Monday, June 23, 2008

The Separation - Short Story Part IV

Recap - Part I
Recap - Part II
Recap - Part III

The next few days in the hospital were quiet and peaceful. Her children came to see her everyday after their school. Her sister stayed with her for a few more days. Her parents stood by her like a rock. She got a lot of time for herself. She was always in solitude and she kept thinking about him. But the anger which she had felt initially after his death was gone. She was feeling sad. She felt that she had bottled up her emotions for too long. She had the urge to cry out aloud on so many days and crying, she did! Her parents saw her crying; saw the soiled pillows, every now and then. They did not stop her. They wanted her to get her grief out of her by now. And whenever she cried, her bandaged head ached! But she felt better after pouring her heart out! And then... she steadily recuperated. She responded well to medicines, she cheerfully met her children when they came back with stories of their school. But she was still confused for so many days how she had seen him and how she had been stupid enough to put such a broken chair and stoop down to take a ball. She began to wonder if she saw the ball or was that also ‘false’. When the doctor said that she could be discharged, she dreaded going back to the same house - the empty house without him! But she knew that it was her life and she had to face it alone without him.

Six months flew by. Their lives underwent a lot of changes. Her time at home was spent in taking care of him. Her mom had come to stay with them to help her out. The kids were seeing less and less of their dad. He would not come out to play with them and he was too weak to walk. He spent his time reading books or listening to music, but most of the times too weak to move a limb and so was in bed most of the times. None of the symptoms had changed - his voice was gone, just a croak now; he was still coughing blood, he kept losing weight and he was eating still less. One night, after the full course of injections had been taken for 6 months, he had complained of breathing troubles. He was rushed to the hospital. She was just making him sit in a chair in the waiting room when her mother rushed in search of the doctor. At that moment, in that cold hospital room, she felt a cold numbness in his hands. She jerked and looked at him. She started massaging his palms, but his limbs kept falling down away from her grip. His breathing had become more sporadic. His eyes started losing focus. She desperately was looking around for some support! Her mom? The doctor? Some nurse? She wanted to run out of the room herself and call out the doc, when she looked at him and realised that his time had come! Right in front of her eyes, with his palms in hers, eyes losing focus and without being able to speak a single word in those last moments, he left her! He was dead! The doctor who entered the room a fraction of a second later realised what should have happened. The doctor went towards them, a pair - his eyes half open but dead and lifeless, her eyes widely open, too shocked and transfixed at some point in eternity. The doctor slowly closed the dead man's eyes and jolted her back to reality.

The doctor came to see her just before vacating the room. The doctor was the usual self, at ease and specifying the medicines that she had to take and how fast she had recovered. She wanted to talk with the doc before leaving the place. The examination was over and the doctor prepared to leave the room when she asked, 'Doctor Uncle! Can I ask you something…? But you've got to be frank with me!' The doctor stopped and smiled,' I have always been overly frank with you dear! I have always thought you to be brave enough to face reality than hide from it. Perhaps I should have been more reticent with you... ', he gave a mild sigh, 'Anyway, tell me... what is it that you want from me right now?'

'It's just this doctor!! On the day of the accident... before being admitted here... you... you should be knowing... I ... I tripped from our balcony wall because... because I... I saw him.... He was playing cricket with his buddies.... He... he waved his hands out to me, I saw him as clearly as I see you now... but then I did not think twice and that's why I stooped down to get the ball.... I, now, know that he is dead... then why did I do something so stupid? Am I.... Am I going mad? I don't want to be locked up in an asylum!!!... I want to take care of my children... I... I want to continue from where he left me!!' She could hardly finish her outpour than she started sobbing softly!!! Neither could her mother could not control herself! She hugged her daughter gently! The doctor was seeing this entire emotional outburst with the same calm expression that she was getting used to by now.

The doctor waited for sometime and gave a cheerful smile. He said, 'Good!!... You are a brave woman!! He was not lucky enough to live with you longer!! Anyway, let me get down to the facts straight away! When you were brought here that day bleeding.... in your face, head and hands, I did not know how and why you fell down! But when you told your father the first day you woke up that you saw him, I knew that was your problem...’ He paused here slightly, as though thinking how to continue and then said, 'It happens... It happens in cases of extreme affection.... You had been hallucinating dear!! You missed him so much that you saw him. You had been too busy for the few days after his death that you did not let your emotions out. You had bottled it up within yourself and your refusal to believe that he was gone aggravated the problem... When you were here tending to your broken skull and broken arm, we were also treating you for hallucinations and psychological problems..... In fact that's why when your parents told me that you cried a lot into your pillows... I just told them to stand by you but not stop you!!.... And now you have realised it yourself that he is not in your life anymore... This realisation is the first step towards a healthy mental state.... Believe me!! You have come out of your hallucinations.... The next time you think that you see him, just tell yourself, 'No He's not here... He can't be here' and get going!! The worst is behind you, dear!!! You are NOT MAD and you KNOW it!! So get up!! You have a family to take care of... Your husband has left you mid way but you would not leave your children like that!!'

There was a pause after that and she did not know what to talk. She felt a different woman on hearing the doctor's words! The doctor was right!! She had a family to take care of. She was not mad. This was a brief period of hiatus in her life. She would take on life without her husband. He had been cruel enough to call upon his own death. How many times had she warned him against smoking! She realised that one small bad habit had almost ruined her life!! But now the worst was behind her. She would take on her life with a new vigour and determination that if it was true that he was looking at her from Heavens, he would regret having died!

PS: I would like to remind a statistically proven medical fact here - Not all smokers die of cancer. Nor are all cancer casualties smokers! It is just that smoking increases the risk of cancer.

PPS: This is purely a work of fiction though inspired by a few real life incidents and characters. However the medical terms and symptoms of the diseases mentioned are all real!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Separation - Short Story Part III

Recap - Part I
Recap - Part II

It was when she had bent down trying to retrieve the ball that her mother had called out to her from the kitchen and she instinctively turned her head. The sudden movement disturbed the balance of the already broken chair and she tripped! Her head hit the window pane first and then with another jerk from there, she fell down on her shoulders to the cement pavement a second later. There had been a cry when she had tripped and the residents of the apartment had come out running. She was barely conscious when she was rushed to the nearby hospital's trauma care. Her head was aching and spinning all the time. She was confused as to what had happened to her. She had just tried to take the ball and throw it back to him. He is going to be waiting for her. She felt her right hand and face very watery and clumsy. She wanted to wipe it all out and get rid of the soaring pain in her forehead. She must have gone off to sleep for a few minutes for she was woken by the movement caused by taking her in a stretcher. The corridor seemed vaguely familiar. She also thought she felt less clumsy now. Perhaps some one had wiped off the irritating liquid from her face and right hand. Her head was still paining and she could anyway not move her right hand, it was a terrible pain along her right shoulder blade. Wonder what had happened to her when she bent down to take the ball and why was she in ... the hospital?? It finally dawned on her just before being ushered into the OR that somehow she had met with an 'accident', (she could not recollect how) and now she was being taken for a surgery. As she saw her parents' anxious face, she smiled because she realised that she may actually meet him in Heaven if this operation failed. Though she did not comprehend anything of what was happening around her, she prayed that she should die!

'But look here child... You need to be bold and know and get the situation straight.... You have to be bold... Listen to me...' The doctor had gotten up from his chair and was walking towards her. He touched her gently on her shoulders. She had started to cry by now. 'The cancer has spread... It has eroded his lungs.... It's what you call metastasis…’ The doctor let her cry for some time. Then she wiped her tears with defiance. She would not cry. She would face it. 'Any cure? Treatment? Surgery? Or something? You know, doctor uncle, expenses would not be a problem'. 'This is the final stage, metastasis... It is our ill-luck that cancer has revealed itself to us at this stage. No surgery or radiation can help... But I would not lose hope so fast... We could still treat with Chemotherapy injections. Drug shots periodically.’ But for how long, she wanted to ask. But something prevented her from asking it. She was quiet for a few minutes, taking in what had just been told and then she asked a bolder question 'How long has he got? How long have we got together?’ There was a moment's hesitation in the doctor's eyes and then he decided to tell the truth '3 months to 6 months... at the max... with or without the chemo injections'. Her world had shattered in front of her.

She woke up to the mild smell of antiseptic, with a slight pain in her head. Her head still felt groggy. Is this how Heaven looked or rather smelt? Would he come here to see her and talk to her? She tried to open her eyes fully and saw the hazy image of her father sitting in a chair beside her bed with the morning edition of the newspaper in his hands. Was he reading or merely looking at it without grabbing a word of it? Well... he has to answer that himself!! A ray of sunshine was falling through the curtains of the room. She saw that her right hand was in a sling and she could not move it. With her left hand she felt her head, also in a bandage, a complete one at that. She felt a few stitches and mild bruises on her cheeks and forehead. Her father just noticed her stirring and came to look at her. It was a very soft face looking up to her then. She had never seen her father so anxious. Father was bent towards her, his hands softly prodding her head and asking her, ‘How are you feeling now, dear?’ She gave a weak smile and said, ‘Yeah... Dad!! Am feeling better. But... but why am I here? What did I do, dad?’ As she heard her own small voice echoing surprisingly in the quiet hospital room, she realised regretfully that she was still alive. Father said, with the same low soft voice that was filled with affection, ‘It's nothing child! Just that you tripped from our balcony and fell... head down... on the pavement below! There's nothing to worry now... You... You will be alright!’ She was surprised how she had fallen? She thought for a while and then answered in the same meek voice, ‘But dad I thought I was trying to help those people who were playing cricket.... ', she paused here and continued, 'I saw him dad!! He had been bowling and the batsman had hit him hard. The ball was down on the window pane below our balcony. He was waving to me to retrieve the ball, so that's why I stooped down!' Her father controlled the surge of emotions hitting him hard in his throat. He swallowed his emotions in a gulp and softly continued, ‘Look here child!! Let's talk about all this later! Right now it's time for you to take rest. I will call the doctor right away to say that you have woken up! And yes... your children would come to see you after their school hours today!!' Father turned his face away unable to see his daughter. Just as he was struggling to wipe a tear from his own eyes, she caught up her father's arms determinedly and said in a very assured voice, 'Dad! Is he not dead? Then how did I see him there in the play park? How did I see him bowling and then waving back to me, dad? Dad... Am I going mad because he is dead! Am I becoming crazy?' It was all her father could do to control his emotions. He let the tear drop from his eyes and kissed her gently on her forehead and said, 'No dear!! It can not be that! Don't strain yourself into thinking too much!! Just put your mind at rest!!' He gave her his best reassuring smile and went to call on the doctor. She closed her eyes again and fell into another deep sleep, dreaming about the only person she had ever loved in her life and who was right now dead and beyond her reach!

What followed after that was a lot of confusion. Friends and relatives flocked to see him. The news was broken to him also, but without the time frame!! He had said, rather croaked, 'Hey Sweetie! Why do you worry! This cancer cannot kill me! Doctor has still said we could try the chemo injections, right? We'll try that also. At the end of the first course of the injections, the doctor is going to be surprised with my recovery and he is going to praise our perseverance. It's going to be a miracle! We still have our kids' education, their wedding and their children. I am gonna live to see my grand children'. He was too hopeful. There had been times when she had woken up at night after many a nightmare! They were all the same, every time - He would be drowning in a large lake and she on a boat trying desperately to save him; they would be in an aero plane which had lost control and he would just slip out of the plane into the night sky while she desperately tries to hold on to him; he would be in the pillion and she would be riding, they meet with an accident, she takes his bloody body on her laps, trying to shake him and wake him but he would not respond - and every nightmare ended the same way; they had the same effect on her. She would wake up screaming, sweating profusely and rushing to his bedside to hear his heartbeat - to listen to that re-assuring sign of life!! Every injection had been painful. She could see that he was suffering. She kept telling him 'Hold on dear!! For my sake! For your sake! Just hold on! The worst will be behind us!' and he kept going. The drugs were injected every month for six months. be concluded.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Separation - Short Story Part II

Recap - Part I

It had started with fatigue, a few months after he had quit smoking. He was feeling very tired. It was attributed to his hectic work schedule. He had been working non-stop for the past couple of months - night-outs, weekends in office. A pressing deadline! He was finding it difficult to do routine things like climbing the stairs to just his second floor cubicle. His agility had gone. He felt tired always. She chided him for being so lazy and for growing old ‘so soon’. She advised a couple of days’ rest and a break. She also took off from her school and stayed at home with him. After a lot of cajoling on her part to take a break and a promise to the manager that next week he would compensate for this week’s absence, he decided to stay at home. But then he lost his appetite too. He did not like to eat at all. The exercise to rejuvenate him seemed to be failing. His fatigue and work were taking their toll on his health. His eating habits changed. He lost weight. Everything was so gradual and slow that she failed to notice the symptoms. It was only when he got ‘throat infection’ after a fortnight of his ‘break’ that alarm bells rang in her mind. She decided it was time for him to take up a medical check up. She had been too careless with his health for the past few weeks.

She was able to see him everywhere in their room. He was there searching for his favourite checked shirt in the cupboard and calling out to her unable to find it. He was there in front of the mirror trying to comb his hair, which always had an unruly strand sticking out. He was there sitting on the bed with his laptop doing his office work oblivious to her rambling about keeping office work out of 'her' home. She got up from her chair and went to the cupboard. She had lost count of time. Her sister had taken the kids to the apartment play park. Her mom was in the kitchen preparing the evening snacks and her father had gone out for a walk. It was surprising how everyone had left her alone to her memories! No one wanted to disturb her. Perhaps they understood what she wanted. As she opened the cupboard and saw his crumpled t-shirt lying carelessly above the other neatly stacked dresses, she thought she could still smell his scent in it. This was the same t-shirt he had worn on the last day before rushing to the hospital when he had complained of breathlessness. She slowly took it in her hands, and felt the smoothness of the cotton on her cheeks. She was just beginning to cry; just beginning to breakdown, small drops of tears were forming in her eyes and her heart was beginning to feel heavy. She still held the t-shirt in her hands as she moved out of the bedroom into the balcony overlooking the apartment play park. She saw her children playing with the other kids in the apartment. Her children had forgotten what had befallen them quite easily. She felt it was better to be a kid. But hadn't he always said that about her? He had always thought that she was his first child! And then she saw him too.

They had gone to their family doctor and the doctor had prescribed the usual antibiotics, vitamin tablets, iron tonic, etc for a few days. It was 3 days since he had started taking the medicines and still there was no improvement in his appetite or agility. It was the 4th day morning, when he was brushing his teeth, that he noticed that he had spit blood. He was alarmed himself. He had never given a second thought to his exhaustion and now suddenly he was horrified. After finishing off the morning chores, sending the kids off to school, a light breakfast of juice and corn flakes, both of them had gone to the doctor. The doctor seemed a little worried on knowing about the blood in the sputum and prescribed a biopsy, X-ray and CT scan with the reassurance to them that there was nothing to worry and these were just routine tests. They went to get the reports the next day and later, for consultation with the doctor. As they both sat in that hospital, in front of the doctor, something was nudging her. She did not feel good about it at all. One could call it a woman's instinct.

She saw him a couple of hundred metres away from the play park, in the ground - his hangout with other fathers and youngsters of the apartment. He was playing cricket. He had just bowled an over and the batsman had gone for a big one off the last ball; bad timing and the ball had landed on the window pane, a few feet below the balcony from where she was seeing him. He was just a little irritated that the batsman had swung the bat in his over and ball had landed in an inaccessible area. She saw the ball lying there, amidst the leaves, a small rusted tin, an old broken bat, a rag and other trifles that had accumulated on the pane over the period of years. She smiled and waved back to him that she would retrieve the ball from there and throw it back to him. That was not so difficult!

It was a multi-specialty hospital, one of the popular corporate hospitals in the city. Everything about it was rich, from the reception, lobby, the patient rooms to the lifts, the stair ways, pharmacy - everything. Even the people who had come there seemed wealthy spending all the well-earned money on the ill-deserved illness!! 'Were there really so many people sick in the world?’ she thought. Some extremely worried faces and some very relaxed in fact smiling ones. However the most painful ones to look at were the ones with the resigned expressions, going about the hospital corridors with medicines or money receipts in hands but despair in their eyes! It was an expression of silent acceptance of what was to befall them. They knew what was to come, but they were helpless in avoiding it. All that they could do was awaiting it! She did not know the cause of their concern, but something about these expressions had troubled her as she had entered the doctor's room with her husband and the reports.

She bent down the window pane right below her balcony, but her hands would not reach the ball. She could either try pushing the ball down to him with some long stick or she could put a stool in the balcony itself, stand over it and bend down to retrieve the ball. She looked around in their room and her gaze fell on the tiny chair - her younger one's long forgotten rocking chair which no longer rocked because it was broken near its legs. She thought, 'This must be ideal for me. After all I am going to just step on the chair for a few seconds, stoop down and pick up the ball. Not much of an effort.' She put his shirt down on the bed nearby and picked up the broken chair and positioned it in the place right above the window pane where she found the ball. She gingerly stepped on the chair and stretched her arms towards the ball.

The X-Ray showed her husband's lungs in various angles- left lung, right lung, the dorsal view, ventral view and many other angles. She was worried if something was wrong with the lungs, was she imagining things or did the lungs really look 'eroded'? The X-Ray, CT scan, biopsy reports, total of about 10-15 pages; a couple of them in pink colour and a few in white. At the end of the pink report she found the words 'Result: Bronchogenic carcinoma'. Another page of the report and another 'Result: Small Cell Carcinoma'. She was able to catch words 'metastasis', 'oncogens percentage', 'small cell carcinoma'. They made no sense to her. She knew that those words were significant but what it meant when translated to 'English', she did not know. The doctor looking at the reports in front of her would know. The doctor always reminded her of the typical fatherly figure, a man of sixty, short, a little stout, balding head with a few strands of white hair slowing finding their way among the thinning hairline. As he sat there looking at the report, his already creased forehead seemed unable to hold the new set of wrinkles that were appearing. It was full five minutes before the doctor started speaking to her, 'Oh! It's nothing to worry. We could admit him in our hospital itself for a few days and start the treatment. Don't worry, my child! He will be alright. Let us first put him into a comfortable bed and then we would talk in leisure'. This was all wrong, she thought. She was on the verge of panic 'But doctor, what is it? What are you going to treat him for?’ she almost pleaded. The doctor was his usual self, calm and composed, 'As I said nothing to worry, dear! The reports seem to denote mild tuberculosis. If he undergoes treatment, he should be fine. We'll first put him at ease and then I will talk to you, is that fine?’ He had said that with a cool composure but with finality in his voice that she did not press further. She was in a trance till the admission formalities had been completed and she found herself once again in front of the doctor’s desk. But this time, he did not have to look in to the report now. He was waiting for her with ’bad’ news. She was able to sense it. The doctor looked straight at her and started, 'I hate to tell this to you. But I have to. I have always told him to stop smoking and I know that you also have struggled to make him stop this habit. Now, I know that he has stopped. But.... ', the doctor looked down as if he could not longer look at her tear stained eyes and then looked up at her once again with a look trying to calm her, '... but now it's too late.... you must have seen the report... He... he has got lung cancer.' When the doctor stopped there, it seemed as if her world had also stopped. be continued

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Auto Driver!

The movie plan had been in the making for quite some time and at last I left office a little earlier than usual to watch this movie. As I was walking along the road looking for some auto, my gaze fell on this auto which was actually going on the other side. He slowed down and nodded his head as if to ask where I wanted to go. I shouted out the name of my destination from where I was and he shook his head non-committedly and started off his way! Wonder what went through his mind, he slowed down the next second, made a ‘U’ turn and halted next to me. He confirmed the name of the theatre from me again and said ‘Fine I will take you… Hmm.. But 20 rupees more than the meter fare’. I am not the type that usually bargains or argues, I say yes and agree to the fare or say no and walk off. But that day something nudged me and I almost revolted. I threatened him, "Not a penny more than meter fare, Else I am getting down you can go your way and I will go mine". There was a tinge of disappointment in his face. He grumbled something about "Only 20 rupees extra! Or perhaps just 10 rupees extra!!" and took to his driving! But that day, I would not budge. I loathed autowalas who demanded more fare and now this guy. I knew that I was traveling a longer distance which would come to at least 70-80 rupees and still this guy demands more! My anger was at an all time high!

As the auto travelled through the city’s traffic, I thought that the meter was jumping faster than usual (Or was it my imagination, I don't know!). 'These auto walas!! They somehow know how to manipulate the meter when the passenger refuses to give extra fare! Look at how fast the fare is increasing! Damn it! Looks like I have to quarrel with him when I get down! Lemme see!!' And then he stopped in between and said, “One min madam!” Off he went, while the meter spit a rupee more in the waiting mode! I had decided. I was not going to pay him a penny more. Even if it was some odd number and 50 paise, I was going to give him the exact change! This thought gave me some sort of a devilish satisfaction and I waited. He came and to my dismay had a lit cigarette in his mouth. There I almost snapped, “Will you put off the cigarette now? I am allergic to cigarette smoke!”. He asked me incredulously, “You want me to put out the cigarette?” and I answered with a little more-than-necessary-firmness, “Yes”. And then he did put it out!

I was able to see the pure white cigarette in his hands when he had brought it in and when he did put it out without a second’s argument I somehow began to feel a little bad (a sudden change in mind? I don’t know!). That cigarette might have as well cost him 3-4 rs and he was now forced to abandon it because of me! A small feeling of remorse was creeping in. I kept quiet. But after a few mins, when my gaze fell on the fare-meter, the nagging doubt that the meter was jumping faster than usual came back and hit me hard. When we were about a couple of kms away from the theatre, his gesture of putting out the cigarette was completely gone from my mind and the foremost thought running was ‘He is cheating me with false meter! It would not cost so much at all! Oh these guys! They find new means of cheating people but this time I am not going to let that happen! I am gonna argue with him when I get down’. I asked him, “Is the meter fine? I think it is not showing the correct amount! It is showing too much!”. He answered in a normal tone, “The meter is fine madam. From the place where I picked you till here it usually costs around Rs. 80 and drop to that theatre usually costs around 120”. Saying so we both looked at the metre reading – It showed Rs. 76! Was it possible that he was not lying? I was still not convinced. But I did not take it up further then, I just postponed my outburst by a few mins.

We were almost near the theatre now. The auto was waiting in the signal and the cinema was a few yards the other side of the intersection. The fare meter now showed 100 rs. If he reset the meter it would show the minimum fare 14 rs, so when he drops me, perhaps a few yards away, I have to pay him 14 rs more than 100; 14 - the amount I can save if I get out right now and walk the distance. I would avoid an argument and get a sadistic satisfaction of depriving him of 14 rs. Yes! Serves him right! I had decided. I told him that I was getting down there itself and paid him 100 rs. I expected him to argue back, but he did not. That itself was a surprise for me! He got the money with a resigned expression of Oh-I-know-your-kinds! I was a little dazed by his silent acceptance. I got out, negotiated my way through the waiting vehicles and started walking on the pavement towards the signal.

When I was thus walking out alone, I somehow felt ashamed of myself at the whole episode. What did I gain by depriving him of that 14 rs? I did some mental calculation of the distance and realised that he had not been lying when he said that normally it would cost around 120 rs. Now that I had got down mid way, he would anyway have to cross the signal, perhaps even come to the theatre and wait for his next fare. And then it struck me that he had also put out his cigarette, his energy booster. Wonder for how long he had been controlling his urge to smoke and when he did get a chance he had to put out without even taking in a single puff of smoke! Agreed I could not let him smoke, because I am allergic to it, but still I could have at least been nicer to him. Why was I feeling bad after doing something which I had contemplated and decided on all my way! I was regretting my decision to walk out like that. I started looking out for him if only I could give him 10 rs more. I stopped, took out a 10 rs note from my purse so that I can just give him when I see him crossing me. By the time I could reach the intersection, the signal had turned green and vehicles started moving. I lost the auto in which I had come. I crossed the road when the signal turned green for me, still clutching the 10 rs in my hand and cursing myself for behaving in a fashion in which I am not used to behave. This was going to be among my biggest regrets in life now – depriving a daily wager of his paltry ‘bonus’!

Just when I was about to enter the theatre complex, I crossed a familiar figure just getting out of the auto and lighting a cigarette! I turned back. Yes this was the same driver in whose auto I had come today. I went back and gave him the 10 rs still crumpled because of my own anger! He gave a puzzled look and asked, “Why madam?” I could only muster, “For the cigarette you did not smoke some time back!”

As he got the money with a big smile on his face, it felt good to me, immensely good! It’s ok if I had been cheated. It's ok if I had paid for the distance I walked. His grateful smile made my day! :) :)