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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Tell Me How You Really Feel

Aminah Mae Safi

Square Fish



Establishing Shots


“And, finally, why you?”

Sana watched the interviewer. The woman had on a dark, boxy suit and had her hair fixed in a sleek, long bob. She was dressed to blend, to be forgettable. But Sana saw the interviewer’s sharp eyes.

Sana smiled—a calculated half smile. “Why me? As opposed to someone else? Look, I know you’ve got thousands of applicants for this position. Who doesn’t want to add working at a research genetics hospital in rapidly industrializing India to their future med school application?”

The interviewer nodded. Patient, but unimpressed.

“I’ve wanted to be a surgeon my whole life. I’ve practiced stitching with cross-stitch and embroidery since I was ten. I’ve been playing video games for longer than that. My hand-eye coordination is off the charts, frankly. I’ve taken every premed class you can take while you’re still in high school. I elected to take organic chemistry in my senior year. I’ve shadowed doctors. I’ve done internships. I’m, like, a poster child for doing the most. My whole life has built up to being a doctor. My whole life.”

Sana paused so the woman could give another noncommittal nod. The walls of this room were a faded slate gray. An intentionally neutral room. A space for evaluating fairly. Aside from the interviews Sana did for summer jobs, every interview room she had ever been in had been similarly painted. Similarly outfitted with beautiful, institutional mahogany furniture.

“But that doesn’t make me different. I’m sure all your other applicants feel the same. Have done the same.”

The woman nodded again, her sharp eyes a little narrowed, waiting.

Sana had practiced this part alone in her room. Having to admit to herself what she was about to say had been terrifying enough the first time. But in front of another person was something else altogether.

She took a deep breath, ready as she would ever be. “The thing is, I don’t know. I don’t know what it is to wake up every day and go into a hospital. To actually help people in this way. We didn’t have the money growing up for me to take any of those medical mission trips. And even those, they aren’t everyday conditions, are they? They’re an exceptional week in the life. I want to know what it’s like to go into work every day and treat patients. I want to know that the past ten years of my life will be worth the next forty. I guess that makes me kind of bananas. Train to be a doctor, take the big paycheck, kid. That’s what my dadu would say. My father, too.”

Sana didn’t like bringing up her father, but for some reason, he seemed pertinent here. He’d focused on career so much that she only saw him when he came back for birthdays and holidays. And sometimes not even then. Mom was the one who had worked because she’d had to, because she’d had no other options. Her father had thrown himself into his work because he’d wanted to find an honest means to stay away. The interviewer was so focused now that it was nearly impossible to hold eye contact.

But Sana didn’t break. “So why me? You know I speak Urdu and Hindi and Bengali. And Farsi, if that matters at all. You know I’ve got the grades. You probably even know I got into Princeton, even though I turned in my application with you before I’d heard back from them. But honestly, why me? Because I need to know that the future I’m banking on isn’t just good in theory. I need to know it’s not just good on paper.” Sana might have fudged that a little. Urdu was Hindi after all. But the interviewer didn’t need to know that.

The interviewer bit the inside of her cheek—but Sana wasn’t sure if that was to bite back a smile or a grimace. It didn’t matter anymore, anyhow. She’d told someone. She’d told the truth, and the truth was the one thing she’d never confessed to anyone. Not to Dadu or Mom. Not to Mamani or even her father.

Sana swallowed. One more hard thing left to say. “I know I’m good at becoming a doctor—the tests and the classes and the science. But I don’t know if being a doctor would be a good thing—for me or for my patients. I’d like to figure that out.”

“That is, without a doubt, the most selfish answer I have ever heard.” But there was no malice in the interviewer’s voice. She remained neutral—her tone, her expressions, her manners. She’d clearly been doing this for a long time.

“I know.” Sana nodded. “But I thought I’d tell the truth.”

The interviewer leaned in, over the clipboard she’d been writing on. “And why on earth would you do that?”

Sana shrugged. “Everything I’ve gotten in life has been because of hard work and talent and some luck, but mostly this one assumption—that I would be a doctor. I don’t want the position on those terms. I want the position knowing I got it, even if I’ve got doubts.”

“And that’s your final answer?” The woman looked at her clipboard, then back at Sana. Still unreadable, still inscrutable.

“That’s my final answer.”


Copyright © 2019 by Aminah Mae Safi