I stood on the threshold and surveyed the room. It is the waiting room of my dentist's chambers. It is a large room, with two L shaped seating arrangements against the walls, one smaller than the other, to accommodate the receptionist's desk.
There were five people on the long arm of the larger settee, and two on the shorter arm of the L. I could have joined the five, I suppose, twice that number could sit comfortably there, but two things stopped me.
The first was the sculpture set into a niche next to the receptionist's desk. It is of a dancing girl; the kind one can buy in any art emporium that sells knick-knacks. The girl is curvaceous, the pose slightly unreal, and the whole overly ornate. If I joined the five, I'd have to stare at those impossible breasts.
The second was the receptionist. She is a nice woman, friendly and talkative. She arranges the dentist's schedule, deals with phone calls and has done so for the last twenty years. Many were the times I sat there in the room with my son, waiting his turn and listened to her answer calls.
She'd be talking to some of the patients, break off when the phones rang, pick up a receiver and warble, "Hellogoodevening," the words all running together on a rising inflection of a question. My son and I would carefully avoid looking at each other. Years after his braces came off my son can still imitate that 'hellogoodevening' perfectly.
So I sat on the other side of the room, and looked at the people already waiting. There were seven, but that didn't worry me, not all of them would be patients. Most people go to a doctor with family in tow.
There were a man and a woman, with an overnight bag between them, out-station patients obviously. The woman was pecking with a tiny stylus at her cell phone, the man sending a text message on his. I took an instant dislike to the woman. She had dangling down her front, on those unsightly cords, a crocheted pouch, no less. I dislike people who wear their cell phones round their necks on principle, and that pouch was a personal affront.
The other three opposite me seemed to be together, two women and a man. One of the women wore a ghastly candyfloss pink sari, with some embroidered details, as if they could make up for that unfortunate colour. The other woman wore a handloom sari in a pathetic combination of yellows and browns and paired it with a blouse whose print added more discord. The man seemed colourless and silent; obviously connected to them, but either in too much dental agony to acknowledge them or too embarrassed to be seen with them.
The other two men under the Jamini Roy reproduction seemed unrelated, one barking tersely in to his phone every few minutes, and the other dourly staring at the floor. That man's phone rang seven times while I waited. I counted.
The phone on the desk rang, and the receptionist picked it up. I hastily looked at the paintings on the wall to stop myself sniggering as the 'hellogoodevening' rang out. Those paintings are a good way to stifle mirth. There were three studies of a same androgynous face in glum watercolours, and an abstract I have never been able to make sense of. That face bothers me; I dislike those paintings, and have spent many minutes trying to figure out why.
The dentist arrived, and the silent man in agony and the lady in pink went in, leaving the non-vision in brown and yellow to wait. She stared at her hands. I stared at that face in those paintings as the phone rang again.
Two men entered the room. Tweedledum and Tweedledee, I thought to myself. Both were rotund and seemed related. Not brothers, but cousins, I guessed. One wore a fine-check shirt tucked into ill-fitting trousers that ended a good inch above the ankles. The shirt strained at the buttons, and a belt bisected the barrel-like paunch and struggled to hold the trousers up. It is sad, I thought, that men live to his age and still have no idea how to dress.
Then he sat down opposite me, the laughing Buddha impersonator. I noticed that his zipper found the strain of holding together too much and gave up. I resolutely looked at the abstract, since it was the furthest on the wall, and quoted Terry Pratchett to myself.
"Oh, random fluctuations-in-the-space-time-continuum!…Aaargh, primitive-and-outmoded-concept-on-a-crutch!"
Why me? What did I do to deserve this roomful of people? Where can I look at now? Why didn't I think of bringing a book?
"You can go in now, Lalita," said the receptionist. I got up gratefully and escaped the room.