Shaking Hands with the Lepers

When he (the rickshaw driver) introduced me to his father, I had no idea he would be homeless, let alone a leper. I reached out to shake his father’s extended hand. His fingers were rough and different sizes and lengths, as if part of them had rotted off. I held his hand and thought of the scene from Papillon, where the leper hands Steve McQueen his cigar and Steve McQueen puts it in his mouth and takes a long drag off of it. The leper asks him, “How did you know my leprosy was dry?” And Steve McQueen says, “I didn’t.”

I put my hand in my pocket and made a mental note not to touch my face or anything until I washed my hand real good. Like you can just wash off leprosy. Good thinking.

I had seen the man’s father around town. Everywhere he went, he had his skinny yak with him. It was his only possession.

April 20, 2006
Mysore, India

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