I’ve never had an opinion about hospitals. You know how some people are scared or just plain hate them because it’s associated with some painful memory? Well, I’ve never had any. My childhood was pretty normal, devoid of any major accidents, and the most serious injury involved a minor arm fracture that healed well in time before my exams (sadly).
My grandmother, my Awwa was hospitalized yesterday. That is where I am right now. Looking around this depressingly white, small, sad room. Smelling all the weird smells that come and go. Thinking what it must be like to be her. To be all of ninety years. To be fragile, and weak, and have your wrinkly skin barely hang off your bones. To wear the thin, light purple gown the hospital gave you, and not care that it does not even cover your chest or legs properly. To have nurses poke needles in you, and tell you it’s for your own good, while someone you love holds your hand and keeps theirs lightly over your forehead. To have swollen, black patches on your arm where those needles are poked. To have a catheter inside you, one that keeps falling off. To not care that the nurses leave the room curtains open every time they walk out, leaving you exposed to strangers. To be unreasonable, stubbornly so, about eating food. To not have anyone understand what you’re going through, nor be able to explain it.
She needed a blood transfusion yesterday. What do you think was the first question my atya (father’s sister, my aunt) asked about this? “Whose blood are they giving her?” Irritated by the sheer stupidity of this, my Dad said, “A Muslim’s.” My aunt missed the sarcasm in his answer and proceeded to harangue Dad with her loud opinion of using a Muslim’s blood. “Summa kudu, Viju!” (Keep quiet, Viju!), said Awwa, out of nowhere, shocking us. Awwa, who had spent all her life hating Muslims, telling me and my brother never to marry one, grimacing every time I talked about any of my Muslim friends, and holding this prejudice proudly and unapologetically close to her heart… She told my aunt to shut up, implicitly saying that it did not matter to her.
We’re funny, all of us. We have so many names for each other. Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Jew, Israeli, Paki, backward, black, nigger, orthodox, liberal, slut, whore, nerd, loser, fat, stupid, ugly, skinny, bastard, asshole, a fucking moron. And yet, when we’re 90, writhing in pain on a hospital bed, hooked up to dead machines, waiting for our fucked up bodies to function properly, waiting for our mushed up brains to remember who these strangers around you are, waiting just to get through it all, foregoing all the prejudices we ever held, we turn into the names that were originally and always meant for us: Helpless. Weak. Human.