HAPPY NEW TEARS PART 2 (MOTHER TERESA HOUSE DIARIES)
I woke up the next day feeling shitty and unrested. I looked at the time. I was already late.
‘Ah fuck it.’ I said yawning and turning back over for another thirty second bout of awareness denial.
Eventually I got up. I had to hurry to get to Nirmal Hriday on time. My patients, nay my friends needed me. I needed them to need me. Yep, we were both needy. There was no time to lose, those shitty pants weren’t going to change themselves. Those turds weren’t going to open up the manhole and hose themselves into the sewers below on their own free will. They needed help. Preferably from some saint-like savior archetype figure that happened to physically look a lot like me.
I hurriedly cut a pomegranate and deseeded its globular, turgid cells into a bowl, hurriedly mixing it with oblongs of sweet, juicy papaya, fresh coconut chunks, bite sized triangles of guava, melon, some weird translucent fruit that I didn’t know the name of that tasted like a big refreshing lillipilli, and finally hurriedly added a mandarin juice dressing and a dash of honey.
Then I hurriedly fried a cut onion, tomato and some leftover potato and green bean curry and hurriedly whisked two eggs with some grated cheese and poured it into the pan. I hurriedly waited for it to cook, impatiently tapping my foot while whistling a merry showtune.
‘Hurry up and cook you little cunts, my friends need my healing powers!’ I yelled at the eggs in the pan.
When it was cooked I hurriedly warmed three roti on the bare flame, turning them to over quickly.
I hurriedly put one cup of milk and one cup of filtered water on the maximum flame to heat and then hurriedly bashed six cardamom pods, 8 whole cloves, two sticks of cinnamon and a good sized chunk of ginger in a mortar and pestle and threw it all into the saucepan when the milk was boiling to avoid it from splitting from the acid in the ginger. I washed the mortar out with a bit more water and threw that into the pot to get as much flavor out as possible. Next I added a good hunk of jaggery- unrefined palm molasses sugar — and brought it to boil, stirring in three spoons of CTC assam tea and one and a half spoons of Darjeeling tea for high notes, and stirred vigorously, bringing the flame down whenever the mixture started to climb. I hurriedly let it sit for four minutes and then strained it into a cup, leaving the second cup to stew a bit longer.
I hurriedly ate breakfast and drank my two and a half cups of tea while hurriedly, leisurely perusing the local newspaper.
I then hurried off to Nirmal Hriday, hurriedly half strolling, hurriedly half dawdling my way down to the autorickshaw stand, while listening to Aesop Rock’s classic independent rap album ‘None Shall Pass’, doing my best to keep up with his flow.
I hurriedly entered Nirmal Hriday forty minutes late, despite my best efforts to get there as soon as I possibly could. I went upstairs, put my bag in a locker, grabbed my Winnie the Pooh apron, some rubber gloves, some hand towels and went into the dining area, saying hello and checking certain patients to see how they were and if they needed anything. I passed by Sopan, who was frozen rigid in his usual contorted pose of abject reclining torture.
‘Happy New Year Sopan. Did you have a good new years eve?’ I asked.
‘Mmnuh.’ He managed to spit out.
‘You mean ‘No’?’
Of course. How stupid of a question it was to ask anyone who was in this place. Least of all a man who was trapped by severe Parkinson’s disease in a permanently-in-pain body. Of course Sopan’s, or any of the people at Nirmal Hriday’s New Year’s eve would of sucked. Sucked absolute dead dog’s dicks. Sucked much, much, much more so than my stupid adolescent hissy fit. Oh good lord, so, so, so much more. New Year’s eve for everyone here would have been a bleak affair enough to push the average western pussy to the brink of suicide. Lying on those steel beds and hard rubber mattresses in the dark, in that piss stinking dank room with 50 other men who had all been pulled off the street and to die in this cursed shelter that was still much better than the gutter, but in some ways hellish in it’s own way…
No one probably even bothered staying up. What was the fucking point? For many of the men here, this year would be just the same as the last year, only perhaps this year would finally be their last year.
Happy new tears.
Or who knows? Maybe when the clock struck midnight, the nun’s arranged a marching band to come through the ward playing Dixieland music, in a cloud of confetti and fairy floss as strippers came and gave all of them lapdances where it was okay to touch them for no extra charge.
‘HEY BOY!’ Kanaia called. I dutifully went over to him. ‘Malis!’ he commanded. As I sat down to give him his massage, I noticed the empty bed next Kanaia. For the past few days it had been occupied by a man with some severe gastric illness. Someone mentioned multiple burst ulcers, others said stomach cancer. Either way, he had been throwing up pitch black liquid into a plastic bucket and was in severe, unrelenting pain, punctuating the festive atmosphere of the ward with his intermittent shrieks of agony. It had been a bit of a downer to be honest.
‘What happened to him?’ I asked Subash.
‘He’s dead! Last night!’ Subash said with a laugh, like it was some kind of joke. Maybe it was and I just didn’t have the sense of humour to find a man dying in terrible pain on new year’s eve hilarious. Maybe I should just lighten up. Or maybe it would be one of those things that would be funny like a few weeks from now. Tragedy plus time right?
As I started Kanaia’s massage, I noticed a group of men had entered the building with large bags full of boxes. The boxes contained South Indian food, idli, vatta, sambar, coconut chutney and Indian sweets. They were all donations, a new year’s day treat for the patients. It was a generous gesture but the spirit of the act was sullied somewhat when the men all crowded around a particular patient who was too intellectually disabled to really know what was happening, and took a covert photo of the man with a box of their donated sweets in his hands (that was promptly removed once the photo had been taken) while the nuns and attendants were fetching plates and serving utensils. Photos of any kind were barred from being taken on the premises and stringently enforced, in an effort to maintain the integrity of the patients and protect their privacy. The patients were after all human beings, not objects in a self-aggrandising photo opportunity destined to be uploaded onto a social media site to prove how much of a charitable person someone was, in many ways much like this blog.
The food was duly distributed and the patients ate voraciously, enjoying second and third helpings followed by a variety of rich Indian sweets as desert.
After the food, I went back to massaging various patients. About half an hour later, Kun came striding purposely up to me.
‘Hey!’ She said.
‘This patient did kaka on my hand! Look!’
For some reason that I still question even now, I did what she asked me to do and looked. Indeed, there was kaka on her hand. Kaka, black as wet charcoal.
‘It’s black kaka! Why is the kaka black? Why is the kaka black?’ She asked me.
‘I don’t know, it’s not really my area of expertise. Maybe he tried to eat the night?’
‘You have to change him! Now!’ She said, turning abruptly to go wash the black kaka from off of her hand.
I went over to the patient. It was an old blind man with dementia, sitting on his bed, covered in his own black kaka. I approached a new volunteer to help me. He was a young priest named Father Gerald from the south of England. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t deliberately choose him because of his priest’s collar. That was precisely why I picked him.
‘Help me clean the shit off this man.’ I said to Father Gerald, refusing to call him father, mainly because he wasn’t my father, at least not that I knew of.
‘Erm… Okay.’ He said uncertainly.
The smell was terrible. Whatever that black kaka was, the astringent, pool-cleaner-like fumes made my eyes water and my nose sting. We dragged the patient to the bathroom on a plastic chair. I went to get a new pair of pants and shirt and returned. Usually we cleaned the patients on a special wooden chair with a hole cut out of the bottom, but it was in use at the time. Plan b it was.
‘Right. Do you want to pick him up while I wipe his asshole or would you prefer to be the top and I be the bottom?’
‘Ah… I can pick him up and you can uhh do the thing… It’s my first day.’ Father Gerald said.
Softcock. I thought privately. I grabbed the washcloth and rinsed it in hot water.
‘Alright. Lift him up and think of angels tootling on their trumpets.’
Gerard carried out my instructions. As I heard the angels in my head begin to play the opening riffs to ‘Kind of Blue’ I wiped the black kaka from off of the patient’s asshole and my mind wandered into a fantasy where I was holding hands with a girl who I really liked who really liked me back and who accepted me for who I was.
I looked at the washcloth. It was totally black. I rinsed it out in the basin of hot water several times till it was dark grey. I breathed in through my mouth again and went for the second round of wiping. As I continued my penance, my fantasy girl and I were kissing under the stars in a field of clover in the springtime, the smell of night jasmine on the soft breeze.
I looked at the washcloth. It was even blacker than the first round.
‘How are you doing Father?’
‘Erm… I think I might need to put him down for a minute, is that okay?’
‘Yeah. We need to reevaluate our strategy. I don’t think his ass is going to get clean anytime soon at the rate we are going.’
‘Oh. That’s not good is it?’
‘No. I know it’s not the nicest way to do this, but I think we might need to put the hose on him. I know it’s cold water, but in the long run, it will be the quicker, therefore the more humane option. The stuff seems to have the properties of both a liquid and a solid. I also suspect it will behave both like a wave and a particle if subjected to various experiments involving the large Hadron Collider.’
‘Well, you’ve been here longer than I have.’
‘Okay. Are you ready to lift him again?’
Father Gerard lifted him from the front and with great skill, I managed to hose his ass clean, without getting too much contaminated spray on Father Gerard’s shoes and shins. The man made some noises that may or may not of been in displeasure, but honestly I do believe I could make out a distinct giggle that seemed to indicate he was enjoying it. We dried him off with his old shirt and put on his new clothes and he was ready to be returned to his bed.
‘Happy new year.’ I said to Father Gerald, who looked a bit traumatized by the whole process. I reminded myself that it was his first day. I had been at Nirmal Hriday three weeks now. I recognized my previous self in him. What had been once confronting to me, had become strangely, totally normal. Us humans were highly adaptable creatures, more adaptable than we realized. If I could wipe black kaka off of an old man’s butt without projectile vomiting, I could do anything.
As soon as we returned the patient back to his bed, another volunteer called out to me.
‘We got another one.’ He said. I shrugged and readied myself for round two. I decided to give Father Gerard a break. No offense to the guy, but I don’t think he was as much of a devout Christian as I was. No, he just wouldn’t of made the cut to join me and the rest of the disciples on JC’s inner circle.
A Spanish volunteer named Havier went to attend to the man. It was the patient who’d broken in my faecal washing virginity who looked like a lobotomized parrot and who always soiled himself. I had since found out his name was strangely ‘Monkey’ or ‘Monki’ or ‘Munki’, I didn’t really know what the spelling was. The chair with the hole in the bottom was free now, so it was a much more straightforward process cleaning Monkey and thankfully, the kaka was not black kaka. The only problem was that as soon we had finished cleaning him, a fresh new wave of kaka- the colour and consistency of dark chocolate soft serve — poured forth like God’s benediction, from his lower end and onto the floor. Havier and I looked at each other and shook our heads sighing and began once again. We cleaned him up the second time and then removed the manhole that covered up the sewer pipe that ran beneath the bathroom and spent a few minutes chasing the turds he’d left on the floor with the hose.
On the way back to returning Monkey to his bed, another volunteer called out to me. Another man was down. As I took him into the bathroom to deal with the situation, there was another pair of volunteers working on changing another man.
‘He defiled the lord as well?’ I asked. They nodded with grim seriousness.
It wasn’t right. Four cases in less than twenty minutes? Something was up. I heard another shout for help come from the main room. A Chilean volunteer named Gonzalez alerted me to another code brown.
‘This isn’t right brothers. Something is not right.’ I said, as our new patient released a stream of liquid crap onto the floor. I looked around at the my brothers who were now preoccupied with four separate cases, I looked back into the ward where another two volunteers raised their hands to alert me to two further incidents. Everything went into slow motion like that opening scene on the beach from ‘Saving Private Ryan’, as if I was fighting for freedom in some godforsaken war after having a shell explode meters from me, watching my childhood buddy’s head fragment in 23 different directions at once.
‘NOOOOOOO!!’ I yelled, my voice muted, as if emanating from the bottom of the ocean.
In a flash, my mind connected disparate dots together. It had been the donated food.
The rest of the day I remember in disjointed fragments, disconnected scenes and images with no linear narrative, like war flashbacks too dramatic and violent to be accepted chronologically by the rational mind.
Lest we forget.
I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say that there’s not many things much more disgusting than seeing a dick and balls, like a banana and a pair of strawberries dipped in chocolate fondue, completely covered in shit.
Four and a half hours straight of washing and changing the hapless victims of what was meant to be a charitable gesture. Perhaps it was the covert photo op that had cursed the action. Whatever it was, it was us volunteers who had to deal with the consequences. Some of the casualties we had to clean two or three times in a row. The bathroom was a hive of activity all morning with two to four patients being cleaned at any one time, the floor dotted by clumps and streaks of faeces. The poop kept coming. By the end of the battle, the floor looked the same as the sewer that ran below it. All I knew was that Father Gerald had remained conspicuously absent and I’d been forced to skip my tea break. I wasn’t too happy about that. Havier on the other hand seemed to wear the scars of battle with little or no complications. Hats off the guy, he didn’t seem to have any hang-ups about human faeces whatsoever, changing and washing the patients without rubber gloves, kaka smeared on his hands, cheerfully singing repeatedly at the top of his voice, ‘To the least of my brothers so I shall do unto you my lord!!’ in an effervescent peeling warble. ‘Look.’ Said Havier, tapping me on the shoulder while I hosed the crap off some pants. He pointed at his new sneakers. A huge streak of diarrhea ran across the whole left side of his left shoe. He gave me a long suffering look for a brief moment before shrugging and getting on with the job.
I couldn’t believe we weren’t even getting paid for this.
When I finally got home that night, I cleaned myself by throwing some gasoline over myself and setting myself alight.
Happy new tears.