The smell of formalin is so strong that I gag. There is an urge to vomit, but keeping my stoicism seems to be more important. I put on my mask and feel a sense of relief wash over me. I put on my gloves and get to work. My region of work today is the wrist and hand. I pick up my scalpel and begin cutting away at the tissue, carefully and soon, the motion is so mechanical and rhythmic that I can safely dream of the windy morning outside the dissection hall. I can see the trees in the strong wind, washed over by a bright sun. Autumn is indeed beautiful here.
I stand up to relieve my back and gaze out of the window, and I am reminded of a day very far into my past. It seems like a lifetime away. I remember the time I was in the ninth grade and I sat at a table in the biology lab, gazing out of the window. I could see the town below in the valley. Far away, there was a red car winding its way through the streets of the town I now call home in my sentimentality. I must have been gazing for too long, because I heard a voice from far away.
“Schuberg, get out of the class”. My biology master was angry. he was an old man, and one who took discipline very seriously. He was also the master of my House, named after some colonialist or other, and dazed, I walked out the door, cursing myself. I went to this balcony from where I resigned myself to the view. There would be punishment to follow, extra time in the lab, or a thousand lines which stated ” I will never look out of the window during class ever again”. I dreaded this possibility, but back then, I was as much a resigned man as I am now.
I was still watching the hypnotic trees waving in the wind when I felt a voice from very far away. Instinctively I replied “yes sir” and turned, expecting to see my old Biology professor, instead seeing a familiar face that I couldn’t place because I was so lost in my dreaming.
Adara stood in hospital scrubs and gloves. I apologized and greeted her. I hadn’t seen her all summer and she had receded, much like everyone else I know, into some dark corner of my mind that I forget about. She greeted me and looked a little concerned. She asked me if I was okay. My intolerance for formalin is too well known. I stuttered a little before shaking myself internally to focus on her. It took a minute. She put on a mask and moved to the window and opened it. I was welcomed by a gust of fresh air. I looked at my watch and saw that I had been dreaming for almost half an hour. Adara stood across the dissecting table and looked at me curiously.
“The Professor sent me to assist you,” she said. “Are you sure you are okay?”
“I’m fine, Adara”, I stutter. Ativ Schuberg screws up his conversation again.
“I think we should go outside, for a minute”, Adara leads me outside, I follow her. I remember that I haven’t eaten anything all morning. My head feels a little light-headed from hunger. I take off my mask and step out into the corridor. “You haven’t eaten anything,” says Adara, her eyes narrowed. I don’t answer. I look at her confused. She says that she is too used to seeing men who forget to eat. Her father, a geneticist, also forgets to eat unless someone reminds him at least a hundred times.
Fifteen minutes later, I am tucking myself into some Borscht and bread. Adara watches me eat. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have behaved in this sheepish way, being led around by shrewd women into restaurants. I think my hunger placed me in a vulnerable position. I am thankful however, for the Borscht and thank her for reminding me to eat. In what I don’t say is a gratefulness that she bothered so much to take me across the street in this windy weather into a restaurant while I stood around dazed. The formalin is like a drug to me, I often find that I dream too much when I am in the dissection hall. I tell her that, apologizing again for being a liability.
“I’ve seen you dazed in the Anatomy Hall many times”, she says. The walls are made of glass in the various halls, and one can look into each hall if they so wish. “I knew you would be here alone, and I had this strange feeling that you wouldn’t have had breakfast”, she says, and I raise an eyebrow questioningly. My focus is returning. Ativ Schuberg is well filled now, and his mental faculties are returning. “I know when you don’t eat,” she admitted looking shiftily at my plate. I am taken aback.
“I have seen you lose focus and go glassy eyed in the Cytology Exam last semester”, she reveals, much to my horror,” I stood next to you and you tried to help me. When you confused the trachea with the esophagus, I knew that you were going dreamy again and you were hungry”. It was true. I confused the wind-pipe with the food-pipe and stood there gibbering like a fool to my Professor, who too looked at me as if she saw the typical bachelor, unfed and careless with his eating habits and one who makes a greater effort in making himself presentable than he does with nutrition. The Professor spoke to Adara later, after the exam to tell her off about her trying to help me and me trying to help her, saying that if the two of us had eaten well that morning, we wouldn’t be gibbering and idiotically looking to each other for help.
Adara, I asked, were you sent by the Professor of Anatomy?
She replied in the negative.