At the Organ Trader’s Table
Sem Megson

Seated side-by-side on bamboo stools are two men with separate yet connected desperations. The older man, a foreign patient, needs a kidney to save his life, and the younger man, an Indian donor, needs money to pay the dowry for his bride. Across the table from them sits a third man, a local organ trader, a facilitator of separate yet connected desperations. They’re meeting at a hookah bar behind a spice market in a city in India reputed for a type of tourism not advertised to the general public.

Except for a shy bow when introduced this evening, no interaction has occurred between the patient and the donor. Only the organ trader has spoken to both men. He knows their respective languages, English and Hindi, moreover he knows what they’re afraid to put into words. He made ample use of this knowledge to circumvent each man’s fear of a botched operation and a fatal outcome, when he met with them individually to sign his contract.

The organ trader has brought the men together now to disclose the private location where the transplant will be performed. In his hands are two pieces of paper, both with the surgeon’s address. Just the patient takes a copy. The donor is staring at the organ trader’s many rings and the gold has caused him to hesitate. It hasn’t made him wonder if earning money this way is illegal—he’s unaware of the Declaration of Istanbul against organ exploitation. Rather the gold has made him think about the opportunity for riches, if he sat on the other side of the table.

The organ trader assumes why the donor is staring at his rings and pushes the surgeon’s address into the man’s callused fingers, insinuating that no alchemy of opportunity will ever turn those calluses into gold.

Such an aggressive action upsets the patient. He believes that the donor, a rare blood and tissue match, is a precious gift from God, instead of a $100,000 investment from his life savings. To communicate his gratitude, he pats his heart and points at the man. The donor responds with a quizzical look. The patient tries a simpler grammar in body language, tapping the area of his diseased kidney and frowning then touching the man’s lower back and smiling.

The donor understands this sentence; there’s clarity to the heat of the patient’s touch. In that heat, however, he also feels the surgeon’s knife and the impending loss of a part born to him. He rises, angry for valuing his integrity as a whole man at $10,000, his agreed upon cut of the patient’s total fee. Using broken English, he announces his price has gone up to $25,000 then walks out.

Shocked, the patient slumps over the table, but the organ trader remains calm. He explains there’s nothing to worry about, that this is the reason for the fine print in his contract, to ensure everything will be “fine”, or else the donor will lose more than he bargained for.

Sem Megson’s work has been published and produced in the United States, Britain and Canada. Visit Sem here for more info.