He asks me to count to ten. I am lying in a bare and chilly room on a very high and narrow bed, which he helps me to mount with the aid of a few steps. I’m wearing a pair of feather-light slippers. He looks so ridiculous in his green cap, a strange color for such a muscular man who slits the human flesh. I shiver.
“Are you scared?” he asks with a kind smile.
“Terribly so,” I answer, thinking of my mother across the seas and her grief in case I do not wake up.
He tenderly holds my freezing hand as a needle penetrates my skin, diffusing its sleep-inducing substance. I lose consciousness before my half-uttered three.
When I wake up, I see a large room through a window which is fitted to my bewildered face and the sound of my breathing is a heaving sea of crowded puffs. The oxygen is not to my liking and the mask makes me feel out of breath. My eyes feebly inspect the eerie warden which is full of women. The doctor is asking questions of a few of them. When he sees my eyes wide-open, he releases me of the mask and asks me how I feel.
The nurse inquires whether I am expecting someone to pick me up. I tell her I know no one in Melbourne and my family is scattered all over the globe. It is a day-surgery and I have to vacate the bed. The nurse orders a taxi and asks if I need help with getting dressed. I proudly assure her that I can manage on my own, so she brings me the plastic bag in which I had deposited my contents.
As I am buttoning up my long, yellow dress, I feel light-headed and weightless. I am an Autumn’s swirling leaf; a wind-bent daffodil, leaning forward then landing on the floor in a very soft heap. The patient who met me before the operation is in a neighboring bed and when I do not emerge from behind the drawn curtain she asks the nurse for help.
Having revived me, two nurses look extremely worried. They examine my stitches and one phones the doctor and tells him that I have no one to look after me, so he generously suggests that I can stay with his family over the Christmas holiday, if I feel comfortable with the idea. I politely decline the offer and promise to call for help if I later encounter any serious problems.
Waiting for a taxi in a wheelchair, I wonder what will happen next. I had assumed that a day-surgery is like paying a doctor a short and fleeting visit. I had never been under anesthetic before and my miscalculations now leave me with an almost empty fridge and there is no one to do the shopping.
I feel lucky that my fridge accommodates a few eggs. Omelets become my main nourishment. Cooking them or preparing a drink feels like lacerating my flesh. On the third day the fridge is utterly empty. I have to chariot my frail frame to the nearest shop to get a new supply of food. I pause at each step and would have been out-run by ants had we engaged in any contest.
I gradually make the journey to the train-station with minimum discomfort, so a daily pilgrimage is performed to the city’s central post office. While heading towards my salvation box, I exude a slimy trail of regrets. I repeatedly pause for fear of snapping my stitches, whose threads wriggle in my brain like worms in distress. It is a long walking distance from the station to the post office and the daily trips yield no miracles. There is not a single job interview in return for countless epistles.
I spend my first Christmas in Australia, an immigrant, in a one-room flat, waiting for Bruce Springsteen’s enchanting clip of the Streets of Philadelphia on television, my only entertainment for the festive period.