|The doctor adjusted the reflecting mirror on his forehead—it was round and concave, with a tiny hole in the center. Like the doctor, it was a relic. He stuck a stainless steel spatula into Omar’s mouth and began a careful examination of tongue, cheek and throat.
“I do not notice any change,” the doctor proclaimed while tossing the tool in a metal tray. It made a sharp ring in the quiet examination room. “You followed my instructions? A pill every six hours during the first three days, then one every four hours?”
“S-S-Sure, just like the ch-ch-chart you gave me,” Ohmar stammered.
He swallowed saliva to rid his mouth of the horrid metallic taste.
Ohmar did not know the doctor’s name. The nurses called him 'Mr.' Doctor. When Ohmar filled out the agreement forms, doctor’s signature was illegible.
He needed money. When you have no steady income it’s easy to give in to temptation and offer up your body for testing to bring in cash—often insignificant amounts. In spite of what he’d been through, he was too stubborn to admit underestimating the perverse forces of the Universe. By participating in this program, he’d collected enough money to allow him to quit his night job as a watchman. So, instead of nodding off in a glass booth, he could spend his nights interpreting and making sense of the sacred text of Hinduism—the Atharavaveda.
The doctor’s palpated Ohmar sub-mandible glands with pale fingers bearing cut-short, square fingernails.
“Does it hurt when I touch it? Any skin rash? Difficulty urinating?”
“No, no, none of that...tell me, what are the drug's side effects?”
The doctor studied Ohmar through elegant chrome-frame glasses.
“I have no idea what you’ll experience. Ruptures in your stomach lining? Itching? Allergies? Intestinal disorder? Decreased appetite? Memory gaps? Manic episodes?”
“Can you tell me what this pill is for?”
“It’s a new antidepressant, nothing special. We’ll see if everything looks okay next week, on Thursday. Don’t forget—one pill every four hours.”
Ohmar left the clinic feeling dizzy. He hated hospitals, always remembering that traumatic childhood moment when he had his tonsils removed. For one whole month, he did not smell anything but the pungent smell of ether.
When Ohmar arrived at home he brewed a cup of Darjeeling tea, a luxury he could not afford before becoming a medical experiment. It was the perfect quench for his thirst. Few knew how to prepare tea properly. When the water just begins to boil, throw in a pinch of salt, and when it fully boils, sprinkle a teaspoon of leaves, turn off the stove and cover the pot. Sugar or honey weakens the tea’s flavor.
For the ritual to be perfect, he sipped the hot infusion from a porcelain cup, the only remainder of a set inherited from his grandmother.
The summer heat steamed beyond the open window, and the branches of the trees waved lazy in the wind. Each tree was a green universe, he thought, and each branch a galaxy and everything was imbued with the Brahman: " He, who knows the supreme Brahman, he becomes Brahman himself”
Adriana’s eyes had the color and shape of a willow leaf. He had met her at the library. Suffering always of a morbid shyness, he watched her from a distance for two weeks before addressing her. She arrived at the library at the same time of the day, every day and sat at the same table by the windows, quickly delving into reading. Ohmar did not dare sitting beside her.
Somewhere on the fifteenth day, he took advantage of the fact that they were alone in the reading room and sat at the same table, separated only by its width.
She was dressed in a white wool sweater, rolled collar, molded like a chain of snow on her slim neck, which contrasted with her skin, soft and dark curls, cut short above the shoulders.
He waved at her and all his blood traveled fast from his chest to his forehead.
Women’s hands with short fingers and bloody red painted nails always terrified him, but Adriana's hands were perfect: soft and narrow, with nervous fingers, expressive, restless, as if animated by a life of their own.
He quickly noted how the distance between them was just right now, neither too invasive, nor too remote, but it took more than a quarter of an hour until she raised her eyes. A fugitive smile, an imperceptible quiver of the lips, quickly reflected in his green irises, accelerated his pulse and generated a huge glean on his face. He was sure she recognized him even if until that magical moment they had not exchanged any word or glance.
"What are you reading?" he asked with and after a will effort. In the deep silence between shelves filled with books, his hoarse voice with loud echoes was like a sneeze in a symphony orchestra pit.
"Villon “she answered, turning the cover of the thick volume towards him.
At that moment, he cursed the Sanskrit and the Upanishads on his mind. The only French he was able to mumble “ou sont les neiges d 'ANTAN" sounded rough and artificial. He would have traded the half a year spent grinding old Sanskrit texts to a smart reply now. He showed her the cover of his humongous book. It was an English translation of the Kalika Purana.
"Two birds sit on a wire / One of them eats a fruit, the other sings" she whispered, smiling wide this time while his emotion headquarters moved from the heart to his cheeks. He smiled, tortured by the idea that he grinned like an idiot, and she added:
"It's one of Upanishads distich, I'm not sure, and I’m quite ignorant in Vedic literature.”
"That's why I started it myself “; he replied conscious through the last synapse of his brain that he sounded stupid.
"I know your name: Adriana. I heard the librarian when she completed your return!" he continued quickly outstretching his hand, holding her palm for a few seconds. Her hand felt like fresh snow, cool and sincere.
Adriana returned to the princess of yore and Ohmar resumed his dictionary browsing. They spoke no other word, and after half an hour, assailed by all the complexes he had been suffering he got up, bowed his head in her direction and walked out.
The next day looking through the book shelves, at a time when he was sure she would not be at the library, found the Villon's volume and slipped a note in the middle of it saying:
"Two birds sit on a wire
One sings divinely, the other one listens magic.”
He never knew if she ever found the note. Maybe a retired teacher read it or some cynical student who finally crumpled it and threw it into a trash basket. Never found any time, any suitable opportunity to speak to her again, but he fell asleep often dreaming of winter nights with her in his arms. In one obsessively recurring dream, he walked through a forest of trees with high branches full of snow, holding her hand and, a tender beam in her warm eyes made him sweat profusely in his sleep.
Shaking his head he got up from his desk. It was time to take another pill. He swallowed the oblong, pink, aseptic, pill and stepped out on the balcony. There, between the walls of concrete reflecting all the heat of a July afternoon in a city ravaged by heat, he decided to look for Adriana's phone number.
Ohmar stepped into the street, seized by a state of unexplained joy. The faces of bystanders, buildings, and window-shops seemed all changed, exuding a festive air, in agreement with the excitement in his heart.
He walked into a supermarket and bought a can of tuna, some vegetables and some candy. Living alone, most times he cooked one meal every other day.
Back to his apartment Ohmar started preparing a tuna salad. While skillfully chopping the onions, the door bell rang. He put the knife down and headed for the door, somewhat curious, because it rarely happened for someone to come looking for him. It was Nadia, a neighbor, a mature brunette, divorced, overflowing with aggressive sex appeal. Ohmar was surprised to see her, greasy-lipped, smiling and holding a purple empty cup:
“Excuse me, I don’t mean to bother you ... I started to make a cake and, I seem to have run out of sugar.”
She entered the room with a big leap, wobbling on her high heels and lasciviously moving her big indulgent hips.
“Oh, what a nice apartment you have!” she exclaimed with admiration, as Ohmar looked in the pantry for sugar.
“The pleasures of bachelor life, what can you do?”
“Men in the kitchen ... my fondness! What are you cooking?”
“Tuna-salad with endives, want to taste?” Ohmar asked her. If he wanted to win Adriana’s heart, he would have to get rid of his shyness and the embarrassment following shortly every time he met a beautiful woman. He saw no other remedy but meeting as many, trivial or charming women as he could.
Everything went normal, as between two civilized people. He got into bed following the warmth of her body and managed to maintain a commonplace conversation, without stuttering, listening carefully and dropping spice words here and there being generous and a bit cynical, briefly charming the woman who liked to bake.
Before going to sleep, he swallowed two pink pills as prescribed by Mr. Doctor, wondering how unusual he spent his day.
The stratagem came to his mind and was of an amazing simplicity. He dressed in haste, without giving too much importance to clothes and went to the library. Before going out, he swallowed a double dose of the pink pills.
He took a book of the shelves about poetry and asked the librarian, a gray haired woman with thick glasses and sharp nose like a bird beak:
"Can I borrow this book on behalf of a colleague? I need it urgently for an exam and cannot find my card! "
The woman looked up from her papers.
As expected, he vacillated between small violation of rules and laziness. He borrowed the book under Adriana’s name taking a quick pick at the address registered under her name when the old lady had him sign the papers.
"If you do not bring the book back in two weeks, the charge is three times the price of the book" she growled but, he did not care about her warnings and regulations.
Clutching his book under his arm, he stepped out looking for a flower shop. The flower girl he found on the street, a voluptuous blonde, dressed in a blue dress with a white lace collar wiped her wet hands and asked smiling towards Ohmar:
“Want a stylish bouquet? We have fresh gerberas, roses of all shades, irises, lilies...”
“I want something special, a flower less ordinary!” he stammered back at her, the scent and color of the buckets of flowers making him dizzy.
“I got some azaleas, beautiful color ... but am quite expensive!”
"Price is no matter ... ten azaleas, please!” Ohmar said sharply wording each syllable.
He paid and went out in a feverish rush, clutching the bouquet in his hand.
The street was easy enough to find and he climbed the stairs in the building where Adriana’s apartment was in a hurry, pressed the door bell, his heart beating with excitement. After 2-3 minutes of waiting feverishly, the door opened slowly. Without any warning, a sudden dizziness clouded his vision as he was leaning against the door frame, waiting for the dark mist that covered his eyes to lift. When his vision cleared out he saw Adriana shrouded in a halo of golden light, dressed in her white sweater, although it was summer, smiling mysterious, remote, and yet so palpable. Words were unnecessary, the ideas floated between them, his karma always perfectly united with all the infinity of his soul's eternal particles. He opened his mouth breaking the spell:
“If you knew how long I have been searching for you ...”
“Who are you and what do you want?” Her voice sounded hoarse and strangely vulgar with an ugly asthmatic echo.
He shook his head, leaning against the wall. In front of him sat an old woman with thinning hair, painted lips in a dirty orange color, a flat, wrinkled face, and heavy body, wrapped in a house gown made of some flannel material.
“I am looking for Adriana!” he mumbled dizzy, unable to rationalize what was happening.
“There is no Adriana here ... go away, go away before I call the police! “The woman in flannel dress replied gesticulating menacing to him.
He looked at the bouquet of flowers he had dropped on the floor and, it reminded him of a flaccid handful of bloody meat. He then ran the steps back, hoping to escape the grotesque reality he had just encountered.
he afternoon outside was full, rich in gold colors, with flashes of orange. Ohmar admired the foliage of the trees admired the buildings powdered by the afternoon light and walked into the first bar. Surrounded by happy faces, young and careless, he felt alive, away from all the side effects. Cramped between sweaty bodies, he sat at a round table and ordered a brandy. He drank it with lusty sips and asked for another one. Before leaving, dizzy and inexplicably relieved, he had thrown all content of the bottle of pink pills in the toilet bowl and laughing, flushed it.
Arriving home, he opened the book with green covers and wrote in it:
"Only the renunciation of all things can make you happy, never covet what belongs to others."
He then threw the book in a drawer, took out a bottle of Pinot Grigio from the refrigerator and left his apartment without locking the door behind him. While pressing the door bell in front of Nadia’s apartment, his retina projected for the last time, the faded image of a white sweater with rolled collar.