Clinical Judgment

by Aliya Pabani

Illustrations by Masha Krasnova-Shabaeva

Descriptions by Aliya Pabani

The physical component of this piece is a detailed comic-style illustration on a 24” x 30” poster.

Press play to listen to the audio as you read along.

[Plucky samba-inflected music begins to play.]

[Narrator, a man with a deep voice, begins to speak] The day I was fired I—I remember leaving the hospital. And on my way out, I saw my assisting nurse in the hallway. I thought she was going to stop but she just slowed down a bit, and she said, “Thanks for all the crackers!” She kept going. Excuse me? I thought it was very strange… even for her.

[Music continues.]

It was just this silly little thing.

So Ellen—my assisting nurse, that’s her name, Ellen. The cafeteria had this curried lentil soup on the menu… I think it was Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Curried lentil.

Obviously that wouldn’t be my first choice [laughs]. When something is called “curried,” usually it tastes like it was curried against its will, if you know what I mean? [laughs]

Anyway, Ellen would order it every time. She loved that stuff. And then once I remember she was complaining that you know, the soup is good and everything but she likes to crumble saltine crackers into it, and it only comes with one packet. You can’t buy them. They’re not on the computer system, or whatever. She asked once and they had to call the manager. [laughs]

So then I decided to start getting the lentil soup too, just to give her my crackers. Everything tasted the same anyway. Maybe some people found it kind of strange, but it made her happy, and I don’t like to think about it like, oh you’re my assistant. Every one of my assistants is like a friend to me. It’s better that way.

So anyway, she started waiting for me to come with the crackers, in the break room, before eating her soup. Then one day I come into the break room on a lentil soup day and she’s like eating salad… Cobb salad. And I just thought, okay, she’s taking a break from the soup and a few days after that, I was fired.

I don’t know, maybe it’s nothing.

But it seems a little like… what if she knew the whole time? I—I don’t know, I just keep thinking about it. [Laughs uncomfortably.]

It’s okay. I’m happier now. Long story. Now should we order?

Yeah, okay.

[Wooden chair moving, light rustling of clothing, ambient sounds of a quiet, airy restaurant come up as music recedes into the background.]

[Footsteps approaching on a concrete floor.]

[Server] Hey folks. How we doing tonight?

[Narrator] Yeah. Good… we’re good.

[Server] Have you folks dined with us before?

[Narrator] No.

[Server] Ok, well welcome. So we have the regular menu, here [sound of flipping a folded sheet of light cardstock] and then there’s a set seasonal menu, which is always rotating, and that is here. [Sheet flipping again.]

[Narrator] Okay, so what is the set menu?

[Server] Well, for the appetizer there’s a chanterelle mushroom bisque. And then for the main we have a half cornish hen with fennel and plum… and then for dessert we have a nice tarte tatin—

[Narrator] Is it good?

[Server, laughs] Uh yeah, I think so.

[Narrator, to listener] What do you think?

[A pause, ambient restaurant sounds.]

[Narrator, to server] Okay then we’ll take it.

[Server] Ok, sounds good. [Cardstock being picked up and refolded.] I’ll be out shortly.

[Narrator] Thanks.

[Narrator, to listener] Want some water?

[Water pouring into a glass, then a cap screwing on, and the bottle being set down.]

[Narrator] You know, you just have to accept what the universe gives you. If they want to get rid of you... they’ll find a way.

[Glass set down on table.]

[Narrator] I think at some point the administration—the nurse manager—saw me as a liability because of what happened with the previous nurse, Mel. She… she was Indigenous… Cree. Quite young, nice person. She was really good with patients… you could tell they really felt comfortable with her. But she didn’t look… you know um… you couldn’t really tell she was Indigenous. So... staff would say things to her that they would never say if they knew.

[Listener’s chair creaks slightly.]

[Narrator] So Mel told me she was thinking of leaving, I don’t know… it really bugged me. She was just gonna walk away without saying anything. So I convinced her, lodge a formal complaint, you know… but they didn’t like that. [Light scoff.] Gave her bad shifts, or they would schedule her with one surgeon, no one wanted to work with the guy… so she ended up leaving anyway. I went to the nurse manager and I said, “I’m noticing a trend here. Seems like the white staff lasts a lot longer.” Then she looks at me and she says, “Excuse me, are you saying I’m a bigot?” So I just left it at that. I mean what else is there to say, right?

[High heels approaching.]

[Narrator] Oh, looks like our soup…

[A wine glass being struck lightly.]

[Narrator] No—nevermind. False alarm.

[High heels retreating.]

[Narrator] Um, but maybe they could bring us some bread… Anyway, after that they just started making things just hard enough that you couldn’t complain about it—just really subtle.

Like, we’d all be ready to go in the operating room and the nurse manager would come in and say, “Oh we need this for an emergency.” So we had to vacate. Then we’d be sitting there for over an hour… no one would come . Could have been just thirty minutes in and out, but no. Course you can’t prove that’s intentional. It’s just uh… some women… some of them had to take an overnight bus, or take a sick day. Or they were keeping it a secret... and then when they got to the hospital, we wouldn’t be able to take them. A lot of the time, we’d—we’d just… never see them again.

[Pause. Narrator inhales deeply.]

[Narrator] I thought if I just nicely explained to the nurse manager how important these procedures are… now I can be confrontational, but in this situation, I wasn’t being confrontational at all. She just went totally ballistic. Couldn’t handle the criticism, I think. I don’t know.

[Water pours into a glass.]

[Narrator] In Japan, if you come up with a system that works better, they give you a raise. Over here, they give you the finger [laughs bitterly]. I mean, what’s the point of legal abortion, if people have to carry to term because of scheduling issues? Right? It’s not really about losing my job, you know. I—I mean, I’d been thinking of retiring, I dunno, three years ago. It’s the way they did it. It was like in a TV show where all the women are high fiving because they got rid of the bad man. Except, you know... I’m the bad man! [Laughs.]

[Soft footsteps approaching.]

[Narrator] Oh, I think that’s our soup. Is that soup?

[Server] Uh, yeah… it is…

[Narrator] Smells great.

[Server] I’ll just move this, if that’s ok—

[Narrator] Yeah, sure, sure. Yeah.

[Bowls and various cutlery are set down carefully at different parts of the table.]

[Server] Okay, enjoy.

[Rustling, stirring soup, tinkling noises, a tentative slurp.]

[Narrator exhales deeply.]

[Narrator] How is it, too hot? What’s a chanterelle anyway, do you know? I was gonna ask but I thought you knew so I didn’t want to be embarrassing. I was thinking, better not be pork… Is it pork?

[Music in the restaurant background shifts to a more upbeat tune with a mysterious vibe. Sound of narrator blowing and sipping soup.]

[Narrator] Hmm… still don’t know. We’re allowed to eat pork if we don’t know… It’s like a loophole. [Laughs.]

[Narrator takes another sip, makes a noise as though he’s still trying to figure out the flavour. Saxophone comes into the background music.]

[Narrator] Thing is, it was just a technicality, something the other doctors do all the time. Nothing ever happens to them. I mean, what do you expect from a Christian hospital, right? That’s what healthcare’s like around here, behind the scenes. So that’s why I went to India— what was it… uh… wow, that was ten years ago now… you don’t want to hear about all this stuff, do you?

[Restaurant ambience, someone sniffs.]

[Narrator] I mean, I was just fed up with Canada. The way I was treated here. [Close sound of spoon running across bowl.] So I got a job as the administrator of a small village hospital in western India. It was through an NGO.

[Narrator sips soup.]

[Narrator] There were no paved roads, they had these huge divots and when monsoon season came, you know, you’d be up to your waist in muddy water. Could take like 40 minutes to walk one kilometer. Thing is though, I was happy there. People were so grateful… we were supposed to teach the women about natal health. You know, talk to them about nutrition, about avoiding some kinds of hard labour, things like that. But, after a while, I saw that things were… not really changing. No matter what I told them, they would still come in with low folic acid and anemia…

[Narrator] So this one time we were on a field visit to a government hospital in a slightly bigger town… you know close by. There was this burn unit. It was this big open room with like uh... you know 20 beds. No AC. One overhead fan moving so slowly that you could barely tell it was on. And there was a woman in one of the beds. She was just like… suffering like crazy. Her face… you could barely… It was hard to see even that it was a face. She couldn’t really talk, so we had to talk through this guy who was with her. We didn’t know who he was. Maybe seemed like her brother or something. No other visitors. A man on the hospital staff told me...and said that they saw this a lot. A woman gets dropped off at the hospital. Someone in the family says the primus stove exploded —[sound of phone vibrating on the table]

Oh, ah sorry. Usually I don’t keep my phone on but I told my daughter to call if she needed...can just… just… can I just quickly? Okay—thanks. Just… just a minute I promise.

[Sound of narrator moving chair away from table and walking about ten feet away. Phone continues to vibrate and background music gets louder.]

[Narrator] Hi sweetheart, are you okay? Yeah. Yeah, uh-huh. Well, did he say anything about what happened at rehearsal?

[Server comes to the table, speaks over the narrator.]

[Server] Oh, I’ve got your cornish hen here… do you umm—I’ll just put it right here, okay?

[Clinking of cutlery being picked up, and heavier plates being placed on the table.]

[Server] And… just let me know if there’s anything else you need, okay?

[Narrator, in background] Oh, okay. [Light ruffling of foil at the table.] Well, if you don’t want to stay there I’ll come pick you up right now. Okay, are you sure? Call me if you change your mind… okay no problem, I’ll see you at home in a couple of hours, okay? Okay, bye. Bye.

[Narrator’s footsteps approaching.]

[Narrator] Whoa, is this the hen? [Chair pulls up to the table.] They just bring it out right now? I’m sorry I made you wait, I... I hope it’s not cold. My daughter’s taking an acting course… too much drama [laughs awkwardly]. So, are we supposed to cut this thing ourselves here? Want to go ahead? Okay, you… you go ahead.

[Sounds of slicing tender meat with a fork and knife.]

[Narrator] Thank you.

[Meat cutting sounds continue.]

[Narrator, with food in his mouth] Anyways, what was I saying? Oh yeah the thing about the primus stove. It was like a fixed excuse. Everyone knows those things don’t just explode. They’re made of brass, they’re very reliable. Just doesn’t happen. But everyone decided not to question it. [Sound of a utensil on a plate in front of you.] So people couldn’t afford antibiotics. The women would just lie there in pain. Mostly, they were there to die. That woman, whose face, you know… she died. Yeah… [sigh]

[More distant sound of a utensil spearing food on a plate.]

[Narrator] Actually went to her village to find out what happened with her. This woman told me it was been going on for a while. The mother-in-law and son were trying to extract money from the woman’s family. It was actually pretty widespread. You make life so difficult and painful for your daughter-in-law that when her parents hear about it, they give you money to stop. [More sounds of fork spearing food on plate just in front of you.] But over time the abuse… the woman would get habituated, the husband and the in-laws would make things worse for her. And sometimes… this is how it would end. The neighbour… she was kind of surprised I even came out there.

[Restaurant ambience with more scrape of fork on plate.]

[Narrator] I mean, I felt totally used . The NGO I was working for, they knew it really wasn’t about education or Vitamin C or whatever. But as long as the aid money was flowing in, you know. So I came back… came back to Canada. I made an effort to read more books by women and I realized that… the way that women are… what their lives are… oh that was happening here too, in a way. You know even, uh, how men make jokes on Facebook saying that women are dumb and they only like to spend money? I actually read this article the other day, about how women are like managers in the home. Like, now they’re working full time and still they’re doing most of the housework. It was interesting, I… I should send it to you.

[More utensils on plate as the jazzy song winds down on a long, final note.]

[Narrator] Anyway, so that’s when I started focusing more on women’s health. In fact, there was this conference about rural medicine and abortion. How even though it’s legal here, there’s people behind the scenes making sure it’s really hard to get one. Seemed like an area where you could really make a difference.

[Lightly ominous piano music begins.]

[Narrator] But, at that time, my relationship with my ex-wife was going downhill. Oof, that’s a whole other story… I… I don’t know, we just couldn’t get along. There was this whole, uh—

[Server] Hey folks—how are things? How’s the bird?

[Narrator] It’s—It’s delicious, thank you. Um, actually, do you have any bread… to mop up this sauce here?

[Server] Uhh, sure… we have a traditional double fermented rye that we make in-house…

[Narrator] Mm-hm.

[Server] Would you like me to bring an order of that?

[Narrator] Does it come sliced?

[Server] It does… it comes in about 4 or 5 slices.

[Narrator] Okay, great. Thanks.

[Server] Okay.

[Ominous piano music continues for a couple of bars, with the sound of shorter, more terse fork strokes on a plate.]

[Narrator] The thing is, people don’t realize how much of medicine is just about intuition. When you perform abortions...after a while you start to see patterns. Like, usually the woman comes into the consultation room by herself, but sometimes she’ll ask if her partner can come in too. But we only let them in when the woman specifically asks.

[Music shifts to a more irregular, roving melody.]

[Narrator] Sometimes the partner makes a big scene in the waiting room... we have to call security and all that, but that’s… kind of like a rare case. Most of the time you have to pick up on these little hints that something’s just not right.

[Slow, careful footsteps of a person in heeled shoes passes by.]

[Narrator] So okay. This woman comes in with her partner. Maybe boyfriend, maybe husband, I don’t know. She was very shy. They were in a… what could I call it… a biracial relationship. She looked like—Indian, I think. And he was white. Do people still say biracial or is that like what, what… oh okay. Anyway, we called her up for the consultation and he just got up with her and started walking in. So I asked her, “Is that okay with you?” and she nodded, but… it’s not that I didn’t believe her, it’s just...somehow the guy seemed a little um… off? [Laughs.] Usually we tell people what’s involved in the procedure and then we ask if they have any questions, and if they’ve made a decision about it either way, you know. And if they haven’t, that’s fine. But when I asked her directly...

[Server] Some rye here for ya.

[Narrator] Great, great, great, great. Thanks. Thanks.

[Server] Aaaaand let me just get this stuff out of the way for you.

[Gathering and piling of dishes.]

[Narrator] Yeah, no problem, no problem. Thanks. [Beat.] Oh uh, can—[sound indicating frustration]. He’ll be back. Ya so… when I asked her this, he says [mocking tone], “We don’t know yet.” In this way like it was almost aggressive. Like he was challenging me to ask another question. And then he says [mocking tone again], “We gotta pick up the kids now.” And then they just left. So we get out the patient’s chart, it has their phone number on it. I thought, you know, maybe if I call her she’ll be able to speak a little more openly. She didn’t tick the little box, but sometimes they miss it on the form, so… in any case—I just called her the next evening.

Yeah, I know, but… the thing is, I do counselling with patients all the time...and anyway no one picked up the phone. I just left a message, that’s it. But it was general, you know something like uh… “Oh, just following up from the hospital, please give us a call.” Something like that. The thing is, sometimes you have a hunch and you just have to follow it. Yes, technically it was against the guidelines, they’re just guidelines. It’s almost eight years that I’ve been doing this. Anyway, I mentioned the call to my assisting nurse, Ellen—you remember Ellen? And she told the nurse manager and they both ran right to the hospital admin. They said, “Whoa, what… what if her boyfriend picked up. Then what?” That’s when all the conspiracy theories really started flowing… “What if he thought she was colluding with you, what if he retaliated…?” These same people who were totally okay with sending women home because of scheduling problems said that I was putting women in danger. Gimme a break. You don’t get to call them bigots and just walk away… nooo-ho-ho no . They want the ones who keep their heads down .

[Restaurant ambience and a jaunty, somewhat disjointed melody plays.]

[Narrator] At one point I looked at Ellen and she was just sitting there like we were strangers. Like I hadn’t written her son a recommendation letter. And the way they asked me about the patient’s file and whether I had copies, it was like they thought I was going to start stalking her or something… [scoffs].

[Melody continues.]

[Narrator] But you know, I did see her again. The, you know, the woman that I called. Just a couple of weeks ago at the grocery store. She was working at the uh… the checkout. I was in the line right next to hers and I actually noticed her before she noticed me, so I tried to just look straight ahead. But then I looked over and she saw me. And she looked upset. Anyway, I just acknowledged her quickly and I got the hell out of that store. I didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable, you know? I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t have called. It’s just uh… I know it’s stupid … but if I had retired there would have been like some article in the paper… saying, you know, all… about all the good things I did and… I mean, every doctor gets complaints sometimes… someone didn’t like the way you said something. Or someone had complications from the procedure—an infection, or a perforated uterus. That one doesn’t happen too often, but it does happen, there’s a probability. Before , I would remind myself, well I’m—I’m within the range for probability, you know even the best doctors get complaints. The happy patients never leave reviews! [Laughs uncomfortably]... and it’s true. So after all this, I started going through the reviews, one by one by one—they go back years… like in, someone in 2003 saying that I hurt them doing an abdominal exam and I’ll spend hours trying to remember who it was… you know, going through every single abdominal exam that I ever did and just trying to remember how many of them sighed in a way that sounded more than just uh… uncomfortable.

[Music shifts to reflect a more urgent tone.]

[Narrator] And it’s crazy, I know. It’s just like I’m watching a medical drama in my head… it’s the same scene over and over and over again. Like… what if I’m the bad man?

[Song concludes with a long trilling sound and soft symbols.]

[Narrator] Then what?

[Restaurant ambience slowly fades away.]

Comic Section [Image Descriptions]

The image is a detailed comic-style illustration on a 24” x 30” poster. The background is golden, and across the top, in crisp uppercase letters, it reads “CLINICAL JUDGMENT.”

In the center of the image there’s a large first-person point of view illustration of a light brown-skinned man sitting at a table, facing us, with his hands gesticulating as though mid-speech. He has big, light brown eyes with round, gold, wire-rimmed glasses. His jet black hair is neatly combed to one side with a couple of white streaks at his hairline. He looks like he’s in his early to mid 60s, with a medium build. He’s wearing a loose-fitting cerulean blue button-down shirt with a buttoned collar and what appears to be a black Fitbit on his left wrist. There’s a wide tie around his neck with thin red and yellow diagonal stripes. An empty wine glass sits on the table in front of him, which is covered by a white tablecloth. There’s also a tumbler of water sitting in a small puddle of water, along with a crumpled cloth napkin, an iPhone, two forks and a knife, a standard restaurant salt shaker, and a bread plate. Across the table, there’s a place setting that’s meant to be yours, with two forks, a knife, and a cloth napkin.

Just to the man’s right, there’s a male-presenting server with slicked back hair, white skin, wide eyes, and delicate pinkish lips. He seems a bit agitated. He’s early to mid 30s and wearing a half apron. In his left hand, he’s holding a drink tray. In his right hand, he’s holding a large bottle, maybe water. It seems as though he’s attempting to balance the drinks while avoiding being swatted by the brown-skinned man, who seems unaware of his presence.

All around this main image, there are smaller illustrations of various scenes, many of which involve the man at the center of the drawing. They will be described clockwise from the top left.

First comic

A village scene from India. There are two makeshift concrete dwellings with exposed red brick in spots, cracks in the walls, and corrugated metal sheets forming the roof. On the stoop of one of the dwellings, an older woman wearing a green sari is sitting with a little girl. In front of the doorway, a younger woman wearing a red and pink sari is standing with her arms crossed, listening to a slightly younger version of the man at the center of the drawing speak. He is wearing a T-shirt and blue jeans and his right hand is extended upwards, gesturing. In the background the village is busy—two young boys, a man carrying a large sack over his head, two goats. In the foreground, an old woman in a dark green and mustard-coloured sari, part of it draped over her head, is whispering into the ear of a slightly younger woman in a grey and dark orange sari, draped similarly over her head in a way that covers her black hair, which is grey at the roots. Her back is turned to the scene and she is looking over her shoulder at the man and younger woman, with slightly pursed lips.

Second comic

A woman in her 40s is standing at a modern-looking kitchen sink with her back to the frame, hunched, her hands on the countertop, fingers curled inward. Her skin is a lighter brown than the man at the center of the image, and she has brown hair. Her head is slightly hung, her hair is messy, and she’s wearing a pink T-shirt with a grey skirt. There are dishes and crumpled napkins scattered around the counter, and a vase with flowers and brown leaves that seem like they’ve been dried and dead for a while.

Third comic

Three frames of a comic strip. In that first frame, the man is wearing hospital scrubs, and he’s leaning on a reception desk, speaking to a woman seated with her back to the frame. She has long black hair and dark brown skin. The man is saying to her, “You’ll have to ask Ellen.” In the next frame, Ellen, a white woman in her 40s and wearing a white uniform and a short orange bob, is walking by. The man is looking over his shoulder at her and the text across his body reads “...she’s the boss around here.” Next, there’s a close up of the man’s face wearing a self-satisfied expression, followed by a closeup of Ellen looking back at the man, wearing an awkward, forced smile.

Fourth comic

Four scenes, depicted as simple vignettes that each seem to put us in the perspective of the man from the center. The first is of a young man with brown skin and neatly combed hair standing in a doorway with a tray of food. He’s wearing a white, button-down shirt and is looking at us with a warm expression on his face. Above his head, it reads “Sir?” Just beside that vignette, there’s a closeup of the young woman from the Indian village scene. Her house is in the background. She is wearing a large gold necklace and a nose ring, and she’s holding her sari over part of her face demurely. Her eyes are cast downwards. Over her left shoulder is the word “Sir…” Underneath that image is a third, depicting three Indian girls in their school uniforms, each with a pair of long braids, tied at the ends with bows. The straps of their backpacks are visible. Beside the head of the girl in the middle, the text reads “Sir!”. In the final vignette, a man in a white collared longsleeved shirt and a white conductor’s hat stands in front of a passenger van with his hand on the open door. Beside his head, the text reads, “Sir.”

Fifth comic

Another strip with four frames. In the first, we see a white-skinned woman in scrubs speaking with another woman, who is also in scrubs and carrying binders in her arms. The second woman has olive skin, black shoulder-length hair, and big dark eyes. She has a blank expression on her face. Behind her, a tall, thin woman with chin- length black wavy hair sits in a waiting room chair with her head in her hands. The first woman is speaking: “I don’t know, Mel… she seems… off… I think she’s high or something.” The second frame is a closeup of the seated woman. She’s in the same position, head in hands, wearing light pink nail polish. In the third frame, the olive-skinned woman is standing over the seated woman, resting her hand on her back. The seated woman now has one arm resting on her right knee, and one still holding her head. In the final frame, the seated woman is shown even closer up, from the front. Her hair seems to be a bit matted, and both her hands are on her forehead. Text above her head reads, “Huh... oh... hi. Sorry. I couldn’t sleep on the bus last night.”

Sixth comic

A sequence of six frames depicting the man from the center, wearing a white lab coat, blue pants, and brown heeled boots. He’s carrying a red folder. In the first frame, he’s walking up to a slightly open door. In the second frame, he’s leaning slightly forward and pushing open the door. In the third, he calls out Ellen’s name: “Ellen?” In the fourth and fifth frame, the man is standing in the doorway, looking into the room. The text shows him saying, “The hospital’s been scrutinizing our numbers and I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to take time off anymore, unfortunately. I know it’s disappointing, I was going to use up my Air Miles to go to Tibet this year…” The sixth frame is identical, but reads, “I know it’s not the same thing, but…[sigh] it’s just the way things go sometimes…”

Seventh comic

The man from the center is standing over Ellen, who is sitting at her desk with her back to us. She’s wearing her white nurse’s uniform, holding a pen to her mouth. She has a notebook open in front of her, and behind that, there’s a computer monitor with browser windows open. At the corner of the monitor, there’s a small pink heart with the word “Ellen” written inside. The pointer finger of the man’s right hand is extended, as though he’s explaining something. His forehead is wrinkled, and he has a slightly concerned expression on his face. Flooding the space around him is a dense paragraph of text, some of which is being covered by his body so that only fragments of the paragraph can be read, as if we’re catching only bits of a much longer monologue. It reads:

“You saw when she called, right? It was 6:10. Maybe 6:20, latest…Then my mom called , panicking because… never showed up… I had no idea what to… Before we got marr… Always say…Of course… Calling… I just don’t understand it...she’s so angry at me. I said, you know, we need to think about our daughter right now. We need to be reasonable so that she doesn’t have to suffer… she just…it on me. It’s like I…”

Eighth comic

A scene from a meditation class. On the left, a hand belonging to the man in the center is holding a pamphlet that says “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.” Underneath the title, there’s a rudimentary drawing of four flat grey rocks of varying sizes, stacked on top of each other. To the right, there’s a staggered row of people sitting barefoot with their legs crossed, mostly white women in their 20s or 30s in leggings and workout clothes. A couple of them are looking down purposefully at their right palms, which are extended in front of them. Another one is scrutinizing a small round item between her thumb and forefinger. Next to her is the man from the center. He’s wearing a long-sleeved shirt, his Fitbit, and blue shorts. He also has his palm outstretched in front of him and it’s difficult to tell whether he’s looking into it, or looking away, distractedly. Facing them is a lithe older woman in her 60s or 70s sitting cross legged with her grey hair tied tightly into a high bun. She’s holding a small object between her thumb and forefinger, and looking down at it. The text beside her reads, “...ever so slowly, place the raisin in your mouth, without biting into it.” Beside that there’s a close up of the man’s open palm, in the middle of which is a raisin.

Ninth comic

A sequence of three images. The man from the center of the image is sitting at a kitchen table with the younger woman pictured at the messy sink earlier. She is wearing the same clothes as she was then. There’s a cup on the table in front of her, and her left arm is slightly extended, with her hand balled into a fist. Across the table, the man, who appears a bit younger than he does in other scenes, is holding his phone. He has a blank expression. There’s a door in the background, and it’s open a crack. Hanging above the table, there’s a large, modern globe-shaped light fixture. Running from near the woman’s mouth, text reads, “India? When... when were you planning to tell me?” In the next frame, the woman is hanging her head slightly and looking down with a defeated expression. Her left hand is palm-down on the table. In the final frame, the man and woman are both looking toward the open door, where a small brown child with short hair has poked her head in.

Aliya Pabani is a Toronto-based artist and producer whose audio work has been featured on the BBC Radio 4’s Short Cuts , Canadaland, the CBC, and at the Toronto Biennial of Art and the Barbican. She’s currently making a four-part narrative documentary podcast called We Are Not the Virus , which was selected as one of Apple Podcasts’ 2020 Best of the Year.

Masha Krasnova-Shabaeva was born in Ufa, Russia, and moved to Rotterdam, the Netherlands, eleven years ago. She was trained as a painter, but since 2004 she has worked primarily as a commercial illustrator for clients around the world. Purely commercial work was never her sole interest, and so she’s also been involved in many projects for museums and galleries, as well as in self-publishing. She teaches illustration at Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. You can find more at