by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
If you missed it, you should go back to read Part 1 first!
There was a boy still in his teens terribly afflicted by cerebral palsy who was doing well. He had been here several times before — a recidivism ordained by the gods. He graduated to the old factory where the recovering were received. But he was soon back and after great suffering his body went behind the cistern.
There was a man seemingly strong save for the grey-green puddle of gangrene that was his thigh. The French doctor, a volunteer with Medicins sans Frontiers, said he could still be saved and so we took him to the College Hospital in hopes of a speedy amputation. He died of dehydration a few days later, forgotten and without water in some corner of the ward. I remembered how thirsty he always was.
And then there was Mr. Ray. I felt that I got to know Mr. Ray. The Fasting Buddha was a dilettante compared to his fleshless body. He could not eat. He would not eat. “Please, let me starve,” he would plead when threatened with an IV. Yes, he spoken perfect English; how I don’t know. And he was well read. How so? I asked. “I got old books from the paper collectors,” he told me. And his occupation? He rolled bidis. Now a bidi is a uniquely Indian cigarette. It is a tiny bit of tobacco hand-rolled in a tendu leaf, is in the shape of an elongated cone, and costs about one tenth of a cent. There are more lowly occupations but they were done by the untouchable and unnoticed.
Mr. Ray made a point of telling me that he was soon to die. And he was. You saw it in his eyes, a distinct, but distant glow, like a light disappearing into the night on a mission I could not know. And as we talked he began to confide in me, his last witness. “Do not tell the Sisters,” he told me, “but I am a Christian and gave them the name Ray so they would leave me alone.” Now “Ray” is a venerable Hindu name in the State of West Bengal. “I don’t want their meddling and I don’t want a Christian burial.”
“Please, I need one favor, please,” said Mr. Ray on his last day save one. “Please take me back to the street where they found me. I did not ask to come here. Here, they rob me of my dignity. They profit from my suffering. It is what makes them holy. They are using me. Why should I not die as I have lived? I just want to die like a dog, as they found me.”
Was it cowardice or wise discretion? I don’t know, but I failed him. I did go to Sister Luke, the indomitable boss, and related his request without the commentary. I knew it would do him no good.