14 July, 2023: Meeting on the Hills

This time Father chose to gather the doctors not at his home in his swanky upscale apartment in San Benito, but at one of the hillside cafes overlooking the city. It would be more relaxing to meet outside, he thought, and he wanted to impress the doctors with the view. At this table with just a black rail separating them from a sharp decline and tumble, they could look down and see all the dilapidated colonial buildings, all the skyscrapers popping up, and, most importantly, the greenery—the crochet of tall effervescent trees and sloping green hills that made San Salvador feel more verdant than it actually was. Certainly, Dr Sánchez was impressed.

“Por fin una parte de la ciudad que vale la pena conocer,” he proclaimed out loud, raising his glass of wine for all of the doctors to toast.

Dr Nuñez turned and smiled at Father. On first impression, Father had thought that her smile conveyed politeness as it had a kind aura. Over the months, as Father got to know Dr Nuñez, however, he realised that this was the smile she gave whenever she was annoyed at someone. She would only voice her doubts until after everyone had left except Father. He was glad that he had grown close enough to Dr Nuñez to see this side of herself, but he also dreaded having to spend another hour alone with Dr Nuñez, listening to her complain after the tapas were cleared and the bills were settled.

“I think there are a lot of places in San Salvador that are worth visiting,” Dr Ayala said quite quietly, snivelling as if his nose was stuffed.

“¿Like what?” Dr Sánchez said. Dr Ayala opened his mouth to reply, but Dr Sánchez spoke over him. “We have so many beautiful barrios, and in them all you see is people shooting themselves. Yes, it is so beautiful. Claro.”

Dr Sánchez put his finger to the side of his head and mimicked shooting a gun. Dr Ayala looked down at the bread on his plate, morose. Dr Nuñez gave that smile again to Father, only this time she rolled up her eyebrows more than once. This meant Father would have a whole lot of complaints to listen to after they were all done.

Dr Sánchez went on:

“It is no mystery Bukele is having trouble cleaning this country up. But he will do it, this is certain.”

Now Dr Nuñez couldn’t help but speak up.

“¿And how is he going to do it? ¿By paying off the matones with Bitcoin?”

That was a good one. Father couldn’t help but laugh. Dr Ayala joined along. But Dr Sánchez kept on going on as if he hadn’t heard her.

“He is going to clean up crime because he has been cleaning up crime. ¿Are you all blind? ¿Are you all bats? That is the only way you cannot see it. It is happening in front of us. And soon El Salvador will be a great country.”

“I will drink to that,” Dr Nuñez said, and she put up her wine glass, toasting with Father and Dr Ayala. But despite their chuckling and teasing, Dr Sánchez was not deterred.

“¿And what will happen when Buckle makes El Salvador is a great country? I know that he will take the people who have doubted and destroyed them like you and he will make them people with nothing. ¿And then who will be there to pay for your children’s retirements? Certainly not Bukele. He should send people like you all to Venezuela. There you will learn what happens when a leader doesn’t work hard to take care of his people.”

Some of the tapas were coming out as Dr Sánchez was shouting. The waiter made a slightly bemused face at Father. It seemed the conversation was veering off in a different direction that had nothing to do with what they were supposed to be talking about. Father had invited the doctors here because they had agreed to work together to bring some key reforms to the hospital earlier this year, but so far nothing had been implemented. He wanted to unite them one last time so that they could get their creative juices flowing and plan out some hard-hitting actions.

Father said, “Everyone, calm down. I think this is now the time to start talking about—”

But Dr Nuñez was still laughing at Dr Sánchez. “¡You called us bats! ¡To you, it’s like all us women are little creatures of the night and not human beings!”

She had drunk a good deal of wine and was starting to loosen up. Dr Sánchez responded defensively as if she were incredibly serious. “No, no, claro que no. ¿How could I imply such a thing? I love women far too much. I love my wife, I love my sisters, I love my mother.”

Dr Nuñez laughed even louder.

“¡Incredible! You can think of three women. That’s very impressive.” She turned to Father and said quite loudly, “It’s impressive because when anyone comes to the hospital to have an abortion, he is the first one to call them curse words. And he thinks no one hears it because he’s that narcissistic. ¡Incredible!”

Dr Sánchez shouted, “¡You woman!”

Dr Nuñez pointed her wine glass at him and said, “Mira how he speaks.”

They started jabbering, in the way they always did every single time Father tried to hold a meeting among the four of them. Father gave a knowing look towards Dr Ayala. He knew exactly what his colleague was thinking.

Why am I doing this? Why am I here?

Father had a mother who was getting closer and closer to the end of her life. She was in their village suffering through a horrible bout of dementia, barely able to remember common words and unable to stand without help from her relatives. When Father thought about her condition and how deplorable it was, he hit with guilt. He wanted to dedicate all of his time and attention to her, but he also knew he had to reserve part of his energy to engage with the rest of the world. His attempt to modernise their hospital was a part of that. Earlier in the year he had thought it would take just a few months to get his ideas up and running. It was obvious that the hospital needed new equipment, and with a little convincing, he thought it would be easy for him to get the hospital administration to put their money towards that cause.

And yet Father couldn’t even get a team of four doctors to stand each other, let alone stand up for what their hospital needed.

It had been almost half a year since their first talks, and not much had progressed. And in that half year his mother’s health had devolved significantly. How much longer before she wasn’t even going to be around? Would his brothers chastise him, angry at his absence at a time the family needed him the most?

Father sighed so deeply. He didn’t realise how loud he was until he noticed that Dr Nuñez and Dr Sánchez had shut up, and both of them were looking at him. Are we doing something wrong? they said with their eyes. Should we get on with the agenda? 

Father held their gaze. He finally had their attention. He could get on with the meeting. But now he had forgotten what he had been planning to say.

His instinct was that he wanted to disband this group of doctors, shelve all meetings related to the hospital, and plan his next visit to his home village. He would spend a full weekend there to observe his mother and her health. He would not think about the hospital. After half a year of trying to make things right at his place of work, he would have to respect that it was not going the way he wanted, and that he would have to let go of it.

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