The Ring Finger

I take the red and green checkered scarf and wrap it around the Wee One again and again, making sure to leave a small opening in the front so that I can check in on her periodically. One can never be too careful when going out into the cold with a delicate living beig. I walk to the El stop and we wait for the train together in the windy and dry weather. At last, the train arrives. I find a seat in the back car. I sit by myself. Cautiously, I look through the opening in the scarf at my hideous “baby.” There she is, sitting on the plastic platform, a hook attached to the middle of her “face.” Black wires zigzag up and down her swollen body. A string is hung on the hook, and provides a pulley-like tension on the finger, flexing it downwards.

As I release the tension in the pulley system, which is provided by a rubberband, I begin to remember the night when this happened. I was sitting on my beige seventies couch, the one from “Salvation Armani,” a nickname created by my former roommate, Naomi Grossman. Whether it was the pot she had been smoking all year or the writer’s genes that she inherited from her father that gave her the inspiration for the nickname, I’m not sure. There I sat, watching the season finale of The Batchelor. A paragon of the contented bachelorette myself, I had decided that my apartment was too hot, so, instead of turning the thermostat down, I had taken off my pants. Eating Ben and Jerry’s chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream to cool myself off, I was asking myself, “Why Helene?” The info that Helene was going to win this “contest” had been leaked on the internet weeks ago. My mom called, asking me if I wanted to wager anything. My dad wanted to place his bet on Brooke. Taking pity on him, I wagered ten cents. He had just lost his bet on the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution and he still owes me $100,000.

I watched the two-hour special through to completion. Poor, heartbroken Brooke! The bachelor had told her that she was so nice, so selfless and had sent her back to her “loving and caring family.” Did he forget that she has no father to support her? (Her father is in jail, so what can he do?) Meanwhile, Helene the hyena, the skinny, always perfectly dressed HYENA, with her black and red Spanish style dress blowing in the wind accepts the big rock and laughs her hyena laugh.

Disgusted, I went over to start washing my dishes. It was a big chore – one that I had been putting off for much too long. I washed plate after plate and got enthusiastic when I saw the pile getting smaller. As I grabbed onto my last plate, it slid out of my control like a black, shiny, soapy Frisbee. I involuntarily reached to catch it with my left hand, but it had already broken. I looked down. I felt pain, but it was mile compared to my shock. The blood oozed all over my hand, onto the floor, onto my laptop, which was also sitting in the kitchen. I finally took a look to see the cut and came face to face with my tendon.

MY TENDON! This cannot, should not, would not be happening, had I not been such a lazy slob! I checked again in my hysteria to see which finger it was: THE RING FINGER. The ring finger on my left hand. There was something almost too funny about this. Funny in a sinister way. I reached over to my green phone and dialed 911. My own voice shocked me. I sounded panicky, like a mother who had found her child unconscious, “Come fast. Please.” “An ambulance is on the way, ma’am. Keep applying pressure to the wound,” the voice on the phone instructed me. I looked down again. Pants! I ran into my room and found a pair of jeans. Button fly. I managed to get them on somehow.

I hear the computerized voice telling me that this is Washington and that I can transfer to the Red Line trains at Washington. I wrap up my finger and head out. The familiar stench of concentrated urine hits me in the tunnel. I wince. Finally. I am on the Red Line! I seat myself by a young black girl and decide not to unwrap the “baby” this time. I don’t want to freak the girl out. “This…is Grand,” the computerized voice says. It sure is.

I reach my stop – Addison – and am trying to get out when a man pushes ahead of me. Either he is oblivious to my gender, size, and injury, or he is just plain inconsiderate. When I get down to street level, I start to walk past Wrigley Field. My heart skips a beat. I am so excited that I don’t even check street names. I walk almost automatically, like a machine. I pass the bars, the sushi restaurant, and end up at Orbit.

Now there are hair salons and then there are hair salons. I walk into a storefront that has been lit with an intensity greater than that of natural light. Its glow warms me. Mario greets me and takes my coat. I say hello to the main artiste, Alan. He quietly nods his bald head.

Mario looks at my hand. “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” I count down. “What happened?” Mario asks. I quickly recap. Alan tells me that he is “very sorry.” Mario wastes no time. He takes me over to the wash basin to start shampooing my hair. His hands massage my scalp. I feel relaxed. I resume my exercises, releasing the rubberband and stretching out the finger.

As Mario cuts my hair, Alan stops by again to ask when he’ll be done and if he wants to go out to dinner. Mario sniffs indignantly, “I was going to cook tonight.” Even-tempered Alan says, “OK. Should I meet you at Starbucks, then?”

“And how can I contact you if I’m late? It’s not like you have a cell phone.”

“I’ll just wait and have a cider.”

“OK. Now go!” Mario shoos Alan away with both his hands.

I sit there, becoming more aware. I’ve reached that point in eavesdropping on a conversation where I realize that the two people talking are in a relationship. “I’m sorry. It’s so hard working with your partner,” says Mario. “What are you cooking tonight?” I ask him politely. “Alan likes comfort food, so I’m gonna make meatloaf and mashed potatoes. And a nice salad.” The med student in me jumps at the word “meatloaf,” since Alan is grossly overweight. Mario quickly adds on. “It’s going to be a turkey meatloaf.” That’s better.

I walk back to the El, feeling quite peaceful. I think of Mario and Alan. It must be nice to have someone to take care of you. To wait for you after work or cook you a warm dinner. I peek at my finger, determined to have ti work again someday. On the way back, as I wait for the Blue Line train, I hear Chinese music. I look over to see an elderly Chinese lady playing an unusual-looking stringed instrument. She plays beautifully. The music is tranquil and delightful at once. I want to ask her what she is playing, but the train arrives. In the train, I look at my hand again. The string is taut against the beam in my palm. It hangs at an angle, waiting for my other hand to pluck away the tension. I think to myself, “This will take patience.”


Pooja Khungar, Chicago, Class of 2003