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Flash Fiction
743 words
SHJ Issue 2
Fall 2010

The Fall

Valerie Miner

You’re telling a joke to your new friend, Sudha, when suddenly you are down on the pavement. From here, Delhi feels like an enchanted world, blinking and swirling and beeping around you. Horns. Voices. Music. Swish, swish, colorful saris. Down here you are a non-combatant. For the first time in three months, you realize you’re exhausted.

“Oh, dear, are you hurt?” cries Sudha, extending her hand. The glass bangles tinkle, like cool water trickling down her arm.

“Sorry. Yes. A little,” you mutter, rising tentatively. The right foot is fine. The left clearly sprained. Please god not broken.

“Can you make it to Chitra’s place? We’re almost there.” Sudha is kind and practical. One minute of lying on the pavement is OK, but more time would be pressing our luck on this hectic crossroad of commerce and transport.

“Thanks, I’m fine.” So American, you think: Can do. Nope, can’t do everything, you realize, hobbling alongside her, trying to summon up the punch line from before the fall.

Inside the small apartment, fragrant with dinner spices, Chitra offers ice for your foot, vodka for your nerves. Then she serves delicious dhal and raita and brinjal and sag paneer. Soon you are laughing. You have forgotten the foot. Almost. As for your poise, you released that years ago. Poise and pride don’t travel well.

Together the three of you gossip hilariously about certain mutual colleagues at the Center. You eat more than you imagined possible. The evening is that delicious.

Next morning, they each phone, within five minutes of one another. “We are going to the doctor.”

Ah, you thought you’d carried it off last night, wincing only when you ducked into the taxi.


The three of you sit on beige plastic chairs beneath languid ceiling fans in a storefront chemist’s shop.

Also waiting are an elderly gray-skinned woman, two thin men who look as if they share the same headache and a pregnant teenager. Passersby carry shopping and laundry and long garlands of sunny marigolds. Each patient spends about five minutes with the doctor.

Meanwhile, Chitra and Sudha chat about taking you to India Gate when you are well, to a dance performance at Treveni Kala Sangam. Each of them apologizes for Delhi’s which-way pavement.

“No,” you declare. “This could have happened in Paris or New York. I’m just a klutz.”

“A klutz?” puzzles Sudha.

The doctor appears in a beige cotton coat. He nods directly to you. “Please, this way.”

You’re grateful for his good English because your Hindi is still about as clumsy as your walking.

Sitting across from the perspiring middle-aged man in his closet-sized office, you watch a gecko climbing over a two-year-old wall calendar bearing an attractive picture of throbbing blue Krishna. The trash container is an old cardboard box.

Dr. Kapur invites you to sit on the examining table, on the same sheet used by the previous graying, sore, aching, pregnant patients today and for who knows how many weeks before. You think about the HMO clinic in Dayton—colorful mobiles hanging from the ceilings, the racks of news magazines, the diverting aquarium. Where would Dr. Kapur put an aquarium?

With exquisite tenderness, he examines your foot, clearly familiar with the universal order of cartilage, bones, tendons. You would trust this quiet man with brain surgery. Well, maybe in a different building.

“Nothing broken,” he almost smiles and scrawls a prescription. “Anti-inflammatory cream,” he advises. “And an Ace bandage.”

In Dayton, they would have insisted on an X-ray. You’d be driving all over the city with one good foot. Waiting for hours. Filling out insurance forms. His consultation costs $1.15. The prescribed cream is ten cents.

As you leave, Chitra and Sudha are relieved, but still solicitous.

You wish you could recall the punch line to yesterday’s joke; that would reassure them that now you really are OK.

The plastic chairs are claimed by new patient patients.


Monday, you limp around work in your bright pink Ace bandage. Alarmed, people ask what happened.

They apologize for the shocking state of New Delhi sidewalks.

Colleagues—even the ones you were catty about the other night—squabble over who will carry your briefcase down the long dark corridors and up the flights of broken stairs.

You think back to the shiny, convenient offices at home, where safe, efficient elevators open to brightly lit hallways. And you wonder if you have to go back.

—From Miner’s collection of short fiction, Abundant Light (Michigan State University Press, 2004)

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury