After months of doing the rounds of various offices, Joe had finally been able to secure a job interview. His interview was scheduled for the next day, but Joe's head was exploding with a combination of a migraine and anxiety. Joe had never been good at tolerating pain, and to make matters worse, he was not able to find any aspirin anywhere in the house. Never the one to relish exercise, he reluctantly stepped out of his apartment into the clammy night and made his way to the neighborhood pharmacy, while trying to avoid the puddles of filthy water that the evening rain had left.
Luckily, the pharmacy was almost empty and Joe got his aspirin fairly quickly. By this time, Joe’s migraine had reached a level of pain that was intolerable to him. He decided to take the aspirins in the pharmacy itself and started looking around for the water cooler frantically. However, noticing the suspicious look on the cashier’s face, Joe pretended to be as casual as possible.
There it is. Finally, he located the water cooler in the extreme back corner of the pharmacy and started walking towards it with a sigh of relief.
You got to be kidding me! When he reached there, to his utter dismay, he found no glass or cup. For some reason, this took him to that Halloween night in his hometown of Rolla, Missouri when as a 6-year old he had gone to a grand-looking house anticipating delicious treats, only to be chased off by a huge hound. Joe brushed off that memory with a shiver and concentrated on the job at hand – that of finding something to drink the water from.
Suddenly, he saw a stack of paper cups right in front him. Was it there all this while or is the migraine starting to play tricks with my eyes? As he gulped down a few aspirins, he reminded himself to go to a doctor for his migraine and his eyes.
Yes, the doctor – that is one more item I need money for, not to mention the microwave, the fan and all other appliances in the apartment that need either repair or replacement! And, let’s not even think of the student loan. Joe thought with a wry smile.
By the time he left the pharmacy, a chilly wind had started. The combined effect of the cold wind and the aspirins reduced his headache, and it was almost gone when he reentered his apartment.
What’s for dinner? Joe opened the fridge, knowing full well that there was nothing there.
I have to stop doing this every night! Joe scolded himself as he pulled out a cheap cup-o-noodle from a carton that he had purchased in the local China town and popped it in the microwave. The malfunctioning microwave would need ten minutes to cook the cup, instead of the regular three minutes.
Joe picked up the remote and started flipping channels as he waited for his “dinner” to be ready.
Nothing’s ever on TV. He switched off the TV after some time in exasperation, and picked up the book that he had been using to prepare for the interview tomorrow.
Joe Hess, the small town boy from mid-west, who did his MBA from Wharton and had been earning a six figure salary at Lehmann Brothers. He was the pride of his family and his community. But that was a year ago. Joe, like many others, lost his job when Lehmann Brothers closed down. The job market was suddenly flooded with MBAs. After a few months of desperation, Joe found a job, but his six figure salary became a five figure one. Matters became worse when that company too shut down within a couple of months. Living in New York is expensive, and soon, Joe was starting to spend his savings – not to speak of the student loan instalments that went unpaid.
Joe shook his head as he ate his dinner of cup-o-noodles, wishing the headache away.
Headache, headache, go away, come again another day. Little Joey has a job interview; headache, headache, go away, ran the jingle in Joe’s head.
Well, on the brighter side, Joe had not let his sense of humor take a beating inspite of his circumstances. Not yet, anyway.
Joe woke up with a start and instinctively stretched out his hand to shut off the alarm. It took him a few moments to realize that the sound that woke him hadn’t stopped even after shutting off his alarm.
Oh! The phone, Joe rubbed his eyes and answered, “Joe Hess”.
“Mr. Hess, this is Sarah from Dr. Winget’s office. Dr. Winget wants to see you.”
“Sure. I will come by tomorrow. 11 am okay?” said Joe as he tried groggily to remember who Dr. Winget was.
“He wants to see you as soon as possible. The results of your blood work are here and Dr. Winget wants to discuss them.”
Joe remembered. The job that he had applied for the previous week required all applicants to submit some routine medical reports, since the job involved some international travel. He had randomly walked into the nearest doctor’s office – Dr. Winget’s office – to get those tests done.
“Shall I confirm your appointment for 9:30 am this morning?”, Sarah persisted.
Joe craned his neck to look at the clock on his wall.
It’s 9:10. My interview is at 11; but Dr. Winget’s clinic is at the other end of the town. I have to be out of the clinic latest by 10.
“Ok”, he said aloud and rushed for a shower.
Joe took a quick glance at his wrist watch as he dashed out of his front door. Good.
Let’s be positive. Maybe my test results came out so awesome that they want me to be a sperm donor for some secret genetics experiment, Joe thought with an involuntary laugh, but stopped abruptly when he noticed the quizzical looks on the faces of the people in the street.
“Please go right in,” Sarah pointed towards Dr. Winget’s office as soon as Joe entered the clinic.
Was it his imagination or was she being extra polite to him? Joe nodded and entered.
“Sit down, Mr. Hess.” There were two other doctors with Dr. Winget.
“It’s Joe," said Joe more out of habit than anything else, and sat on the uncomfortable leather chair across the doctor. Oh boy, this does not look good.
“Joe, I am afraid there is some bad news. Your test results indicate advanced leukemia. We need to hospitalize you and start your treatment today. You might want to get your family here,” Dr. Winget spoke without pausing.
“Are you sure?” that’s the only thing Joe thought of saying.
Dr. Winget nodded, “We will start you off with some more tests to assess the extent.”
“Can we do this tomorrow? I have a job interview at..,” Joe stopped mid-sentence, realizing the absurdity of those words. And the looks on the three faces in front of him validated it.
“Well, I have been unemployed for four months now,” Joe said defensively, almost to himself.
Dr. Winget came to his side and put a hand on his shoulder, “Joe, if we don’t start today, there might not be a tomorrow”.
Joe opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, but no words came out. He nodded and allowed himself to be led out of the room by Dr. Winget.
“Dr. Winget, there is someone waiting for you. It’s very urgent,” said a visibly panicking Sarah as soon as she saw them.
Dr. Winget gave her a disapproving look, but said, “Joe, give me a minute”, and signed an attendant towards Joe, who took him to an adjacent room.
Joe sat down on one of the sofas. The already melancholy white-walled room was being made more melancholy by two people who were there. Both of them were talking on their phones.
“The delegation from Brazil will be reaching at 5. Ask Tim to meet them,” said the man in the black suit on his phone. He seemed to be in his mid thirties.
Those are Italian leather shoes. Dude’s loaded, Joe noted.
“No, mom, it’s not something I ate,” the girl with the pink hair was bawling on the phone. Her hair was dishevelled and her glasses were skewed. She is pretty though. I bet she is some college nerd, Joe smiled.
What the hell am I doing? Joe checked his train of thoughts and wondered if he should call his mother.
“And Nina, cancel all my appointments”, Black Suit said and added after a pause, “indefinitely. Bye”.
“Mommy, please come soon, okay? Bye”, he heard Pink Hair say.
Joe became very aware of the sudden silence around him. He decided not to call his mother. Not yet.
Black Suit got up and said to no one in particular, “You won’t believe the day I am having.”
“Really? I am having a great day, leaving aside the news of my terminal cancer, of course,” Joe said. Atleast my sense of humor’s intact. Apparently, Pink Hair thought so too because he heard a laugh.
“Me too!’, he heard Black Suit and Pink Hair say almost in a chorus. They looked at one another, their gazes difficult to interpret.
Just then, the door opened and Dr. Winget walked in.
“Hello again! Any more good news?”, Joe greeted cheerily.
Dr. Winget did not seem to get offended by Joe's sarcasm and gave him an indulgent smiled and spoke, “I am here to apologise to you. The lab mixed up your test results with the results of some patients who are participating in a new cancer drug trial.”
“What?” yelled Black Suit and Pink Hair.
“Once again, we apologise for putting you through this. The concerned lab technician has been fired and...” Joe didn’t hear the rest of what Dr. Winget had to say.
I am not dying. I am not dying. Joe felt a rock lift off his chest and he could feel himself breathe. Black Suit and Pink Hair, on the other hand, had a lot to say. “I am suing your ass.” Joe heard Black Suit over the din.
“I need a drink,” Joe got up, “You guys joining me?” Black Suit and Pink Hair stopped their arguments and looked at Joe for a moment. A certain understanding, a realization set in. They nodded and followed him as Joe made way to the nearest bar.
Joe’s mother hugged him as she sobbed, “My Joey! You look so handsome.”
“Of course, he does,” he heard his best man, Dave, say cheerfully. He waved dismissively at his best friend, Dave. Today, he was wearing a custom-made tuxedo, not a black suit. Joe remembered how that day, ten years ago, after a heart to heart talk with Dave at the bar, he decided to move back to Rolla and open a financial consulting firm in partnership with him. At that time, his friends had wondered if Joe was taking an emotional decision brought about by the cancer scare.
No regrets there, Joe smiled as he saw his mother beaming with joy. He kissed her and left the room for the altar, where the priest was waiting for him.
Joe’s bride, Sharon – Professor Sharon, lit up the room with her smile as she walked down the aisle towards him. Her hair was no longer pink; it had been a natural red for quite some time now. It seemed like just yesterday when Joe saw her smile for the first time on that fateful day at the bar near
Dr. Winget’s clinic.
Dr. Winget’s clinic.
Joe paused for a moment and counted his blessings. The two people he had met on the darkest day of his life were now by his side. His life changed just when he thought he had hit rock bottom.
I guess my life needed to stop for me to restart it.