Bins wants to check out a dental surgeon recommended by a friend. Before the appointment, he’s advised to get an X-ray. He shows me the slip. “It just says OPG. I asked what it means and the guy said something like Other Panty Grab. Should I have a shower?”
“No!” I exclaim. “Just brush your teeth, for goodness’ sake!” I look up OPG online and it says “orthopantomogram”. I tell Bins to stop worrying. “It’s a panoramic scan of all your teeth.” He brushes for half an hour before we set off. The Diagnostic Centre is in a residential area that’s being dug up. There’s a small moat — actually an open drain, covered over with loose slabs of concrete — that must be negotiated in order to reach a flight of stairs into the Centre. People with leg-injuries must find it really difficult just to get diagnosed, never mind cured.
There’s a small but airy waiting area. About 12 people are already seated in neat rows on either side of a central aisle. It reminds me, vaguely, of a tiny chapel. The registration clerk sits at a desk — or is it an altar? — at the other end, facing the entrance. He wears a white jacket and has the scrubbed-clean appearance of a young padre who takes his work too seriously. Bins looms over the altar-cum-desk and hands over the slip. “Other Panty Grab,” he says solemnly, in his Tamil-French accent.
Padre doesn’t even blink. “Mobile?” he asks. “Yes, I am mobile,” says Bins, waggling his head. “Number!” says Padre, looking stern. When Bins gives it to him, his next remark is, “Four hundred.” “What?” says Bins, puzzled. Padre looks heavenward and mutters a Hail Mary or two before saying, “Fee!” Bins hands over a ₹500 note. “Wait 10 minutes,” says Padre, taking the note. He opens a drawer beside him. It is awash in multicoloured money thrown in all higgledy-piggledy, like paper scraps. He scrabbles through them to find the one blue note he’s looking for. Hands it over and goes backstage, out of sight.
We settle down to wait. A girl comes in, registers at the altar and returns to sit next to Bins. She’s got a bottle of water, from which she takes swigs. “Uh-oh,” says Bins to me. “What’s the matter?” I ask. “This girl is filling her bladder before a scan,” he whispers to me. “That means she’s going to be desperate to pee! And I’ll feel desperate on her behalf!” I tell him to stop being such a ninny. “Okay,” he says. Then gets up. “Where are you going?” I ask. “To pee,” he says.
Finally Bin gets his scan. Two minutes. Then he’s at the altar asking for a receipt. “Name?” asks Padre. First he writes “Beans” then “Bans” before getting it right. “You’ve written 500!” complains Bins, “but I paid only four.” Poor Padre! He hands over the corrected receipt before escaping backstage to recover.
Manjula Padmanabhan , author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column