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Updated: Jul 9

‘Stand back,’ the man tells you through the glass, through the protective plastic, through his mask. Hand him the reference letter from your family doctor. He reads the letter and says, ‘follow the line to the next room’. Take the letter back with your sweaty hands and feel the strength vanishing from your legs.

The nurse calls your name. He will triage you and other emergencies. He asks you questions and ties a red band to your wrist. It says your name, a number and 28/M. You can't look away from the red.

‘Are you too dizzy to walk?’

‘No’, but don't shake your head. It makes your head go round and round.

‘Follow the red line on the floor’, he says. Feel the sweat pooling under your jacket, beneath the T-shirt around your armpits. 

Try walking in a straight line to see if you still can. You can't. Your head has been spinning for weeks. Your ears have been ringing, like when your uncle used to slap you with his strong menacing hands. But that was years ago. Right now, wandering the depths of the hospital, everything seems to be floating and you don’t know if are losing your body or mind.

Please not the mind, you beg. Not like grandpa.

‘Stand back’, you still remember.

‘Stand back’, his wife used to threaten him with her walking stick, veins like purple cables covering her firm old hands when he would get aggressive. When he would ask for sweets, or when he would not understand, or when he would want to go for his walks in the middle of the day in scorching Indian summers.

‘Stand back you asshole’, she used to scream, hitting him with her stick. And when you used to go to their room and check up on them, she'd cry when she could keep up the farce, or continue with her rage when she didn't care enough to hide it.

Anything but that. Anything but what happened to him. Focus on the red line, or the red band on your wrist instead. A short calm refuge. Though red is for danger.

You feel that you are walking strangely. Walking as if spilling steps. Now in front of everybody in the white halls there aren’t many colours. White walls and white tiles, just like his clothes. They used to dampen after his walks in the heat, revealing the deep brown colour of his skin when he'd return.

He used to walk slowly even for a man in his 70s. He would walk and pause and playfully scare the kids in the street. He used to barely lift his feet while walking, only dragging them along with his slippers thoroughly brushing the ground.

He used to be suspicious of strangers. Once he attacked a guy in the street, some neighbour. It was around the time he started slipping. Things only got worse over the years. You barely remember the times when he was still himself. Then one day he had a paralytic attack, and he could never go for his walks again.

You can walk but following this straight red line is making you feel dizzy, and you can feel the inside of your head spinning. It might feel better to sit down but you persevere. You can see old people around you being transported in wheelchairs and gurneys.

Your family always kept him at home. He had a wheelchair for his walks, for eating, for shitting.

‘You smell like shit, asshole,’ she used to shout at him. ‘I cannot wait for you to die.’

‘Grandma please! He cannot help it, he doesn't understand,’ you used to try to explain. ‘But you do understand and choose to be cruel.’

The bed wagons and the plastic pipes float around you, and you float above this red line. When you reach the ophthalmology department, they tell you to sit in the waiting room.

‘You are lucky,’ a man tells you. ‘Red bands have priority.’

He has a green band. Try to feel lucky. Put the head down in your hands to make the dizziness stop.

Wait for the doctor to call your name and hear your foot tapping on the floor. The sweat begins to finally dry and stink. 

Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. Stop shaking!

The intercom calls your name. You need to stand back again. The head would move with the body, spinning yet again. Are you also slipping? 

Plant your feet firmly to the ground, stabilizing. Try to ground yourself like you recently learned in therapy. Name things that you can see, feel, hear, smell, and taste around you. You can even try to go to your safe place – the little boat on the summer sea beneath the mangrove trees. Your grandparents passed away years ago. You are still here. 


Hiten Chojer (he/him) is an Indian-born writer and air pollution researcher. He writes poetry and prose, often exploring themes of identity, displacement, and mental health. He started publishing his writings in 2023 and his poems have appeared in Exist Otherwise and in his debut book ‘Gods of Anxiety Be Damned’.

Instagram: @hitenchojer

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