold-out theatre of his mind.

‘How are we feeling, Sir?’

‘I can’t sleep.’

‘Not to worry, we’ll give an injection.’

‘It is as if the ache is spreading.’ To my soul.

His grin froze when Head Nurse Kolaveri followed Diamond into the room. She positioned herself at the doorway. So he didn’t dare to flirt as much as he had planned. It was too risky.

‘It’s your nerves replaying the accident,’ said Diamond.

‘But it’s hurting all the way to my chest,’ he improvised. He had spoken in code: a nurse would know that the heart is situated in the chest. There was some truth to the claim, too, as his body felt like one big bruise up to the neck. Especially the lower part of his ribcage had been pummelled badly. Hari fingered the rubber hoses that pumped stuff into and out of him: ‘And what are all these doing in my body?’

‘Fluids to hydrate you and antibiotics go in through the two intravenous lines, the catheters drain out urine and bile.’

‘I see,’ said Hari although he didn’t quite get it. But he guessed everything served some purpose – removing bile sounded top class, even though he wasn’t the bitter type. One shouldn’t be too suspicious, not when one got cut and pasted for free by foreign diploma-holding medical experts. ‘But why am I so sore all over?’

‘Probably just some allergic reaction,’ said Head Nurse Kolaveri snidely. Hari hadn’t thought of her as the type who’d cut jokes, but she was hopefully just trying to tickle his funny bone with her remark.

‘In my stomach?’

‘We’ll increase the dosage of the painkiller.’

‘But won’t that make it an overdose?’

‘Be strong, Sir,’ said Nurse Diamond, preparing a syringe. ‘This might hurt a little.’

This was not at all romantic, Hari thought to himself as she wiped a portion of exposed skin with a disinfectant and then jabbed the hypodermic needle in. While she went to dispose of the syringe, he got woozy. He dreamt that she removed his hospital gown. Or was it Head Nurse Kolaveri doing it?

They uncoiled a length of bandage from his abdomen – bandage? Abdomen? They spread greasy ointments on him. It was a vivid dream. He may have tried to speak. Uninhibited by drugs, he thought he said, slightly embarrassingly considering that they weren’t alone, ‘You have the second biggest smile in the world so… uh, so being a professional nurse do you want to practise the mouth-to-mouth method with the one with the biggest smile?’

Hopefully it was just a dream.

***

He smelt something burning, smoke in the air, opened his eyes. Gaadi had lit a breakfast bidi by the window.

On the bedside table there was a steel plate with an idli on it, plus, according to a swift forensic examination that Hari made, rice crumb traces of two more idlis and driblets of coconut chutney. Gaadi had been considerate enough to leave one of them for Hari.

Time for work. To be on the safe side he counted his legs and his arms again. All good, all still there. He pulled up his gown to have a good look at the spot where Nurse Diamond had touched him – whether in a dream or reality.

Strange… There was a bandage wrapped around his abdomen just like in the dream. Why had the doctors performed surgery so far up from the leg? Had he cracked a few ribs too? He made a mental note to ask somebody.

Hold on, he thought, this made no sense. His uncle had damaged ribs in drink-related accidents and never been given anything but painkillers, and told to rest and of course to stop drinking. He knew it was a genuinely bad idea, but curiosity got the better of him and he unwrapped the bandage from his torso. Then he studied his abdomen. There were two sterile cotton pads on his stomach, one to each side. The compresses, held in place by adhesive strips, were situated too low to be broken ribs.

When he pried off the compresses it didn’t hurt, the painkillers took care of that, but he saw dark bruises extending down from below the lowest rib and across the midriff. At the centre of each bruise there was a big scar. The larger one was almost a foot long from end to end, wrapping around his body towards the back. Many stitches and some dried blood. No sign of inflammation, but then on the other hand he was on an antibiotic drip. What were these scars? Allergy? Hardly. What then? Stigmata? Had he become a Western saint all of a sudden?

This was absurd.

‘Slept well, swami?’ asked Gaadi, interrupting Hari’s stream of consciousness.

‘Yup. I thought I was dreaming but… do you see what I see?’

‘Depends entirely on what you see.’

‘Look. My tummy has been stitched up.’

‘What’s so strange about that? You’re in a hospital and for your information they stitch people in hospitals.’

‘It’s a problem since it was my leg that broke.’

Gaadi barely glanced at Hari’s scars and proclaimed, ‘You think too much, swami, that’s your only problem.’

Hari had heard that one before. Almost everyone, including his astrologer and spiritual adviser Pandit Pundit, kept telling him to stop thinking unnecessarily. ‘But…’

‘Surgery is surgery and if you don’t come out of it with scars then it is no surgery. Got your money’s worth, haven’t you, swami?’ said Gaadi and lit another bidi.

The sun was shining on half of his face and Hari could tell from the highlighted bags under his eyes how extremely worn out he was. He decided not to argue any further.

***

Later Dr. Viral came on his rounds together with Head Nurse Kolaveri.

‘So how does the leg feel?’ he asked while strapping a cuff onto Hari’s arm to check his blood pressure.

‘Absolutely fine but I think I may have developed an allergic reaction.’ Since he was there undercover working on a case, he had to play his cards with care.

‘What’s that?’ Viral removed the stethoscope from his ears for a sec.

Hari pointed to the bandaged mess on his tummy. ‘There was some discomfort here this morning.’

‘What kind of discomfort?’

‘The Head Nurse thought it might be allergy.’

Nurse Kolaveri gave him a toxic glance.

‘Right, nothing to worry about. I’ll prescribe something,’ he said.

‘But what’s wrong with me?’

‘Nothing. No bleeding – that’s a good sign. The operation was successful and you may experience nausea currently, but everything will be perfectly fine, don’t worry.’

How bizarre. Emphatic insistences of nothing to worry about always made him suspect that the matter involved some ultra fine print that was invisible to the naked eye. But he was too stoned from the medication to put his finger on the problem.

Viral washed his hands at the basin in the corner of the room, squeezing liquid soap out of the dispenser, rubbing his palms together. He was either very clean or liked to pretend so. Hari saw his snake tattoo and was reminded of his initial impression – the doctor was a snaky type, hard to get a grip on, shedding his skin every now and then according to Hari’s analysis.

Viral finished his meticulous handwashing. ‘Nurse, make a note. In addition to the steroids and broad-spectrum antibiotics, the patient is to get medication for epidural pain, morning and evening, heparin injections, Punarnava tablets and Liv-52, the strongest capsule to be taken thrice daily for four weeks.’

‘So I’ll be here for another four weeks?’ said Hari.

He seemed to recall having been told something different the night before.

‘No-no, you can say goodbye to Nurse Kolaveri after a few days.’

‘Now you’re telling me! I was informed earlier that it’ll take months to heal.’ Blasted, he had expected to spend ages flirting with Diamond and investigating the hospital.

‘The entire healing process will take that long, that is so,’ said the doctor, his earlier reticence replaced with a medical advisory tone – possibly to avert later patient complaints. ‘But you don’t have to stay here for that to happen. What you must decide soon is whether you want to use a walker or crutches, and as soon as your stitches heal somewhat you must practice on a few physiotherapy exercises, and then you’ll be fit for fight in about twelve to sixteen weeks, I’d say. Until then, it’s advisable that you don’t take coffee, don’t put too much strain on your body – no rough sports like boxing or wrestling.’

‘No coffee?’

‘Absolutely not. What do you work with, by the way?’

Hari was about to say hero, but made a tactical diversion, ‘I’m a consultant.’

‘Very good. Carry on then,’ said Dr. Viral and left.

Hari was left alone. The medication kept his mind fuzzy, it was difficult to focus. Without coffee it was hard to do anything at all.

Unlike his uncle, who was frequently hospitalised, Hari wasn’t used to being sick. Peculiar thoughts were clicking in his head as if a rusty crankshaft had been inserted through one of his ears to turn the brain upside down. Maybe it was the shortage of visitors and the lack of coffee and no internet – but as there was nothing else to do, he went on obsessing, calculating, and crunching the numbers. He was staring at a sum where the factors didn’t add up.

It was generous of the hospital to bill his surgery to a charitable scheme. The leg was going to be fine, the doctor had said. And he hoped that the doctor was trustworthy. But he had doubts… The medical advice didn’t seem consistent with a broken limb. It was more like the doctor had been talking about hernia, an illness that Hari’s mildly decrepit uncle suffered from. If he wasn’t so stoned out… He battled with his mind, told it to focus.

He wriggled the toes at the end of his bandaged leg. The abdominal scars were a fact and there was nothing he could do to wish them away. What had really happened? Sometime during the hours when he was under sedation somebody had done some extra cutting on his body. It was another fact that couldn’t be ignored, however weird it seemed.

***

‘Wake up, Sir!’ To see Nurse Diamond in the doorway was like watching a beam of sunshine come dancing into the room. ‘Time for lunch.’

Of course Hari hadn’t been asleep, just pretending. He yawned, acted the part of a tired weakling, while he scrutinized her, read her body language, looked for signs. But he simply couldn’t get used to being called ‘Sir’. Before he met Nurse Diamond nobody had ever addressed him that way.

Since Head Nurse Kolaveri was nowhere to be seen – she must have gone to her quarters to sleep after a long shift – he flirted. No harm in trying.

‘You can call me Harry, the hero from the newspaper, remember?’ he said.

Diamond’s backup consisted of a skinny ward boy who emptied the garbage and pretended to do some room-cleaning. He didn’t seem particularly concerned about Hari. Nurse Diamond brought the lunch tray to him: palak paneer and rice and curds and two mandatory chapattis.

‘How’s the “hero” doing then?’ She had attitude, she didn’t go first-name basis just like that only. No, she was proper.

‘Enikku sukhamaanu,’ he said, using one of the phrases he’d picked up from Kerala people.

‘Oh, you speak my native tongue,’ said Diamond, delighted, clapping her hands together.

Of course he did, he was an ex-tout, wasn’t he? ‘To tell you the truth I’ve felt better. But it’s all part of the job. Trouble during a case. It was a high-speed motorcycle chase.’

‘A “case-chase”, it must have been exciting,’ she said, playing along. ‘But why take a job where you break your bones?’

He had no good answer for that. But the sun shone through the broken pane of glass, making the whole room shimmer with an amber hue that enveloped Diamond in a halo. Her voice was like a sweet song from a nice movie. She hummed the theme from Munnabhai MBBS – she appeared to like the same gangster comedies he enjoyed watching. He said, ‘The bad guys thought I was dead and chucked me into a sewer.’

‘Sounds very dangerous.’ He felt a sting of jealousy at the thought that she might be equally cheerful when talking to other patients.

‘I do what I must do in the line of duty.’

‘Eat your food then, that’s your duty for today.’

Voltage and wattage was in the air, low perhaps as of now but it was there. He felt torn between his logical and emotional sides. Was she as innocent as she appeared? Could it be love at first sight or was it Stockholm syndrome? Trust nobody, he reminded himself. Perhaps it was time to use his deductive skills, because the only way to find out, as Uncle Mamool usually said, was to find out. So he tried another approach. ‘So at 60,000 rupees for routine leg surgery the hospital must be raking in profit then?’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ She set the last of the pill bottles down and handed him the cup with medicines. There were many pills in funny shapes and colours. ‘Take these if you’re not planning to eat more.’

‘Your salary must be quite decent and you probably get provident fund and a pension too?’ he asked.

‘Much of the work here is charitable.’ She took the hospital’s side.

‘Tell me, what are these medications good for?’

‘So that Sir will be out of here faster,’ she said politely. Among the pill bottles he recognized one – the herbal wonder drug Liv-52, typically administered to alcoholics with liver diseases and of course Hari’s uncle Mamool ate it at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

‘I thought I was getting all the antibiotics and painkillers I needed through these tubes.’

‘Don’t worry, herbal tonics are never harmful.’

‘And what does this one do?’ he asked pointing at the Punarnava bottle next to Liv-52.

‘Hogweed,’ she said, ‘has diuretic properties and is good for maintaining kidney function. Besides it is anti-inflammatory and will protect you against urinary tract infections.’ She knew her stuff.

Her home state Kerala was medically the most advanced in India, supplying a large number of nurses, doctors and pharmacists to the healthcare sector, and it was also the source of the many millennia-old Ayurvedic tradition of natural medicine. Hari was ready to bet his money (had he had any) that an understanding of herbs and their medical usage had been passed on in her family for hundreds of generations.

But considering that he had never suffered from kidney ailments or liver disease, it was strange that the doctor had prescribed these two tonics… unless there was a direct connection to the two suspicious surgical holes in his abdomen.

***

Some time later the painkillers kicked in again and hallucinatory images of Diamond, feeding him pills to strengthen his kidneys and liver, were screened in his internal cinema hall. What was the worst case scenario?

Like any 28-year-old, Hari had seen it all. It was just that it typically happened elsewhere – not in Bengaluru proper, which was an enlightened cosmopolitan metropolis. But some time back he’d read about the illegal organ trade in the local newspaper and learnt that, like hamburgers and hotdogs, it was global business. A single human body such as his own, the body of somebody who wasn’t a CEO, a film star or champion cricketer, even if it looked useless to the layman’s eye, was a rich natural resource waiting to be plundered – it contained many yards of intestine, a lung or two, a heart, pancreas, arms and legs, a variety of glands, and eyes including two corneas, then nerves and bone marrow, tissue, and about a dozen pints of blood. There was a fortune inside him waiting to be harvested.

Had he spotted Head Nurse Kolaveri on a wanted poster in the police station, for having peddled stolen kidneys on the black market – maybe that’s why there was something so familiar about her? After all, she had been present during his surgery; in charge of anaesthesia, she would have had reason to be both the first and the last at the crime scene.

Yes, of course he could scribble something negative about her in the hospital’s Complaints & Suggestions Book. But no, it’d be prudent to maintain a low profile: undercover detective work was required here. One thing was clear. For once in his life, Hari Majestic was the right man in the right place.

Hari: A Hero for Hire by Zac O’Yeah is published by Pan Macmillan India. It releases October 2015.

Illustration: Reshidev RK

 


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