Modern Lodge Room 21, aka The Sauna
I was nervous about my first day @ Shanti Dan. I picked a home for mentally challenged women because I wanted to love them. And it was very easy to love them. When I walked in the door with 2 other workers, we were smothered by hugs and kisses and "Good morning, auntie!" coming from all directions of the courtyard. There was one woman with her hair very short, sticking out in small tufts all over her head. Her face was severely disfigured, most likely by fire, her left eye wide open without the protection of an eyelid. Her bottom lip was turned down and melted into her chin giving her a baby's line of drool running down her front. But she showed her teeth and her wrinkled, scarred skin became even more creased and pulled taut across her cheek bones as she gave us her own sort of smile. She came straight to me and wrapped her arms about my waist. I hugged her to me as she lay her head on my shoulder and stared up at me with her eternally open eye. What a warm and lovely greeting. I felt that these women were taking care of me. What could I possibly do to take care of them?
My morning assignment was to clip nails. I was given a super-duper large pair of clippers and one of those hospital issue half-moon bowls you throw up in. When I walked out the door of the Sister's office, there was already a line of women waiting on me. I felt awful cutting their nails. I was overwhelmed by my inability to do it well, something so simple as clipping nails! I can't even clip my own nails without making a mess. But I kept at it, sometimes clipping just for clipping's sake because some of the women had recently had their nails trimmed.
Later, an elderly frail woman whose nails I had clipped, hands and feet, was sitting outside on the concrete balcony that ran round the inside of the 2nd floor of the complex. Many of the women lay out on this balcony instead of their beds. Perhaps it was much cooler in the open air. She was sitting and reached for me as I walked by. Being generally lost as to what my exact task was supposed to be, I sat down next to her. She was wearing a scarf, sari too, over her head. This made her head look even smaller. Her gray hair was pulled back at her neck underneath the scarf. Her blue eyes were sunk very deep into her face, her cheekbones scaring them back into her head. She was weathered.
She began to speak to me, holding my hand. Of course I couldn't understand her, but I felt it was only my duty to listen. I nodded at her and looked into her eyes and hugged her and listened. She began to become quite agitated and began to cry. I felt she was begging me for something. I just hugged her and rocked her tiny frame back and forth. I held her face and her head, feeling how small she had become. She was so tiny.
One of the other volunteers came to fetch me. I unwrapped myself and hugged her once more and squeezed her hand. I told her that everything would be okay. But maybe it will never be okay. I will remember her. It was my only day to work with the women and I was shy and uncertain about what was appropriate behavior. I was terrible. But I listened to her. And maybe she hasn't been listened to in a long time.