12 April 2005

Mrs. Punima

Mrs. Punima sits on the steps that run along the taxi line in front of Howrah Station in Calcutta. Each day one of us passes her as we walk the area around the station checking for the sick and dying. A tiny little lady who looks like a fragile bird and hobbles around on errands doing this or that during her day, she speaks some English and chats with me as she shields her eyes from the bright morning sun. Mrs. Punima has an allergy to eggs, but she enjoys the occasional samosa and thanks me politely as I go on my way. Sometimes she is not in her regular place, and I wonder what she is up to.

She owns two saris that we change out periodically, washing them in our houses because she doesn’t have the means to wash them at the station. Lately she has been sick, lying along the wall in the hot sun, and very confused when I gently shake her shoulder to wake her up. The other day I asked again if she would come with us to Mother Teresa’s home where we know she can have a good bed and people to care for her. But she refused, as she has many times before, stating that she’s waiting for her husband to return from a trip. She has been waiting for more than 10 months now. Her small brown feet are hard and cracked, and she tucks them under her sari as she lies back down on the wall.

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