“Rhea! Just pick one.” Impatience was evident in her tone.
Rhea closed her eyes and started humming, what sounded like some sort of rhyme in song, while jabbing her index finger in the air to its beat – left, right, left, right. . .
When the song ended, Rhea announced, “The left one goes to the foyer, the right one in the ballroom,” and with a flourish of her arm, she directed the two men in waiting, to wheel out the elaborate floral centre pieces to their destinations.
Namrita rolled her eyes. “I don’t see why you have to be so melodramatic all the time,” she said, as the men left. Rhea grinned, “You really need to learn to have some fun, Partner. We plan weddings for God’s sake. Feel the love around you. Breathe in the excitement.” Holding Namrita by her shoulders, she inhaled a deep breath and sighed, her eyebrows dancing their crazy jig. Namrita smiled inwardly as she shook her head and turned to check her notes.
“Okay then, since everything else is done and the bride is finally ready, I’m off to change,” said Rhea. “I’ll see you in the Sapphire Ballroom in 15 minutes,” and she darted out.
Mentally ticking of her checklist, Namrita stopped for a final look in the ornate full-length mirror set up in their workspace. Today, she was feeling exceptionally proud of their achievements. Seven years of planning weddings together; they had finally arrived on the scene. Their résumé now boasted of some of the finest events, planned for the wealthiest families in the city.
Namrita locked the door behind her and headed towards the elevator lobby. She remembered the day Rhea had introduced herself, while moving vans were unloading furniture next door. Namrita had been reading a book in the front lawn, when Rhea poked her head over the wall, asking for directions to the neighbourhood market. Something had fluttered inside Namrita, which she couldn’t quite decipher back then. She knew now that it was the day the seeds for a deep friendship had been sown.
By the time they went to college, they were inseparable. They took active part in most extracurricular activities and soon realised their mutual joy in organising college events. Wedding planning had happened purely by chance when a senior, impressed with their work, had asked them to help out with her brother’s engagement ceremony. They had turned this opportunity into a business by the time they graduated.
As Namrita entered the ballroom, her phone rang. It was Rhea. “Hey, I’m having trouble with my saree. I need help.”
Namrita groaned, “I just got here. You want me to come back upstairs?”
“Pleaaassseee”, she implored. “You are my one and only. My true soulmate.”
Her words tugged at Namrita’s heartstrings. No matter what the situation, Namrita couldn’t ever refuse Rhea anything. She paused mid-step and retraced her steps to the elevator.
Rhea was standing in the room, waiting; her palm curled into a fist while resting on the curve of her hip, clutching the untidy pleats of her saree. She could have been a model standing at a photoshoot. Everything about her was heart-stopping gorgeous. Her lithe figure, the even toned skin, her minimalistic make-up, even the pale yellow chiffon saree that was too yellow for Namrita’s liking.
On seeing her, Rhea casually held her arms out, her eyes discreetly following Namrita’s movements while Namrita refolded the pleats to pin them in place.
Like always, Rhea found her emotions teetering on the tip of her tongue, poised to fly out of her mouth like a butterfly evading capture. Yet something held her back. Though they bonded on a deeply emotional level, Rhea was afraid to confess her love to Namrita. It was a dangerous risk that would most likely cost her the best relationship she ever had. A risk that was a deal breaker. And so, like always, Rhea once again chose to ignore her truant thoughts.
“What time are you leaving tomorrow?” Namrita broke the silence.
“I have to report at the hospital at 12:00pm,” replied Rhea. Namrita nodded.
“I really wish this wasn’t happening now, when we finally had some time on our hands”, Rhea continued. “But this team of specialists from USA is here only this week, so my procedure can’t be rescheduled. Honestly though, I wonder how much more are they going to poke around inside me, before they are satisfied of my normalcy. After all, I have survived 27 years with two hearts.”
Namrita looked up and smiled. It was true. For a person born with two hearts, the rarest of rare occurrence in all humanity, it was a miracle that she lived as normal a life as any other person. In fact, her condition came with some unbeatable health advantages. “I’m just glad you got through the worst of it. All those public protests and the media outcry; I don’t know how you lived through it. I wouldn’t have survived a day. Thankfully, it ended when it did.”
Rhea patted her chest. “Strength lies here, in our heart. I just happen to be blessed with two. So I get double strength!” She winked.
Namrita continued to fiddle with the end of Rhea’s saree, adjusting the drape over her shoulder. She watched Rhea’s lips move, each syllable a soft whisper that felt like a cool breeze on her face. She wondered what it would be like to kiss Rhea.
Her thoughts were broken when she felt a sharp nudge on her side and realised Rhea was still talking to her.
“. . . And these doctors need a subject for research, which happens to be me. All tests results are looking good. So there is nothing to worry about. I will be home in no time and then we will have a grand celebration.” Rhea placed one arm on Namrita’s shoulder and added, “Right now, it’s time we do some work,” and she led her out of the room. The guests would start arriving anytime now and they needed to be there to ensure a smooth ceremony.
Tired from all the running around over the last few days, Namrita slept in the next morning. By the time she got ready and went next door to check on Rhea, she had already left for the hospital with her parents.
Namrita pottered around the house during the day, deciding to visit Rhea at the hospital in the evening. Her procedure was due tomorrow so she would be in a patient room today, with doctors only monitoring her vitals.
She arrived with a bunch of white carnations, a symbol of pure love and good luck. On entering the room, Namrita was shocked to find Rhea hooked up to a multitude of machines and monitors. She rushed to her. “What happened? Are you alright?”
Overjoyed at seeing Namrita, Rhea beckoned her for the flowers while someone momentarily peeked from behind a newspaper. She held them under her nose and inhaled their fragrance. Namrita pulled them away and placed them on the side table.
“What’s wrong? What are all these machines for?” she asked again, feeling anxious.
“Oh this is nothing. These young cardiologists, no matter how handsome”, she sighed, whispering the last part softly, “are overly cautious. They want to monitor everything. I. Mean. Everything. Hence, all these tuneless musical instruments for my audio pleasures. And with two hearts, I get to enjoy twice as much!” Rhea clapped her hands in mock excitement.
“What do you mean?” Namrita looked from Rhea to the gentleman hidden by the newspaper.
“She means this is just standard observation. There is nothing to worry about”, answered Rhea’s father as he stood up, folding the paper under his arm. Namrita turned back to look at Rhea who was nodding furiously, with a giant grin plastered on her face.
“I am going to get some coffee. Do you girls need anything?”
“No,” both answered together.
“Okay then. Just keep the drama under control till I get back”, he said, smiling on his way out.
Namrita sat down at the foot of Rhea’s bed. “Seriously, are you okay?” she asked.
“Of course! Now tell me what’s new! Any new clients?”
“Maybe. . . We can discuss it later.” Namrita tried to hide her joy but Rhea was so attuned to her expressions, she immediately guessed something exciting was in store.
“No no, now. Tell me now,” she pushed.
“Well, there was an email today from Umbrella Talkies. They want to meet and talk about an event.”
“Umbrella Talkies. . . Umbrella Talk. . .” Rhea repeated the name, trying to remember where she knew it from.
“Hey! Aren’t they that big film production house in Bombay? The owner’s daughter is apparently dating Bollywood heartthrob Kabir Malhotra.”
“There’s more,” said Namrita, hardly able to conceal her excitement now. “Rumour is that they are getting married. Both sets of parents have given their blessings and the wedding is being planned for early next year.”
Rhea grabbed hold of Namrita’s hands and squealed with delight. “Say yes! Tell them we’ll do it. We are available.”
Namrita beamed at Rhea’s enthusiasm. “Easy, Partner. Try not to get ahead of yourself. They just want to meet us first. Let’s wait and see what it is about.”
“Whatever it is, we will do it. I am not going to miss an opportunity to meet Kabir Malhotra.”
“Okay, okay, I will let them know.”
Since visiting hours were almost over, Namrita rose to leave. She hugged Rhea, lingering just a little longer than necessary and left as Rhea’s father returned.
With nothing to do, Namrita felt bored the next day. When they were not working, the girls would usually go out shopping or watch a movie. Today, she decided to help her mother around the kitchen garden.
Towards evening, she thought she might go back to the hospital. However, she was unsure if Rhea would be through with the procedure. So she called Rhea’s mother to check but her phone kept ringing; there was no response. She dialled her father next, whose phone was switched off. She gathered they must be busy.
Early next morning, Namrita was woken by a buzzing sound. Feeling disoriented, it took her a few seconds to realise it was the vibration from her phone. The number displayed on screen was unknown and Namrita was in half a mind to ignore it. However, there was something persistent about the ring so she swiped a finger to accept the call.
“Namrita, it’s me. Priya”, said the caller.
Namrita immediately sat up. “Priya? What’s wrong? Where are you?’ She hoped everything was alright with her cousin. Priya’s mother, Namrita’s aunt, was a heart patient.
“At the hospital. They called to say a donor heart just became available so I rushed here. They are wheeling mom into surgery right now.” Priya’s voice was shaking.
“That’s wonderful news”, Namrita encouraged her.
There was a long pause after which Priya said, “I am scared Namrita. Can you come down here?”
Namrita was already out of bed, putting on her shoes and picking up her handbag.
“I didn’t want to worry your parents, but I could really use your support,” she added.
“Of course. I’m on my way.”
Namrita found Priya pacing the floor, in the empty visitor’s lobby. She sat her down and poured her a cup of coffee.
“The doctor said it is a healthy heart and they were lucky that the donor was in-house,” Priya explained.
“What caused this heart to be donated”, asked Namrita.
“I don’t know. They wouldn’t give me any details. Just said the donor wished to remain anonymous. I had given up all hope when their call came today. This is a blessing.”
Namrita sent up a silent prayer of thanks and asked that the donor’s soul rest in peace.
The surgery took place over five hours. When the doctor came out he explained there had been a few complications but the operation had been successful. Priya’s mother would be under observation for the next couple of days.
Once Priya’s mother was wheeled into the ICU, Namrita sent Priya home to shower and eat while she herself went to check up on Rhea. She had tried calling Rhea’s parents a couple of times and, being unable to get through, was beginning to worry.
Finding the room empty, Namrita enquired at the Nurses station and was told Rhea was in surgery. Confused, she asked again and the nurse directed her to the operating room.
Namrita ran through the hospital corridors and found Rhea’s parents huddled outside operating room D.
With her heart beating like a percussion orchestra, she tapped Rhea’s mother on the shoulder and noticed her eyes were red. She had been crying. Seeing Namrita, she pulled her to herself and wept. Rhea’s father seemed to be lost faraway. Namrita felt her eyes brim with tears and a slow stream began to trickle down.
The team of heart specialists had been researching Rhea’s condition over the last 17 years and had run extensive tests on her. On the second day of her hospital stay, they explained to her that two hearts were prone to greater risks in later years and a surgery would be advisable now when she was young and healthy, making it easier for her to recover. Also, they had a perfect match for her spare heart; a patient who had been waiting for a long time and would likely not survive if she did not undergo a transplant at the earliest. After years of study, they had concluded there was absolutely no risk to Rhea.
In the spur of the moment, Rhea decided to go ahead, if for nothing else but to save another life. Between the devil and the deep blue sea, Rhea choose the sea where there was a chance to swim to safety.
Rhea was pronounced dead at 8:00am that morning. Her twin hearts couldn’t bear to be separated and when one was removed, the other gave a desperate cry for help. Doctors tried to save her but her lifeline had already been severed.
A few days later, Rhea’s mother handed Namrita a sealed package. She had found it among Rhea’s things. ‘For Namrita – Open if I am dead’, it read.
The package contained a journal.
Rhea had once joked about how she would, some day, write her memoir. Convinced that it would be bigger than the greatest Indian novel ever written, Namrita had supplied her with an empty journal and they had sat down to write the first chapter.
Rhea had made her promise that if she died before completing it, it would be up to Namrita to write it for her.
Namrita opened it to read the first and only entry.
‘Are you sure, Rhea?’ asks my mother.
‘Of course I am. Survival of the fittest, mother. I’m not going against Darwin. Also I don’t want unnecessary scars on my body.’
It’s a known fact that we are all born to die. And frankly, I don’t understand why it has to be made into such a big deal. If it were not for my mother I would have said that to the bunch of people outside my house, some of them with young kids, shouting slogans, waving placards, literally wanting me to cut one of my beating hearts out. "Save A Life. Donate!" they shout.
For someone who is one in billions, 7.125 billion to be exact, I expect to be treated better. Scientists are still befuddled regarding my condition that gave me two hearts in my mother’s womb. But years of research and sticking needles into me have led them nowhere, and they have labelled me as a freak mutation. It’s so rare - literally one in all humankind - that they didn’t even name the anomaly (as they call it, I will call it awesomeness). I wanted to name the condition myself, something on the lines of Rhea’s Heartsawesome but the doctors aren’t thrilled with the suggestion. Instead they want to cut one of them out and save a life. Huh?
An IQ of 180, increased concentration, exceptional athleticism and a phenomenal metabolism rate - are just the few boring benefits of an increased blood circulation. Why would I ever give that up?
Namrita drew in a deep breath and turned the page over. Pulling up a chair, she sat down and started to write Rhea’s story.