I waited for her every day. From entering the mall at eleven till I left at seven, every day I looked around for her whenever I was not occupied. Thousands of customers came and went every day, but not her. Mashima also never came for her monthly provision. When I asked Raju about it, he laughed. “Rich people have so many places to go. Maybe now she has found out a better place. There is no shortage of malls in the city. I heard about a new mall opening up at Ballygunje!”
“But you said Mashima comes here on the first week of every month?”
“Yes, I said because she used to come then! But isn’t she free to choose not to come here?” Raju snapped at me. My whimpering, even to me, wasn’t anything but imbecility, but I was helpless, my only hope to reach her was her mother.
I laughed at my own stupidity. Indeed, it was possible for Mashima to do away with her allegiance to Cavenders for another mall which was nearer. But I was worried because if she snapped her ties with Cavenders, neither the mother nor the daughter would ever come here and it was me who was going to lose.
But Poree had said, she would come soon to return the money. Though it wasn’t the money I was interested in; because in last few weeks, all my waking hours, if I wasn’t occupied, it was her who kept me on the edge. I couldn’t concentrate on my work, even in the middle of a sale I sometimes lost plot, mistook somebody else as Poree, only to be fooled when the girl came nearer.
Then I consoled myself with an assumption that the family might have gone out on vacation – a long one. Maybe somewhere abroad, because only rich people like them could afford a long foreign trip.
A month passed; the first week of the month went without Mashima coming for her grocery. In the morning when I loitering around Raju’s grain section, he spotted me.
“What are you doing here?” He asked.
“Nothing.” I said. “I was just passing by.”
“Where are you posted now?” He asked.
“Men’s apparel section.” I said. “Did Mashima come?”
“No.” He said sternly. “Stop dreaming about her, moron! She is not going to come again. Your money is gone.” Raju gesticulated in a funny way showing his ivory white teeth. I felt like boxing him below his ear, but Dipak joined him, and together both of them gave me such sneering look that I decided to skulk away.
Indeed, I became a laughing stock to my friends. All of them, recalling how gullible I was to trust an unknown girl, enquired if she had returned the money. Some of them even suggested me to call her to remind that she owed me some money. I considered it a preposterous suggestion, as it was not the money which unsettled me. On the other hand, I pinned my hope on that paltry sum because it was the only link I had with her. Till it was with her, I knew, I stood a chance to meet her. Just the wait was long, indeterminable; but if you ask me, it wasn’t painful; rather it provided me enough time to dream about her.
One day when I was eating my lunch alone, wondering about her, Rehana and Sanchita joined me. I casually smiled at them and kept eating silently.
“What’s the matter Biplab?” Rehana asked. “You are not talking today!”
“Nothing!” I said. In any case, sharing my secret with them would only make me look like an idiot.
“Why such a long face?” Rehana asked.
I knew both of them were enjoying my despondency, and their words were not meant to empathise with me, instead it was their intention to pour salt on my wound.
“Go; get your eyes checked up. I am normal, just like other days.” I snapped at her.
Both of them guffawed. I was angry but kept my cool.
“Well, we are sorry,” Rehana said.
“Sorry for what?”
“That you lost your money!” Rehana said.
“Oh, yes. Three hundred isn’t a big amount though.” I said to undermine their pseudo-sympathy.
“However small it may be, one shouldn’t forget returning the money one owes to somebody,” Sanchita said.
“That`s true.” I agreed.
“Three hundred isn’t a small amount for people like us,” Rehana said.
“Yes, it’s almost my month’s mobile bill,” Sanchita added.
“Will you stop this?” I suddenly shouted at the top of my voice. I was keeping my cool despite the humiliation and nettling till it reached a flash point and then I flew off the handle.
The whole of the canteen suddenly turned towards us; the murmur of the conversation giving way to pin drop silence; only the whir of the ceiling fans defied the solemnity of the hushed atmosphere. I watched everybody had stopped eating, their hands frozen in midair, mouths agape, and was trying find out what suddenly went wrong between us. Then Rehana started crying. The suddenness of my outburst as well as sobbing of Rehana, both were too unexpected in such a sedate environment. Mortified with the drama that followed, I slammed my glass on the table and stormed out of the canteen. Just when I was leaving, I saw people gathering around our table asking them what the matter was.
Back at my station, I regretted my sudden outburst. I realised it wasn’t required at all. I was upset, but there was no reason to let the whole world know about it. I knew I had overdone it; I shouldn’t have shouted at the girls; they might have spoken their mind candidly empathising me. It was me, my sick mind, which had interpreted it as if it were some kind of persiflage. Sitting on a low stool, I busied myself rearranging the shirts, hung on the rotating stand for the sake of doing something. It was better to do some work than brooding for rest of the day.
I promised myself to be careful not to hurt people again. I was sure, they would understand, if I explained, how I got the raw nerve. But as I started rearranging the shirts, I discovered the work would require an hour at least for all the stands were awfully disorganised. Many a times the customers don’t place the clothes back from where they had picked up, mixing up different brands, jumbling up sizes. I took out each and every mismatched cloth, kept them in proper order and then suddenly my phone rang.
I hurriedly brought it out, but the call ended before I could take it.
“Bull shit!” I said to myself. But who was it? I pressed the side key. Poree’s face appeared as the phone came back to life. Oh, God! I’ve missed it!
Should I make a call? Or wait for her? Caught in a dilemma, I sat down to think over. The phone beeped again, a short low jingle this time. A text message landed. I opened up message box. It’s Poree. Written in abbreviated and truncated English, she texted a message. “Cald u, misd. Wanna meet u 2mrw. 3pm”
In a moment, all my rancour cleared away, and I was happy again like a small boy who went back home when it suddenly started raining; but sun shone again after a short, quick burst of rain and now he was back on the rain-soaked street kicking the puddles of water.
Though the message had all the information, except the venue of meet, which should be the mall itself in any case, yet I didn’t want to miss the chance of sending her a reply.
“Where? Mall?” I texted.
A smiley returned; a naughty face, tongue bitten and one eye winking.
I send two smileys in reply.
Later when I was about to leave for home, Raju tapped my shoulder from behind. He had heard about the commotion in the canteen and asked me what it was about.
“A little misunderstanding between me and Rehana!” I said.
“What a pity!” Raju said. “You have started behaving like a child. Will you care to tell me what happened?”
It was too long a story, riddled with misunderstanding and false conclusion. I didn`t like to elaborate again. I was in doubt, nobody else was; it didn’t matter to them if Poree came or not, returned my money or not. But now the matter was almost sorted out. Once we stepped outside, Raju lit a cigarette.
“Rehana was crying. What did you tell her?” He asked.
“Nothing.” I was already become sick of all these.
“You screamed at her, didn’t you?”
“You know everything; why are you asking me again?” I said.
“I want to tell you to get up from your dream. Biplab, you aren’t a kid anymore! They are rich people; they belong to a higher class. I don`t know how can you dream with your eyes open! It’s foolish for a dwarf to try to touch the moon high in the sky. Haven’t you heard the saying?” Raju said.
I felt like hitting him on his nose; I didn`t require his advice about what to do and what not! I knew my job pretty well. What the half-wits would know about love and other finer things of life. I forgave him returning a disdainful look.
“Poor Rehana! She is such a simple girl! You must tell her ‘sorry’ tomorrow.” Raju insisted.
I nodded. I’d definite tell her ‘sorry’ the next day, I said. I couldn’t tell them I screamed because I was pissed up with myself. I had no intention to insult Rehana, it was just because she was in front of me.
The last hour had a calming effect on me. The reassurance of Poree, that she was coming to meet me, transformed the brooding boy in me into a generous lad, who was ready to forgive the whole world, including the toothy Raju despite all his prickly comments. But I felt sorry for Rehana; I surely owed her an apology.
“I will talk to her tomorrow, and sort it out.” I assured Raju as we parted ways at the bus stop across the mall. Raju walked towards Salimpur while I took the road that goes towards the Gobindapur slum.
The next day, Poree arrived at three. She called when she couldn’t find me because I wasn’t working at the same place when we met last time. Since two, I hardly shifted my eyes from the entrance, but she had slipped unseen in between my winks.
I took the call and told her to reach men’s formal section.
“Okay. Coming.” She said.
I didn’t have any customer to attend. I put back the cell phone into my pocket, looked at the mirror, checked my trouser’s zip, adjusted the tie’s knot. Preened to my satisfaction, as if I were on a date, I waited breathlessly.
“Hi Biplab!” She hailed me waving her hand.
I noticed a few pairs of curious eyes shook off their post-lunch torpor and began to follow us.
When she came near, I greeted her. “Hello.”
“How are you doing?” She asked me.
I smiled back, “I am fine. Thank you.”
She took out her purse and brought three hundred-rupee notes out.
“Here you go.” She said. “I took a long time to return it. Sorry for that.”
“No. There is nothing to be sorry,” I said.
“That day you were of great help. Mommy was right.”
I smiled modestly in reply.
She looked bright and lively on her sleeveless pink blouse teamed with a pair of blue Levi’s jeans. Her freshly washed auburn curls glittered catching light from the brightly illuminated ceiling. My gaze was drawn to her flawless bare arms, delicate and attractive, tapering down to her wrist on which she wore a tiny black watch in startling contrast to her smooth pale skin. Her deep brown eyes, which were gently kohl-lined on the other day, were decked with exotic purple shade today, which came as a shock to me for I suddenly realised that this wasn’t her real face; she had worked on it to look cheerful.
Even her scarlet lipstick that had turned her lips into juicy strawberries, was also out of place, for it looked gaudy on her, and I`d have liked if she came without this garish make up.
It seemed she had preened herself purposefully, but unfortunately I detested all these. The image engraved in my mind during our first encounter was the real she, and that was what drew me towards her.
She swiped her gaze around the store as if to buy time and I, not knowing how to keep her engaged, just stared at her, soaking in her beauty, which after a few minutes appeared as dumb as it could get. She shifted her weight to the other leg, looked at the floor and then her watch, waiting for me to speak something so that the meeting didn’t end up with merely money exchanging hands. But I, desperate to invent something to talk, found my tongue had dissolved into a glob of flesh that refused to obey my brain.
“Bye!” She said, after awhile, frustrated and perhaps bored at my lack of imagination. Knowing well that this was my one and only chance to impress her, my out of whack brain couldn’t produce a single word. She turned back and slowly walked away. I listened to the clicking of her heel against the shiny floor, watched her dainty steps and finally her dwindling outline disappearing through the gate. She didn’t turn back even once; and I realised how I blew away my last chance.
My heart sank as she finally disappeared from sight. Now, with her obligation gone, she didn’t have any reason to meet me again. I was almost certain that she would delete my phone number and I would become unknown to her again. Though it seemed to be inevitable end of this little dream I dreamt, my heart didn’t agree.
A few of months passed in between. I returned to my original section of electronic gadgets. Chironjeet had resigned and Vandana Garg, a feisty buxom lady, the new section in-charge, took his place.
Now I have a broad view of the store. The last six months were educative enough to confer me with a clear idea how the retail business runs. If somebody now asked me, I could give him a half an hour speech.
It was middle of August. The festive season was in the coming. Soon the store would receive new stock for Durga Pujo. The marketing team would design new campaigns. They would brainstorm to hit the bull’s eye by drawing up plans to catch the fancy of the buyers. The store would be decorated with life size cut-outs; new slogans and catch phrases would be coined and displayed everywhere. In a way, it was quite a busy time at Cavenders for the long festive season that begins with Durga Pujo and ends with Deepawali and Bhaifonta.
I hadn’t heard from Poree in between. Neither did she call nor text me anything. Sometimes I wondered if it would be proper to drop a text message, but I had nothing new to tell her. And our friendship, if the term was be used, had been a non-starter. If there was anybody to blame, it was me; I didn`t know how to strike a friendship. Moreover, the realisation of the disparity between us, which I failed to notice earlier, and what Raju had cautioned about, dawned on me now.
But I couldn’t deny it to myself that thinking about Poree as my lover gave me immense pleasure and happiness. When I got the Kahlil Gibran’s quote written on the windscreen of my auto years ago, I did it for the novelty of the line, for the goosebumps it produced upon reading it, without knowing anything about love. In my twenty years of life, my heart never fluttered like it did when I met her for the first time. And now, after six months of wait, I discovered that what I imagined, was just my flight of fancy; we were never lovers.
One day I received a call from Fortis Hospital. The doctor on emergency duty spoke to me in an official voice.
“Your relative has been brought in the emergency. She is bleeding from her wound. We need to transfer her to the operation theatre. Come as early as possible.”
“My relative! At Fortis Hospital!” I asked him, unable to hide my surprise.
How was it possible? I didn’t have a relative who can afford treatment at Fortis Hospital, a posh hospitals, for well-heeled people. For all our ailments we went to government hospitals. My mother, for all her health problems, consulted the neighbourhood homeopath. So, I just wondered who this loaded relative was!
“Yes. She has been brought here by her maid servant. She has given your number. She says you are a cousin.”
“What’s her name?”
“Chitrangada Das Gupta.”
“I don’t know anybody called Chitrangada Das Gupta. I am sorry.” I said.
“Wait.” The doctor said and his voice faded away as he took his mouth away from the receiver to talk to somebody else. I heard his voice, distant, unclear, asking somebody something. Then I heard the frightening beeps of some medical instruments, and a frantic female voice, perhaps the nurse asking for something.
“Are you Biplab Naskar?” The emergency doctor asked.
“She says you know her as Poree, her pet name.”
Oh God! I suddenly felt dizzy as if the ground below my feet suddenly started swaying violently.
“What happened to her?” I asked him, frightened.
“I told you already. She has cut her hand and it’s bleeding. We suspect she has cut a vein. We have applied a pressure bandage. The surgeon has already come. We are going to send her to OR. Come fast, we need the consent of a relative.”
“Why don’t you call her parents?” I asked.
“She says they aren’t in town.”
I didn’t understand what was going on. Why did she want to hide the accident from her parents?
“Okay, I am coming.” I told the doctor and asked Vandana for her permission.
“Who is sick?” Vandana asked with a frown, her brows distorted like a question mark.
“A relative.” I didn`t explain her further.
“Come back in an hour. Will you?” She asked.
“I don`t know what happened to her. I might get delayed.” I said. I might have looked miserable because she agreed immediately.
“Okay. Try to come back as early as possible. You know the week end rush and all.”
I came out of the mall and hailed a cab. I told him to drive to Fortis Hospital, as fast as possible. It didn’t take more than twenty minutes to reach Anandapur. The cab dropped me at the gate and I almost ran towards the emergency ward.
“Wait, do you have a visiting card?” A security man dressed in blue stopped me at the gate.
“They are waiting for my consent. My patient is serious, needs a surgery. You can’t stop me here,” I told him in a hurry.
“Okay, go. But what’s the bed number?” He asked.
“I don’t know, she is in emergency.” I ran past him.
When I reached the emergency ward, Poree had already been taken inside the operation room. The doctor who spoke to me over phone informed me that for the urgency of the situation, they decided to go ahead with patient’s own consent. She had bled considerably and would require blood transfusion. The hospital has its own blood bank and she will get whatever amount of blood she requires, but according to the rule, relatives have to donate blood to replace it.
I didn’t know what to do now. I had only two hundred rupees left in my purse after paying the cab. I didn’t know how much one bottle of blood cost? Neither had I the faintest idea about how many bottles of blood she would need. But I could donate one myself. I agreed immediately. An attendant guided me to the blood bank. He made me fill up a form and told me sit on a special chair with a cosy backrest that inclined further on a tap on its remote to make me semi-recumbent. A technician jabbed a needle into a vein of my elbow and asked me to make a fist and open it alternatively. I watched nervously as my blood drained out through a transparent tube into a plastic bag that already had some fluid inside.
After a while the technician informed me that my blood group is ‘A’ Positive. I didn’t know my blood group because it wasn’t tested before. “Is that an uncommon group?” I asked him, weary of the fact that it might not match Poree’s.
“No, it’s fairly common, though ‘O’ is the commonest.” He informed me.
“Which one is the rarest group?” I asked.
“‘AB Negative’.” He said and took the needle out of my flesh smoothly with superb professional expertise. I was about to flinch, but it was absolutely painless. He withdrew the tube out of the bottle and stuck a label on it. The plastic bottle was now almost full with my blood that was going to be pumped into Poree’s body. It thrilled me. The thought of donating my blood for the woman of my dream made my heart dance in joy. I thanked God for being kind enough to provide me with such a unique opportunity to help the woman I cherished, and when she needed it most. I imagined how she would react when she would come to know that my blood was now running in her veins! It delighted me because part of me was now part of her, and the union was irreversible.
But the technician brought me back to reality. He said Poree was ‘O’ Positive. She wouldn’t be given my blood, but somebody else’s, of the same group after cross-matching. As if he understood my frustration for I shrunk into my chair with a wry smile after knowing the reality, he told me, “There is nothing to lose heart. It’s the donation that matters. Your blood will be used to save somebody else’s life. All lives are precious. Aren’t they?” Handing me a juice box, he advised me not to exhaust myself and take it a bit easy. I drank the sugary drink, lying on the inclined bed, my mind wandering in yonderness.
Sitting on a bench outside the blood bank, I glanced at my watch. More than an hour passed since Poree had been taken inside the operation theatre. Why the doctors were taking so much of time? Was the cut too deep? Had she damaged some vital parts, some nerve or tendon? Suddenly I shuddered at the thought of her death. I wondered if the decision to operate was taken too late and she had lost all her blood.
The doctor who handled her case in the emergency asked me to wait in the hall that has rows of chairs facing a TV. Below the TV, behind a counter, a receptionist sat with her eyes glued to her computer screen. A few sad faced relatives were sitting around. Out of them, a woman in faded sari caught my attention. She looked nervous; her eyes were darting around as if she was looking for a familiar face. It struck me suddenly that she might be the maid servant who accompanied Poree to the hospital. I rose from my seat and sat down next to her. She acknowledged me with a gentle, soft nod.
“Is it you who brought Poree here?” I asked.
Blood returned to her pallid, nervous face.
“Yes. I brought her here. Are you Biplab?”
“Yes.” I said.
“Poree didn’t allow me to call her parents. She asked to call you instead, but I don’t know how to use her phone. It’s too complicated for me. So I called a taxi and brought her here.”
“How did she get hurt?” I ask.
“She cut herself with the kitchen knife.”
“Oh God! Why?”
“I don’t know.”
“You should have called her parents!”
“They are not in town. Besides, Poree didn’t want to inform her parents. She said she would go to hospital only if I didn`t call her parents.”
It didn’t take much time for me to understand that there was something which I didn’t know, which might explain her sad eyes. Why should a girl try to cut her own veins?
Why did she want to kill herself?
I knew the maid didn’t know much. Even if she knew she wouldn`t disclose it to me. I had no other option but to wait patiently until Poree was out of the operation theatre. It might take some time. To stitch up her cut veins must be a difficult job.
I waited. But with every minute, I grew impatient. I felt a storm inside; lots of unanswered questions struck me. I realised my simple life was going to get complicated now. I had already stepped into the stream without knowing the undercurrent. It was not as calm as it seemed like from the surface.
They got her out of the operation theatre after another hour. The receptionist suddenly came out of her undivided attention to the computer screen and called my name and announced that Poree had been shifted to room no 603 on the sixth floor. As both of us stood up, she handed us two visitor cards.
“You can go and meet her now. Talk to the doctor after you have met her.” The receptionist said.
It was a big cabin, double the size of our house and very tastefully done. Poree was sleeping on the bed, her body under the grey sheets and her left hand bandaged and hung from a bedside stand. A nurse in blue uniform was standing by the bed. The beige blinds were down, and the room was illuminated by some soft light, but at the first look I couldn’t make out its source. The air, cooled by air-conditioner, was fresh, fragrant.
I stepped in slowly, careful not to make a noise. The maid followed me. Poree was sleeping; her eyes are closed, her face a picture of serene repose and her chest was rising and falling slowly, rhythmically with each breath.
I halted a couple of steps away from the bed. Going too near might wake her. She needed the rest. As I stopped, the maid stopped too. The nurse walked up to us. She spoke in a low voice.
“She is sedated. If you want you can sit.” She pointed at the sofa at our back against the opposite wall.
Seated on the sofa, I checked my wristwatch, It was almost four now. For three hours I was away from my duty. I thought I ought to get out of there and run to the mall. Otherwise Vandana might chop a day from my casual leave. But how could I leave without speaking to Poree? Nor could I wake her up. The maid was seated like a stone statue, staring blankly.
The girl wearing the blue dress wasn’t a nurse; I found out soon. She was just an attendant, and her badge said so. On first look, when we had come in, she appeared to be somebody of some authority, but as we got accustomed to the room, its sombre silence, I could make out she didn’t have much idea about Pore’s illness. For when I asked her how long would she be asleep, she smiled helplessly and told me to ask the nurse on duty at the nurse’s cubicle which was at the end of the long corridor.
I walked up to the nurse’s cubicle. It was a semi-open area. A doctor sitting behind a computer screen was busy entering some data. The nurses, three of them, like white feisty swans which peck themselves clean following a swim, were busy on their job. I coughed to attract the doctor’s attention. He looked up from the screen vengefully as though I were a nagging housefly.
“I am the attendant of room no 603.” I informed him before he opened his mouth.
The doctor, who must be around my age, suddenly became interested in me.
“Go to the visitor’s room, I am coming.” He pointed at the door opposite to the nurse’s cubicle. I went in and took a seat. He joined me immediately.
“You are her cousin?” He asked.
I nodded, though I was not. I knew it would be painfully boring to explain to strangers about our weird relationship. Moreover, if I deviated from this already known story, things would get more complicated.
“Do you live in the same house?” He asked.
“No.” I said.
“Who else lives in that house with her?”
“Her parents. Obviously.”
“But she says she was alone!”
“She is out of her mind.” I told him to cut him short. But I suddenly got an insight of the mystery that seemed impenetrable at the onset.
I didn’t ask her where she lived. I had no chance actually. Both the encounters were brief. I had missed the opportunity to know more about her on the day she came to return my money. As I looked at it now, I felt, that day when she came to meet me she wanted to share some of her worries; the money was just an excuse. Maybe she found me suitable to whom she could confide with her secrets; dispose off some of her disquiet burden. I failed to read her mind absolutely, and therefore she went back and didn’t bother me further. Had I been more receptive and accommodative, had I gotten over my tongue-tie that day, perhaps she wouldn’t have done this!
I suddenly realised the sadness in her eyes had something to do with her family. She might have had a cold neglected childhood, might have grown up in a lonely hostile environment. Though it wouldn’t be destitution in which I grew up myself, she might have had enough material comfort for that matter, but what she lacked was perhaps the warmth and compassion. Deducing this strange conclusion, I was surprised, but somehow it helped me to answer the questions that the doctor asked me later.
“Well, she is depressed. I don’t contest it because she is on a couple of antidepressants. But she didn’t have suicidal tendencies earlier. It’s something alarming.” The doctor sighed.
I was taken aback. I never knew that she was a mental patient. The more I came to know about her, the more I was getting unsettled.
“What kind mental disease is this?” I asked.
“I am not a psychiatrist. She takes two medicines which are antidepressants. So, I deduced, she must be suffering from depression. But she said she never felt so low, unwanted before. I am just wondering what was it that made her feel so miserable and drive her to commit suicide.” He said.
Now, the picture was clearing up and I was getting to know more dark stories which I suspected hidden behind the beautiful face. That she lived alone with a maid was news to me. But having declared myself a cousin, neither could I refute now.
“Is it possible to cure her of the suicidal tendencies?” I asked him.
“It’s not like that. You can`t cure the complications without curing the disease. Unless she is cured of her illness, she will continue to have those tendencies. Why I am concerned about it is she lives alone, despite having her parents. How close are you to Chitrangada? Does she share her worries with you?” The doctor seemed to be genuinely helpful.
“Well, though I am a cousin, we got to know each other only recently. I used to live in a small town in the district. I am new to this city and just joined my first job. I am not well conversant with the type of life she is leads, you know!” I tried desperately to convey the real relationship between us without telling a lie.
The doctor is intelligent enough to understand what I meant to say.
“I get your point. She is the daughter of MP Sukhendu Das Gupta, a three-time MP from Rainagar. A very powerful person indeed! It`s not difficult to see why things are beyond your reach and comprehension.”
I stared at his face. He looked intelligent too.
“Living alone will encourage similar episodes; there is nobody to keep an eye on her.” He said worriedly.
But, what I couldn’t get into my head was how it was possible for a young girl, who doesn’t seem to work, live separately away from her parents especially when they were so well known and rich people? Who paid for her sustenance? If her parents paid why didn`t they insist her to stay with them? I found there were so many loose threads in the story that it seemed like a fictional one. Unless she cared to explain, I’d never be able to know the truth. But as the doctor said, it was not hard to understand why she was prone to repeat the same. Finally, he thanked me for being helpful to have an insight into the problem, though I felt it was me who should be thanking him for telling me so many things about the woman who seemed to have become a part of my life now.
When the doctor left the room, I called Vandana.
“I am badly stuck here in the hospital. The patient is sick, needs surgery. Will you mind if I don’t come back?”
I was almost ready to listen that I was going to lose one day casual leave, but surprisingly she told me not to worry about Cavenders and do whatever was necessary. I found, despite an arrogant air, she had a soft heart. It’s foolish to judge people on the face value some time, I learned it today.
When I went back to her cabin after an hour or so, I found Poree was sitting on her bed, propped up by a couple of pillows. Her lower body and legs were under the grey sheet and she was wearing a baby pink hospital gown, much bigger than her delicate frame. Her swan like neck was bare and the deep round neckline of the gown was low enough to expose her collarbones and a glimpse of her youthful breasts. As she noticed me at the doorstep her face brightened up. Then she cringed at her oversized shirt and clutched the neckline to cover her modesty. I went near her and covered her with a sheet.
The maid had disappeared; perhaps she had gone back to home. Poree said, “Sit down.” The uniformed attendant went out of the room offering us some privacy.
Seated on the stool, I faced Poree for the first time alone. She looked tired, pale.
“How are you feeling now?” I asked.
“Better.” She said.
“Why did you do this?” I asked.
“I wanted to die.” She said unambiguously.
Her candid confession didn’t come as surprise to me because she said it so boldly that it left no confusion about her mental state. I never had spoken to a woman who seemed so distant while seated so near to me. There was something in her eyes, impassive and indecipherable, which was tough to breach, and which would only be accessible if she volunteered to share. But this wasn’t perhaps the right occasion to prod her further, so I decided not to ask anything. Instead, I asked her if her hand was paining.
“A little bit.” She said with a wry smile on her face.
“Why didn’t you want to inform your parents?”
“They are in Delhi now. What’s the point in telling them?” she said.
“Did you tell the doctor that I was a cousin?” I asked.
“He was asking me who you were, because I gave them your number. That’s what came to my mind at that moment!” she said. “Are you angry?”
“No. I was surprised.”
I wanted to ask her why she remembered me on that frightful occasion. But I was scared to know her reasons for it was reassuring that she still counted me as one of her closest. The six months’ silence, which I presumed to be end of our friendship wasn’t really so. I adjusted my stool, brought it slightly closer to her bed and placed my hand on the edge to support myself.
Suddenly I found her right hand over my closed wrist. As I looked up, I found her breaking into muffled sobs. Befuddled by the sudden emotional outburst, I grabbed her hand within mine. She drew her hand along with mine to her face. I felt her warm mouth onto my skin, her lips quivering and then a steady flow of warm tear streamed down my hands.