Issue 43, 2006
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“The Afflicted” by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh
It is winter, it is night, it is cold – Christmas is coming – and I can feel deep down inside of me an infectious bug of some sort beginning to develop. It is far away in my feet, making them ache, but soon I know that, as always, it will creep up my legs, through my pelvis, into my torso and that will be the end of me. My body, in the meantime, in its gallant effort to ward off the invader, has left me hungry and exhausted.
“I need to go home, eat something and go right to sleep,” I think to myself, “and tomorrow I will wake anew.” But as I enter my apartment my girlfriend is holding her index finger in agony. Just a moment before I opened the door she had been happily cutting wrapping paper for a gift with a brand new pair of scissors and then…
“Let me see! Let me see!” I say. And with great reluctance she unclenches her hand and reveals the injured finger: a thin line running along her fingerprint from which deep, rich blood courses. It is by no means a severe incision, but I know from a previous career as a fairly incompetent short order cook that it can be painful and distressing and will require a few stitches. My girlfriend covers her poor wounded finger again, leans her head against my chest and begins to sob.
Having grown up without a father, I am often at a loss as how to behave in situations that call for a paternal response. At these times I am forced to compensate by piecing together various moments of behavior I have witnessed in males older than myself. For instance, there is my third-grade teacher who would horse-play with us at the end of the school day; or Muhammad Ali; or the guy who taught me how to stock shelves at the grocery store; or my friend’s older brother, who rushed over the time I stumbled and fell hard while playing basketball, and picked me up lovingly by my waist.
“It’s going to be okay,” I say to my girlfriend, imitating someone’s voice I have plucked from the database of my mind. I put my arms around her and hold her tightly and soon her tears subside.
Mt. Sinai is only four blocks from where we live, and after a brief parsimonious internal debate (which I am embarrassed to admit) as to whether to ask my girlfriend if she feels up to just walking to the hospital, I hail a cab.
“Mt. Sinai,” I say to the cabdriver, whose name is Kruszewski, and who wears the kind of cap and jacket you see in films from the fifties where everything is gray and rainy.
He makes a left instead of a right on 14th Street and heads toward the FDR Drive.
“Mt. Sinai,” I repeat nervously.
“That’s what you said,” he says.
“I would like the one on 16th and First,” I say politely.
“Mt. Sinai is on 100th Street,” he says.
“That’s not the one I want,” I say. “I want the one on 16th and First.”
“That’s Beth Israel,” he says.
“That’s the one I want then.”
“If you want Beth Israel you have to ask for Beth Israel.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I want Beth Israel.”
He chuckles derisively and says under his breath, “They ask for Mt. Sinai.” He makes an aggressive U-turn in the middle of 14th Street that tosses us in the backseat. I feel emasculated in front of my girlfriend.
Two minutes later he pulls up in front of the entrance to Beth Israel. The fare is $2.40. I’m suddenly stumped as to whether such a fast trip demands a large tip or a small one. I err on the side of generosity and tip him three dollars thinking that under such grave circumstances he has done us a great service for which I am indebted. We are travelers who have been borne across the Klondike. I feel that this public display of over-compensation vindicates me for my earlier private stinginess. I’m not such a cheap-ass after all, I think to myself.
Instead of thanking me for the tip, he says, “Mt. Sinai,” and snickers again.
“Look, man,” I say, “don’t be a pain in the ass.” I expect him to be shocked and even frightened by my bravado, but instead he laughs harder.