It must have been my 32nd or 33rd week of pregnancy. I experienced a fleeting pain in lower abdomen, very like the pangs that people with gastric complaints are familiar with. On a normal day I would have dismissed it, but this was the time you took every little sign given by the body seriously. The next morning, the pain not having abated, I decided to consult my gynaecologist.

There were many patients waiting at the hospital. I was restless, uncomfortable and worried, but the difficulty was not severe enough to make me barge into the Emergency or to the Doctor’s room. I must have waited for three quarters of an hour for the patients who came first to finish their consultation. The girl whose turn came right before mine was at ease, chatting (in Malayalam) and laughing with her parents and brother, that I ventured to ask her, “Can I go in before you? I am in pain…Vedana aayittu vannatha…

The girl, without a moment’s hesitation, snapped, “No. I am in pain, too.”

Shocked and distressed, I said “OK” and sat down. When her turn came, she went in followed by her family, as my wait continued for another 15 or 20 torturous minutes. When they came out, the brother whispered to me as he passed, “Sorry.” I went in, almost collapsed, and the Doc started me on IV, but that’s a different story.

Why the girl responded as she did remains a mystery to me, but of course she was entitled to it. In fact, the hospital followed an ancient ‘First Come’ system without any intervention from anyone (no token or registration, relying only on people’s good sense) that some people who came late just walked in, ignoring the others.

Maybe the girl was tired of waiting. Maybe she really had some difficulty. Maybe she thought I just made up the story about the pain.