“Dum spiro, spero” While I breathe, I hope
There was something torturous about waiting, especially for those who held the reins of their journey and paved their own karmic path. Waiting required unwavering faith, more than patience; faith that the next moment will bring fruits of all the minutes spent waiting, a moment filled with a sense of anticipation, filled with a sense of hope. Arnav Singh Raizada was known to pave his own karmic road and this waiting was totally new to him. He was not good at waiting, he realized, as he navigated through the streets slowly filling up with people and their automobiles. He sighed and quickly shifted the gear higher and tried to speed up his return home from the hospital.
Arnav was not on call the previous night, but had been called in for an emergency. He was prepared for it, it was part of his life now. But there were times when there were fleeting moments of selfish resentment at having to drop everything and rush. He was in the middle of having an early dinner with his son, who had been unusually talkative and particularly seeking his attention. When Arnav had to pry his little fingers off of his t-shirt there was a small part of him that didn’t particularly care for his professional obligation. But his Nani had come to his rescue, distracting his little one with a new unopened box of Legos and Mohan’s loyalties shifted seamlessly, much to Arnav’s chagrin. The memory brought a wry smile to his lips.
A distant honk broke his reverie and he shifted to a lower gear nimbly avoiding an errant auto rickshaw, carrying sacks of what looked like red onions and potatoes, not a usual means of transportation for these vegetables, he noted absently. A whiff of hospital antiseptic residue from his clothes increased his urgency to go home and shower off the remainder of his late night.
A physician’s job never ends at the end of the day, he learnt that as a resident and knew it as a practicing cardiologist now. He wouldn’t change his career for anything, even though it often disrupted his routine. There was something of personal healing that he himself went through when he was part of someone else’s healing process, and one of the many reasons did turn out to be a long night for everyone on the case, with things deteriorating for his patient very quickly. It was a routine test, but it triggered a series of heart attacks and ended with a complicated surgery. The story for his patient ended well, unlike that of many others; Mira’s tear-filled eyes reminded him achingly.
The day was barely beginning. The sky streaked a mystical orange on a blue expanse that shifted with every passing moment. Arnav let his eyes leave the empty road briefly to catch a dark silhouette of a flock of birds making their way across. The stark contrast of dark shadows and something about their harmonious flight sent a twist to his stomach. It felt like a strange sense of loss running through his spine, only to settle softly in his ribs.
Perhaps it was a restlessness, a relentless itch under his skin that he had fought to keep under tight wrap since last night. No, countered his internal voice, it was a month ago, since he stepped foot into her house. He shook his head absently, oblivious to the fact that he was alone in this conversation, it was even longer than that, the feeling of solitude forced upon him, that he had to accept and live with. Loneliness had been his most faithful and loyal companion for most of his life, far longer than the people he invited to share his life with him.
Was it possible to pinpoint the exact moment in his life?
No, he wasn’t going to do this, not slip into melancholy. There was no reason to fall into it, not now when things could be different. Arnav took a deep breath, shifting in his seat and shifting his car into a lower gear to stop at the light. He had driven on these roads for so long that he knew his way around without conscious thought. His eyes traveled back to the skies to trace the last of the birds. He could see the sliver of black disappear from his view and he stepped on the gas pedal, his mind already home.
An hour later as he stepped out of his shower, he heard his cell phone ring. Without a second thought he hurriedly picked up the phone. It was Maya. He quelled a sigh of disappointment. He seemed to be forming a strange alliance with this emotion lately and a certain hazel-eyed face came into his mind’s eye immediately.
“Hello Maya, what’s going on?
“Hey! So, Suraiya texted me and asked if she could reschedule her appointment with Mohan. She isn’t feeling well today.” Arnav could hear the traffic commotion behind Maya.
“That’s fine, I will text her and reschedule. Are you driving?”
“No! Kailash is.” Maya’s voice was laced with puzzlement. There was a significant pause before she responded. “You know that I don’t drive anymore. Why are you asking?”
Yes, of course. He knew that Maya had stopped driving unless it was a life-threatening situation. He shook his head to clear his obvious befuddlement. It was probably the long sleepless night at the hospital that was messing him up. He shouldn’t have asked her that question. She was not going to let it go, he was sure.
“So, how did that emergency go last night? Did you get back just now?” Maya asked.
“It was long and complicated. But it was ok in the end. And yes, I got back just a little while ago. Maya, can I call you back later if there’s nothing else? I just got out of the shower and I need to get dressed.” And eat his stomach protested.
Arnav heard a quick intake of breath and he paused in his action to disconnect. Maya was known to do this often, wait a breath or two before she hung up or continued the phone conversation. He was used to her, used to it, so he waited.
“Er…” She began, then quickly rattled off. “I heard from Nani that GD went to the airport to pick up your friends very late in the night? Was it an international flight, because only international flights come in so late. Right Kailash?” Maya’s voice was quickly replaced by a male voice.
“Hello Arnav, we are at the hospital now and I am disconnecting the call. You can thank me later. Enjoy your day off.” That was Kailash. He could hear Maya’s outraged murmur and a quiet click of the phone call disconnecting. Arnav shook his head, laughed softly and thanked the man silently as he put the phone back on his night stand. He needed to eat his breakfast soon. He could feel his blood sugar falling low, and he got dressed quickly.
With his head bent over his phone, fingers working busily on the keyboard, Arnav strode down the stairs. Sumitra Raizada gave her grandson a long look. There was something different about him, she was unable to put her finger on it. It was a rare occasion when she and her oldest grandson shared a morning meal. He was either rushing to the hospital during the weekdays or was off running in the morning during weekends. But he was here today and she was glad.
Arnav looked up from his phone and said, “Good morning Nani, have you seen GD this morning?”
“His name is ‘Gangadhar,’ and what a beautiful name it is! Call him by the name that his parents have blessed him with.” Sumitra felt compelled to lecture on the merits of names given.
Arnav sported a sheepish grin and said, “Yes Nani. But have you seen Gangadhar this morning?”
“He was here. He dropped Mohan off at school and has gone to fill petrol in the car. He should be here soon.” Walking towards their dining table, Sumitra Raizada asked, “Are you going to have breakfast with me today?”
“I would love to join you Nani, if you haven’t eaten yet. Should I check your BP first before you eat?”
Sumitra Raizada had developed hypertension, not unusual for a person of her age. But Arnav was not one to make light of her health. He turned to walk back to his room to get his electronic sphygmometer when he was stopped by Sumitra.
“Not now my darling, let me enjoy your company first without being your patient. It’s been so long since you and I talked.” Slowly pulling him towards the dining table, Sumitra continued, “Why don’t you tell me about your trip to the US?”
She gave him a pointed look and said, “It has been that long. And while we are on the subject of health, how are your blood sugar levels now?” His diabetes was her defense to his demands to check on her health.
Arnav has developed Type II diabetes a few months after Mohan was born. His physician attributed it to the stress of Mohan’s birth and situations he had to deal with thereafter. But he had worked hard to keep his blood sugar under control with exercise and diet. His Nani’s strict and orderly regiment of menus and meal times had worked to help him maintain his health. His diabetes was also one of her many ammunitions against his concern for her health. It was a counter argument for his insistence on checking on her needlessly, in her opinion. She was a tough partner in this exchange of theirs and he loved her for it.
Both of them sat at the table and Leeladhar, Gangadhar’s younger brother, began serving them. Sumitra Raizada firmly believed that a family that ate its meals together solved its problems together. Even when it was just her and Mohan, she insisted on some degree of ceremony and Mohan seemed to have an appreciation for it.
Arnav knew that he was lucky to have Sumitra Raizada in his life. His Nani had to raise her two grandchildren when Arnav and Anjali’s parents died in a car accident when they were just fourteen and twelve years old respectively. It wasn’t easy for her, as a recent widow, having to raise two teenage grandchildren on top of losing her daughter and her son-in-law. But she was a survivor and a fighter and she had prevailed for him and his sister. There was little surprise that Arnav found a natural affinity towards his Nani. It was Anjali who struggled with both, with their parents’ death and her teenage years.
He was truly grateful for the blessings he had in his life. Looking at his Nani across the table, he was overcome with emotion. He reached across and held her hand with his free one. Startled, Sumitra Raizada looked up to find her grandson offer her an embarrassed smile. She squeezed his hand and returned his smile with her own.
“I’m sorry Nani, if I have been so busy that I have neglected to spend time with you. It’s just that…” Looking away, Arnav tried to take his hand out of his Nani’s grasp. But she held his hand and nodded as if asking him to continue.
Something… no, someone seems to have taken residence in his thoughts lately that he was …..
He shook his head instead and said, “It’s nothing Nani. I’ve just been preoccupied with things.” He never could lie to her blatantly when he was a child and he couldn’t now even as an adult.
“Suraiya will not be able to make it today for her session with Mohan. I have to reschedule it Nani.”
Nani nodded her head. Mohan needed these sessions. She could see that they were helping him communicate better than he did before. It was Arnav’s initiative and Mohan’s pediatrician’s recommendation that brought Suraiya into their lives. The little boy had some challenges, she knew. Both Maya and Arnav were great parents and somehow that never changed even after their divorce.
Sumitra Raizada looked closely at her grandson and decided to ask him that question that was niggling in her mind since last night.
“Gangadhar mentioned that he went to receive some friends of yours at the airport last night. He came back late and I haven’t had a chance to talk to him after he got back. Did your friends land and reach home safely? Do they have family here in Delhi? Is that why they aren’t here, in our house?”
Arnav raised his head to answer and found his Nani’s direct gaze unnerving. He felt his blood rise in his neck and he quickly dropped his own eyes.
What the? A curse rang in his head. He was a grown man for Christ’s sake!
He straightened his back and met his Nani’s gaze, “Yes Nani. This is a friend of mine from many years ago. I met her in the US when I went there, this time. She lost her husband to a sudden cardiac arrest.” He looked at his Nani and found sympathy in her gaze.
“Oh! That is sad, Arnav.”
“She has family here, her Buaji stays in Delhi” Arnav continued. His spoon made mindless designs on his plate while his mind’s eye saw the faces of Mira and Khushi.
“She was traveling with her daughter and mother-in-law and flew in really late. I offered to pick her up, but couldn’t go at the last minute because of an emergency. So, GD.. err.. Gangadhar went instead.”
Sumitra Raizada nodded her head in agreement and continued eating. But she was quick to notice the warming of Arnav’s face at the mention of these friends. Sumitra’s curiosity was piqued, but she had the advantage of wisdom and patience that came with her age. She decided that she would wait and learn slowly.
“Have you heard from them?”
“No, Khushi .. That’s her name.. She hasn’t called yet. But am sure she will soon.” Arnav took his phone out as if to check for messages. He looked like he had something else on his mind. He leaned back in his chair and asked with an unusual hesitancy, “Nani, I would like to invite them over here for lunch or dinner sometime. Is it okay with you? I was hoping that Mohan can meet Mira, Khushi’s eight year old daughter?”
“Of course Arnav.. this is your home as much as it is mine. You can invite anyone you like at any time.” Sumitra was surprised at Arnav’s request and more so with his tentativeness. Her eyes perused his face for clues as a thought crossed her mind.
“What beautiful names, Mohan and Mira.. as if they were made for each other.”
Quickly squelching that errant and unfinished thought Arnav looked around to see if he could spot GD, and said, “I’ll check with Gangadhar. Is he back yet?”
“It is a good name” Sumitra Raizada muttered, although her face sported a teasing glint as she shared a look with her grandson. Arnav’s face broke into a big grin. “Yes, Nani.” In that moment Sumitra Raizada saw the full circle of time. In that moment, it was Mohan’s grin on Arnav’s face, a son’s smirk reflected on his father’s face. She stood up and dropped a kiss on Arnav’s head and ran her hand down his back. They are never too old for this, she thought as she walked into the kitchen.
There was a loudness to the land, a level of sound that made its presence known no matter what time of the day or night it was. But it was the type of sound that marked if it was day or night. Khushi was woken up from her sleep by the steady rhythm of pressure cooker whistles and blaring news reports from the television sets of her Buaji’s neighbors. On one side was a softer bhajan rendered by one of the music stalwarts that her Buaji liked to listen to every morning, and on the other side was the incessant ringing of the bicycle bells announcing eggs or bread or leafy greens to be sold.
Khushi closed her eyes once again, reveling in the way memories were cascading over her. She used to call out to those vendors by name when she sat on her Buaji’s small apartment balcony those early morning hours she spent studying. She knew each vendor by name and knew their life stories in some instances, much to Buaji’s chagrin.
Why was it that when she left India, she left all these memories as well? Why was it always that every time she visited, these memories returned like homing pigeons? Why was it that they felt familiar like old shoes?
She stretched, or at least she tried to, but was firmly ensconced in Mira’s arm that was around her chest. She turned her head and saw the top of her curls and sweat beads forming on her forehead. The rotating fan was trying its best but thankfully Mira’s exhaustion kept her oblivious to the heat and humidity.
Slowly extricating herself from her child’s arms, Khushi walked towards the table with her toiletries. Her eyes caught sight of the cell phone that Arnav had sent through his driver. Her hand slowly reached for it. The newness of the phone gleamed at Khushi as she ran her fingers over it, repeating as though her fingers could discern things that she couldn’t.
What was she supposed to make of this gesture? Why did he send his driver? And send the phone with him? She knew now that he would have been there at the airport if not for that emergency. What was she to make of that?
She knew that she had to call him and thank him. Making a mental list of things to do, Khushi walked towards the bathroom. She could hear voices from Buaji’s living room. Buaji’s phone conversations were notoriously loud. NK used to make a joke out of her rather loud voice.
I think Buaji would have made a great Captain in the army.
Buaji must have been the town crier in her previous life.
Buaji doesn’t need that damned instrument, I think that the whole city heard her announcing that we are here!
Biting her lip to keep from smiling too broadly, she walked towards the living room to catch the rest of the phone conversation.
“Oh! That was such a nice thing you did! Thank you so much for sending the car. Gangadhar is a gem of a person. He made our lives so much better last night, he simply took over.” Buaji’s ample arms were gesticulating grand blessings.
Khushi quickly realized that the person on the other end of the phone was none other than the one on her mind and tried to leave the room as quietly as she could. It looked like Buaji was listening to something that Arnav was saying.
“They are asleep right now. I will ask her to call you when she wakes up. She has your cell phone with her. I just wanted to thank you personally dear.” Buaji turned to find Manorama standing by her and she nodded her head towards the phone.
“And Arnav, I was wondering if you could come over for lunch today? That way you can meet Khushi and Mira and I can offer my gratitude.” There was a pause and Buaji continued, “No! I insist. You know our address. We will look forward to you coming over then.”
That stopped Khushi in her tracks.
He is coming over for lunch? Today? Here? Didn’t he have to go to the hospital or something?
She shook her head and rushed into the bathroom. She needed all the time she had to ….
He was just a friend. Buaji was returning his kindness with her own. That was it. That was all it was.
Not wanting to dwell anymore, Khushi quickly went about getting ready for this meeting that she was not prepared for.
Buaji was bustling between the kitchen and the dining room. The corner of the living room closest to the kitchen hosted a small dining table. Manorama was in the kitchen, preparing the meal and both older women quickly dismissed Khushi from the kitchen. She wished she had something to do. She looked around the small apartment and there was not much she needed to do. It was spic and span, with colorful cushions that Buaji embroidered herself. There were photographs of Buaji’s late husband, pictures of her parents and one picture of herself with her parents just a few months before they were killed in a bus accident. There were so many framed photographs of Mira from all ages and a few with NK. All the photographs of Mira were taken by NK and every time he visited Buaji, he would fill her walls with photographs of all of them. It was his silent gratitude to her, for accepting him into her ample heart.
Khushi’s eyes traveled all over these photographs and came back to the one when she was twelve. She walked closer to the wall that housed that picture. There was something about that photograph that always drew her. It felt like she was looking at a stranger, not at herself. There was something in that image of herself that she could no longer recognize as her own. That girl in the photograph looked like her. But there was a disconnect there, the older Khushi couldn’t recognize the girl in the photograph.
Is that even possible? That girl looks like me, but I don’t remember being her. Does death steal emotional memories as well?
Her eyes were glued to the picture when she felt a tug at her arm. It was Mira, with a look of question on her face. With impatience, she pushed the sweat dampened curls away and asked, “Why are you looking at that picture like that mommy?”
“Like what honey?” Khushi wiped Mira’s sweat with the sleeve of her kurta and pinned her curls back.
“Like you don’t like it. Aren’t those your parents? My Nana and Nani? Don’t you like that photograph mommy?”
“Yes, they are your Nana and Nani. I like looking at it. Sometimes, like today, I find it hard to recognize myself in that picture darling. That’s all.” Khushi reassured Mira.
Mira nodded her head sagely. “You mean you don’t remember the feeling of being that kid in the photograph?”
Shocked at Mira’s intuitive understanding, Khushi just nodded her head. How could her young child pick up those emotions so effortlessly at such a young age, she wondered.
Distracted by her iPad, Mira quickly went back to the game she was playing. She looked adorable in her pink shorts and white top with spaghetti straps, glasses sliding down her slim nose due to sweat.
She looked up at her mother and asked, “When is ASR going to be here? Is he coming to lunch?”
“Soon” Khushi responded. She decided to text Arnav instead of calling.
Hi and good morning Arnav! Thank you once again for the car and Gangadhar’s help last night. He was a life saver for us, a wonderful person. And thank you for this phone you sent through him.
Within a few seconds there was a ping on her phone.
Welcome Khushi. It was no bother, both – car and the phone as I told you before. I couldn’t make it, had an emergency at the hospital. Hope you, Mira, and Aunty were able to sleep a bit?
Yes we did, thank you. I guess we will see you in a little while. I hope this isn’t inconvenient for you.
Seeing you or having lunch with you and your family?
What was she supposed to say to that? She cursed herself for walking right into that one. Damn it.
I meant driving all this way in this traffic.
When you’ve flown miles and miles across oceans and time, what’s a little traffic? 😉 See you in a little while.
She was left gazing at the phone.
He was a master at having the last word, she remembered. It was a running joke between them, who could squeeze the last word in. She bit her cheeks to stop her lips from smiling.
“Why are you smiling mommy?” Mira’s question brought her back from her reverie and she realized that she was indeed smiling. She shook her head silently and said, “ASR should be here soon.”
She walked into the kitchen to see if she could be of any help. She needed to find something to do before she lost her mind.
Manorama came out of the kitchen at the same time, wiping her hands. Khushi looked at her mother-in-law’s tired face and said, “Amma, you should have let me help you. Will you please sit down now? I can set the table and clean up the kitchen.” So saying, Khushi quickly led Manorama to the couch and pushed on her shoulders gently to have her sit next to Mira. She pulled the coffee table closer to Manorama and raised her legs to rest on top of the table. She could see her mother-in-law’s swollen feet from the long flight. She was sure her arthritis had flared up as well.
She felt Manorama’s hand on her head and when she raised her eyes, she could see a wet sheen in her eyes.
“What happened Amma? Are your legs hurting a lot? Shall I call the doctor?” Concern tumbled in the form of questions, one over another. “Where are your medicines? Did you take them this morning?”
Manorama shook her head and said, “Who said blood is thicker than water? You are my daughter in exchange, you know? When you married my Naren, I got you as a daughter in exchange. You are my daughter in every way possible.” Sniffing her tears away, Manorama pulled Khushi into her arms with Mira and Nandini Buaji watching the exchange.
Khushi allowed herself to be enveloped into Manorama’s embrace. It was a place that was closest to her memory of her own mother, right next to her Buaji. But noting the time, she gently extricated herself and said, “I better get the kitchen cleaned and ready before ASR shows up.”
Manorama nodded her head while noting the rush of pink into her daughter-in-law’s cheeks. The animation in her face and the color in her cheeks brought a sense of relief to Manorama. It reminded her of Khushi when her Naren was alive. Looking at Khushi walking into the kitchen now, she wasn’t sure what she was supposed to glean from this observation.
Soon the kitchen was cleaned and the dining room looked like it was ready to host a lunch party. There were sounds of a violin being tuned and played by young Mira, a new Minuet that she was learning. The fans were whirring at precarious speeds trying to dispel the afternoon heat. It felt like Khushi’s heartbeat matched the fan’s speeds even as she tried to take deep breaths to calm herself down.
Waiting was a bitch. She was never good at waiting. She was of the kind who’d rather be the first in line and get the injection instead of delaying it.
Really? Waiting to meet Arnav Singh Raizada is the same as getting a shot? This won’t do, Khushi, go find something else to do.
She walked into the bedroom that Buaji had assigned to the three of them, and quickly began unpacking her suitcases.
The bell rang and along with that sound, Khushi felt her heart slip and drop to her stomach. If she thought that her heart raced earlier, it felt like it was about to cease now.
Stop it. Just stop this.
Khushi reprimanded herself and walked to the door to open it.
He’s just a friend. That’s all it is. Just a friend. Remember, just a friend.
A mantra repeating itself in her mind, she opened the door with a smile affixed on her face.
The sun hit her eyes as soon as she opened the door. All she could see was the shadowed silhouette of his tall figure and a low husky voice, “Khushi Kumari Gupta.”
Khushi moved away from the light and opened her scrunched eyes to see a pair of warm ones gazing down at her with mirth.
“Arnav Singh Raizada!” She said softly, returning a smile that felt more human than the one she had earlier. “Really nice to see you again, come in.”
Should she shake his hand? Would a hug be inappropriate?
Before she had the time to decide, Mira had sidled up to Khushi’s side and peeked over her mother’s arm and offered a shy greeting herself, “Hi ASR!” Her face partially hidden behind her mother, offering only a part of her smile.
Immediately he knelt down and offered his hand to shake hers. “Hello Mira! How are you? I am so happy to see you.” When Mira offered her hand to shake his, he tilted his head a bit and said, “But I was hoping to see the whole entire you.”
Mira giggled as she came around her mother and grabbed Arnav’s neck for an impulsive hug.
Surprised he drew her close to himself with care and returned her hug as he rubbed her back. It looked like both of them felt at home in that hug. There were three pairs of eyes witnessing this exchange between Arnav and Mira and none of them were unmoved by the child’s unabashed display of affection.
Buaji bustled out and busily exclaimed, “Come inside beta!” Chastising Khushi, she said, “Get our guest inside Khushi. He is sitting on the floor at the entrance.”
“Hello Arnav. Please come inside..” It was Manorama now.
Arnav disentangled Mira’s arms from his neck. But kept his arm around her shoulders as he walked inside the house. And Mira didn’t seem to object to being close to him.
Khushi stayed at the door, transfixed at the sight that her daughter made with this tall man, walking alongside as if she had done it all her young life. It raised her hackles and mobilized her from her trance. She quickly moved behind Arnav and placed her hand on Mira’s shoulder.
Mira turned around and said, “Mommy! You are pulling me.”
Before she had a chance to respond, Manorama chimed in. “Nice to see you again in Delhi. Thank you so much for Gangadhar and the car.”
Arnav, whose attention was on the exchange between Khushi and Mira, moved his eyes to meet Manorama’s.
“Namaste Aunty. It was no problem at all. My Nani asked me to tell you that she would love to have an opportunity to meet with you soon.” He moved his gaze to include Buaji first, Mira next and finally rested on Khushi. “All of you, sometime soon. I hope you will find some time to visit us in Shantivan.”
Arnav had left his gaze to rest on Khushi. He could see that something made her uncomfortable. He made room between himself and Mira and looked around the living room to sit. His move seemed to catalyze the rest to rearrange themselves in the room, making motions of finding a spot for him to sit. In all the maneuvers by Buaji and Manorama, Arnav realized that Mira found a seat next to him. Manorama and Buaji moved to the kitchen under the pretext of getting lunch organized, leaving the three of them alone.
Khushi stood behind the rattan couch opposite to Mira and Arnav, watching her daughter, who, despite being a bit shy, chose to sit right next to Arnav, and that too closer than she normally did. Curiosity got the better of the mother at her child’s natural preference.
Children seemed to be willing to take risks with relationships with great ease. She wondered if they mended faster than adults.
Catching Khushi’s gaze, Arnav raised an eyebrow as if in question. She shook her head with a small smile on her face. Resting his arm around Mira’s slim shoulders, Arnav asked, “Aren’t you jetlagged? Not sleepy?”
Mira shook her head shyly. Her bright eyes behind her glasses shone with happiness. “Your ..er.. driver…” Mira turned towards her mother and asked, “What’s his name Mommy? The man who brought us home from the airport?”
“Gangadhar” replied both Arnav and Khushi. “You can call him GD, although you better learn to call him by his full name, Gangadhar, in front of my Nani. She gets really upset with me when I call him GD!” Arnav concluded with a grin on his face.
“You are scared of your Nani?” Mira asked with wonder in her eyes. There was someone that could inspire fear in Arnav Singh Raizada? The young mind could not fathom such a possibility. Then quickly reminded of her earlier query, Mira continued, “GD, said that you had to go to the hospital for an emergency?”
Arnav could see that Mira’s question had a part that she couldn’t seem to articulate, but her face and eyes conveyed her anxiety. It pinched his heart that a child so young keenly felt the consequence of an emergency in a hospital. He took his time reassuring her.
“Yes. He is fine now… My patient.. He will be fine.” He scooted closer to Mira and took her hands into his own. “Do you want to know what happened?” He was sure she had questions. He hoped he had the answers, nay, he hoped he had the courage to give her honest answers.
As he waited for Mira’s questions, he found Khushi had moved to sit next to her daughter, close enough that Mira could lean behind into her mother’s lap. He looked up to find her eyes shifting from her daughter to him, wary and anxious, her hands drawing Mira closer to her. In that moment, all three of them were in a tight circle, with Mira in the middle.
“Do all of your patients get better?” Mira’s voice thinned towards the end of that question.
Arnav shook his head. “No, not all of them get better. Some patients don’t make it. But some do.” He stopped and waited for Mira to process what he said.
“What happens when they don’t make it?” Her look was resolute. She looked like she wanted to know.
He met the child’s gaze with honesty and said, “We try everything we can to help that patient. But if he or she doesn’t make it, we feel very sad and then have the sad job of informing their family.”
He could see Mira’s eyes filling with tears and Khushi’s eyes as well. There was a lump forming in his own throat. “Is that what happened to your Appa?” He helped her ask the question himself.
Mira nodded quietly, her tears spilling down her cheeks. He found Khushi nodding almost unconsciously in agreement. It was a sight that rendered a blow to his heart. He wanted to wrap both of them into himself and absorb their pain. Instead, he reached out and pulled Mira into a hug.
Enfolded in each other, all they heard were sounds of their lunch getting ready, cups being filled, low tones of conversations between Buaji and Manorama. When Mira took a deep shuddering breath and tried to wriggle out of the embrace, both adults moved back self consciously.
Khushi quickly dashed her tears away from her face. She had been transfixed, unable to say anything, watching this exchange between her daughter and Arnav. It was a new kind of pain that her heart had to endure when she witnessed her child express grief and pain to someone other than herself.
“You know, I am glad that your patient is feeling better. I am really glad that you were able to help him, ASR.” There was a tentative smile on Mira’s face.
In that moment, Arnav Singh Raizada fell completely and irrevocably in love with Mira. She had wormed her way into his heart with her renewed sense of hope. His face broke into a big smile and he nodded his head in agreement. There were no words necessary as Khushi and Arnav exchanged a look and a smile. In that moment, they were two parents marveling at the wisdom that children bequeathed to the world. And in that moment, there were two more, watching from the kitchen, who bore witness to the happiness that these young people could have, if they chose to.
AN: A very belated seasons’ greetings. I hope the festivities were full of love, warmth, and joy. I cannot thank you enough for reading this story, reading my sporadic, inconsistent writing and updates. Some days words are a deluge, some days they leave me parched. A steady stream would be a blessing. 🙂 Until next time then. ❤