In the air conditioned room we sat
Facing each other, though not really
Facing each other.
If chanced to catch the other’s eyes
We glanced swiftly away – and then
Would covertly watch each other.
We waited our turn – though having arrived later
I guessed he would go in first.
It was awkward, our faces said, to sit
In nothing but a gown that reached just below our knees
And flaps held together by bits of Velcro.
Sometimes, I saw him demurely pulling down
The gown; the inside of his thighs could be seen.
To the head-capped, green-gowned who passed by now and then
We would have seemed like specimens in the biology lab
To be dissected
To be disemboweled
And sewn up back.
It looked lewd
The tubes stuck to our hands
That ended up in sachets hung from stands.
My forearm, shaven, felt embarrassingly nude.
Our hearts were hung in question marks
As catheters would wriggle up our veins
Probe the innards of our hearts, if need be
Balloon, stent or bypass – new words in my vocabulary.
Caught unawares, our glances meet – he smiles; I smile back.
He could be in his seventies, I in my fifties.
We exchange pleasantries,
Strangely comforted by each other
Like comrades in despair.
Whenever the swing door opened
I could see my wife, friends standing outside
A glimpse of a face, a smile, a wave of the hand.
Calm, I waited, wondering with regret
How my dogs would miss me
Not knowing what befell me
What prevented me
From coming home.
Then I realized that if I were to die
It would be this old man’s face
That I would carry to my grave.
I was comforted, in a strange way
That even in my dogs’ memories
I am unlikely to find a permanent place.