My head floated in feverish clouds, while my body slumped heavy in the chair of a waiting room, the signs all in Thai. I was cold, too cold for Thailand, even on a rainy day. I watched the rainfall through the open doorway until I caught a young girl staring at me, peeking around a wall just beyond the door. Even as my eyes caught hers, she looked at me relentlessly, and I felt self-conscious. I felt so ill, and I’m sure I looked it. Hadn’t anyone taught her not to stare at people? I told myself to stop being sensitive; I always revert back to a child when I’m sick. I yearn for my mother; I crave grandma’s soup; I want to cuddle my Mickey Mouse doll, which I left back home for safekeeping. I want to be hugged.
I pleaded something to this effect with my eyes, and the girl looked away. I turned my attention back to the rain and wondered how long it would before they called me. I wondered how many people in this waiting room were here to see the doctor, and how many were here to see the dentist, and why they both shared this tiny clinic. I wondered why there were so many people in the waiting room when I arrived, just before five, when I was told the clinic wouldn’t open until five. I wondered if the doctor would speak English, and if not, if he would understand the Thai that I had been quietly rehearsing in my head since I left my apartment: Fever, kai. Three days, saam wan. Sore throat, jep kaw. Headache, buat hua. Very bad, mak mak!
I wondered if the little paper card with the words I can’t read is really my insurance card, if these numbers are dates, and whether or not they’ve passed. I wondered why the receptionist, when she got up to let the little girl (I wondered if it was her daughter) into the bathroom, took off the pair of slippers she was wearing and put on another pair of slippers, and then switched them again when she came back. I wondered why the little girl, who looked at me with every pass, was unable to get into the bathroom on her own. I wondered how the cluster of motorbikes parked right outside the doorway on the sidewalk had gotten up there - the curb was high, and I couldn’t see a ramp or rock or brick in sight. I wondered how they’d get down. I wondered why the woman who had recently walked in and sat down got up and walked out just minutes later, without a word to anyone. She never did come back.
I started to feel dizzy; I hadn’t eaten anything that day. I closed my eyes and suddenly the cold turned hot and all I wanted was for the fan on the opposite wall to reach me, which it didn’t. I wondered what was wrong with me, not in the existential sense, but in my body, currently. It was vicious and violent, the way it made me ache. I yearned for my mother. I craved grandma’s soup. I wanted to cuddle my Mickey Mouse doll, which I left back home for safekeeping. I wanted to be hugged.
Her voice was soft, afraid to mispronounce my foreign name. It’s ok, I wanted to tell her, don’t be so afraid of it. Everybody mispronounces it; it’s a part of being different. I think I’ve kind of grown into Kidteen, it’s endearing. You can’t pronounce my name, and I can’t read your signs, but the amazing thing is that we try. That we experience this discomfort of cultural interaction and brush through unnecessary feelings of inadequacy within ourselves, instead using this as an opportunity to learn about people who are just like us yet so different; to grow in character and understanding of our place in the world and in humanity; to breakdown the name of ‘Other’ that we throw at each other without realizing the weight of its implications; to share a sense of comfort and home with strangers from a different part of the same Earth.
Instead I nodded and took a moment to steady myself on two legs. She smiled, that Thai smile that hides things I’ll never fully come to realize, and I made my way to the sliding door. I looked at her for approval, “Is this the one?” Her smile remained unchanged, “Of course, it’s the only one.” It was, and so I went inside.
Chicago-born citizen of the globe, rich in the things that really matter. Let's get weird.