I handed the clerk at the government emporium in New Delhi my chit to retrieve the many bags of souvenirs that I had paid for at another counter. Behind the clerk, I saw my stack of purchases wrapped in the same thin, shoddy brown paper bags that I had been given, after a day’s shopping, the day before.
The extreme premonsoon heat of 115 degrees was fanning my impatience. I felt like the source of one of India’s sacred rivers about to burst from its banks as sweat poured off me. I dabbed at my face with my sooty handkerchief but it was saturated and did little.
The skinny clerk pushed the pile of paper bags in my direction. “Please, can I have some plastic carry bags?” The thin paper bags were already splitting open. The clerk gazed whistfully in the opposite direction. I knew what fate awaited me outside the emporium if I didn’t get those plastic bags. My souvenirs would fall from the torn paper bags onto the pan smeared pavement and the brigade of con men who wait outside these emporiums for unsuspecting tourists would pounce on me.
“I’m waiting.” I said with mounting impatience. The clerk bobbled his head, confusing me further. Did this mean yes or no? ” I’m in a hurry.”
“Yes, madame.” The clerk replied but didn’t move.
“Can’t you just give me some plastic bags?”
“Not available, madame.” The clerk said while crossing his thin arms over his chest.
“What do you mean, not available? I was here yesterday. I know you have them. This is a big store. You must have plastic bags.” My repeated request kept bouncing back.
“Don’t tell me you’re sorry.” The pitch of my voice was rising with every plea. I had reached my boiling point. The hellish heat and the clerk’s indifference fed my anger. I screamed at the top of my lungs, “I don’t care what you have to do, get me some plastic bags now.”
My scream bounced off the walls. Dead silence followed. Every one in the emporium froze and stared at me. Their disbelief was palpable. I was trembling. The clerk jumped back in fear and slunk away, disappearing up a short set of steps. My throat ached from over use. I stood there unsure, the focus of every one’s pity.
After what felt like a lifetime, the clerk reappeared with a stack of plastic bags in his sweaty palm. I took them, furious that the clerk was too lazy or too insolent to go up a few steps to replenish his supply of plastic bags. I made my escape undisturbed by the hovering con men. Eager to move on.