“Your predecessor went missing,” Mr. Kumar told Meira, his toad lips curling a smile. “In any other case we would have been hiring a much more experienced surgeon but we had no choice but to accept the very first person who was basically qualified and available.” His accent was so thick that Meira doubted any non-Indian could comprehend a word he said. “You are extremely fortunate to enjoy this opportunity,” he continued, “and I hope you will be making the most of it, Meira. Very fortunate, indeed.”
Meira fumed stonily, a carved idol slighted. “Thank you, Mr. Kumar. I’m sure the hospital will find my performance more than satisfactory. If you don’t mind terribly, in my previous position at Boston General Hospital I was accustomed to being addressed as Dr. Ram. I would prefer to keep things formal, especially in the Middle East given that I am both a woman and a foreigner.” Her accent was similar to his though softened by years abroad.
“Of course, Dr. Ram!” he said, emphasizing her Dalit surname. “In America they address surgeons as ‘doctor,’ isn’t that correct? We British surgeons go by ‘mister’. Or missus, of course. But at BGH you were not yet a fully qualified surgeon so I guess the difference is not relevant in this case. How is your house?”
“It’s fine, thank you.” His ridiculous phrase, ‘We British surgeons,’ still echoed in her head. How long had he stayed there, and had he encountered any actual Englishmen? The nincompoop sounded about as British as an Ahmedabad tea wallah.
“You are very fortunate to be having it,” he said, and she remembered that he was talking about her house. “Detached residences with a yard are rare as hen’s teeth in Dubai, though it is very far out from the center.”
“I appreciate you finding it for me.”
“Oh no, that was the hospital staff. It must have been most convenient for them as it was the same house where our missing Dr. Chang lived. Perhaps you might find him there! Check in all of the cupboards! Ha, ha!” Mr. Kumar leaned over the table and squeezed Meira’s shoulder. “I’m joking, of course. I am sure the ghost of Dr Chang won’t bother you. But if you are finding a pair of feet sticking out from under a bed, please let us know. Or any smells of decay which I am sure you will recognize most familiarly, Dr Ram, ha ha!”
Meira spent every free weekend unpacking once her cargo arrived. She had plenty of time for it because a Bangladeshi cook took care of her nutrition, a Filipino maid cleaned the house and a Pakistani chap came in once a week to see to the garden. She found the three stupid and lazy, often needing to be scolded in order to do their jobs properly. A glass would be left on a table, there would be too many carbohydrates in a meal and so on. It was impossible to get good help anywhere, it seemed. That was okay; she’d long ago mastered the art of switching unpredictably between a friendly manner and the most contemptuous denigration in order to make the fools’ cortisol levels spike and keep them on their toes.
None of the staff lived onsite as Meira needed privacy in order to function, and none complained about the long commute back to wherever they lived.
She was indeed lucky to have the house. It was two story, fully furnished and had a lavish bathroom. All of Dr. Chang’s belongings had been removed prior to her arrival and put into storage in case he reappeared. Meira was not overly curious about his case.
Kumar continued to mention Chang when they consulted in his office. “It is a troubling mystery. You must be very careful,” he said, putting an arm around her shoulders which Meira brushed off like a slimy amphibian that had jumped there. The creature returned, this time on her hip. Goddamn, she swore inwardly. The dirty Brahmin bastard was right about one thing, though: she didn’t have much experience, it was essential for her to see out this two-year contract in order to establish her career, and this cold-blooded crawler was the sole individual who could complete her performance reviews and provide her with a reference. It would have been bad enough anywhere but what the hell could she do about this bullshit in bloody Dubai?
“Dr. Chang disappeared, you must be remembering,” Kumar went on. “Only I am looking for him! I put advertisements on the online social media. The local authorities only placed an exit alert in case he boards a flight, nothing more. I am doing more for my employees than they are doing.”
Meria acknowledged this grudgingly. Kumar was a lecher but a fairly professional one. Not a fellow who’d ever risk trouble through act or omission. He’d place a paw here or there but would only go precisely as far as he thought he could get away with, not an inch further. A coward.
“Not only Dr. Chang disappeared,” Kumar went on. Meria tried to slip away from his grasp; he held on to her under the guise of needing her to focus on this vital information. “Young ladies have also been going missing in the city. All foreigners, ‘ladies of the night’. Chinese, Ukrainians. A Moroccan girl. Five of them in all, never heard from again. There have been no more lately but probably it will be starting again very soon. It could be human trafficking. You need to be especially careful, Meira, as you are a beautiful and gorgeous young lady. Do not go walking about at night. Always be taking the taxi.”
Meira twisted away. “I assure you, Mr. Kumar, I’m always very careful.” Striding away down the pristine corridor, she resolved to deal with this toad. Bloody high caste twits. Wherever you went in the world, there they were. Better to have a white boss, or even Chinese. It used to be possible to escape caste by escaping India but now the concept had spread around the globe with the growing diaspora. One day, she resolved, she would be the manager. One day she’d make her own team of surgeons quail as she already did her nurses, whose increasingly nervous demeanor around her she found amusing.
Aside from her supervisor, work at the hospital was fine. The facilities were excellent. After five years of completing a general surgical residency, it was exhilarating to be fully independent; to cut people open and fiddle with their insides. She was born to be a surgeon with her detached, scientific view of humans and complete insensibility to stress. Eventually she planned on specializing in gynaecologic oncology and here would be a brilliant place to do it – the city was thrilling, the salary very competitive. She’d worried about strict Muslim codes in the UAE but found that, so long as you had money and were discreet, you could pretty much do as you pleased. She drank, dressed scantily in nightclubs, took exciting men back to expensive hotel rooms. She was a wealthy, attractive woman in the centre of the world.
It was just a pity about Kumar.
One day, Meira discovered the fate of Dr. Chang in a most unexpected way . . .
To see how the story ends and for 14 more, get Tales From Captivity:
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