Short story narrating the force of gratitude.
Author : Naval Langa
PEOPLE WERE UNABLE TO SWALLOW the idea. Nor my staffs working under me could decode the thing. It was not the case they were unconcerned about Madame’s health. They loved Madame, our boss, too much; they all were worried about her illness, too. Doctors had said that her kidneys were non-functioning; she lived on doses of regular dialysis. My assistant Kapila had vowed to go to temple of Lord Shiva for whole of the month, walking barefooted; Shariff, our peon had vowed to fast for one week. But no one understood my decision: my decision to donate one of my kidneys to Madame.
But I worried for Vijay, the man who had conjured up a life with me. It is just one year before I had met him. But from the very first day he is a non-erasable impression on my soul. Whenever I see him, I feel that I am not alone in this world. I felt I needed an explanation to him regarding why I was donating my kidney to Madame. Coping with the weakness of my tongue, I decided to use pen and paper. I wrote about my past, everything about my life before I came to this city.
If you are planning anything about your life keeping me in mind, this is what you should know. You know I have decided to donate a kidney to Madame. My life lives on two opposite sides of a border, ‘the border day’ of my life on which I had contemplated a simple act to accomplish. Do you know what was that contemplated act? It was suicide. I remember my past life as one would remember the moments passed after being crushed by a heavy truck and before turning unconscious.
Our house was at the end of a closed street, perhaps the narrowest street of the town. It’s fading colour and falling plaster were good excuse for the people not to look at it. The only prominent thing about it was my stepmother. My late mother, a music teacher, told me stories about stepmothers: stepmother is a symbol of misfortune; she beats the children; she bites them; she sucks their blood, too. And finally the children either die or run away from homes. My stepmother followed the story-lines word by word.
My father was weak before her young skin and high voltage voice. She came to rule my house when I was ten years old; she started to hate me when I was ten years old. However she had given me an option, the option to choose between home and footpath. I chose home. She showed me how the pink cheeks of a tender girl could be turned into crimson red by pinching, and then dark red by blind slapping. She did it regularly: she did it extensively.
Do you think I’m reading my prison record or writing an autobiography? Then let the next decade be axed: the years of no change in climate. Winter: three hundred sixty-five days’ winter. But before seven winters, the season took an unpredicted turn.
Firoz: it was his name. Our neighbors talked that we were in love. My hopes were on the Mount Everest, while counting midnight stars on the bank of the lake near to our city. Firoz talked about our marriage. The river of joy was flowing over my reason. Glittering of the city lights from a distance obliterated presence of all the guiding stars in the sky. The nature the loneliness of the lake, and the pleasure-heated bodies did their job.
After a week he went to Japan on his business tour. ‘I will return within one month,’ he told me so. I was up in the sky, dreaming about the costly clothes and golden ornaments like Firoz’s mother wore. I was happy, as my one, at least one, relationship was going to be successful. Happiness has its own power. I forgot my mother’s death; I forgot what I had suffered at the hands of my stepmother. A ray of hope had cracked the age-old crust of sorrow. Those were the days I regarded myself as the happiest woman on earth. My nights became fearless; days started assuming meaning.
But the tower of rapture took no time to crumble.
I found I was pregnant.
The dark night at the lake had put its signature on my body. The signature was growing within me. It shook me at every inch. Fear arrested me at once. My town was a small place, and the premarital sex an unforgivable offence.
I called Firoz, at Japan. He was not so responsive as expected. His tone of talking was a deadly blow. Each word he spoke sharpened my fright. One month passed over my stiffened mind. I had lost communication with him.
The weight under my belly was increasing day-by-day. One thing was certain: my God-fearing, society-fearing, wife-fearing, father would not help me. I decided to meet Firoz’s parents. I went. There Firoz’s sister, keeping suspicious eyes wide open, informed me that her parents had gone to Japan—for attending Firoz’s marriage.
Her words ran over my body like an army of biting mice.
The arranged marriage had been solemnised before a week. Firoz had married a girl, a daughter of his mother’s friend who was a millionaire in Tokyo. Firoz or his father had a little say before his mother. Perhaps they, all the three, preferred money above all other things. Firoze’s parents were to return soon; but the newly wed couple was to settle in Japan. Permanently.
The blow was fatal. Land under my feet was robbed: dreams crushed to the dust. I had known the ruthless reality. I was enticed; I was cheated. I had failed at my last hope. I ran to the lake, up to a black stone point. It was a point where women like me ran madly, stood on the highest stone, and then jumped in the lake, not to be seen alive again. I stood on the stone. I cried as loud and as long as I could.
I was there not for leaping out of existence. Strangely, I did not dislike the thing that was growing within me: the child. Perhaps it was the only belonging I could define as ‘my own’. I decided to save that was exclusively mine. It was one and only possible order to rescue my shattered life. My thoughts, my feelings, my expectations from my life melted into one thing: the foetus, the unborn. My desperate eyes figured out a hope-scene: there would be a plant shooting out of me; it would become a big tree, and it would be my shelter. I wished; I longed for; and I preferred to have the baby.
I CHOSE TO LEAVE the home, the city, the air, and run to quite a new land. No one would miss me: that was clear. And for the belongings, apart from my own body, I had one asset—a golden bracelet that my maternal uncle had gifted me on my twentieth birthday. I sold it.
I left a chit for my father. ‘I am leaving home, not to return.’
The path was undefined. I reached at station. At the ticket window, I failed to decide the name of my destination. I bought ticket for the last station.
The whole world was at standstill until the train had run for more than a day. I was sailing in an ocean that had no other bank. When it stopped, I came down on platform. I wanted some food, not for me, but for the life that was developing under my belly. Heat was at its peak. Debilitated from head to feet, I was at zero point of strength. It knocked me down on the steps. I might have rolled on the steps, remained buried under stampede, or been crushed with a wall. I had no memory of what had happened.
When senses regained, what I saw was not the part of a bad dream. It was hard reality, harder than I could imagine. I had no luggage, no money. No address. Nothing. My sole companion was the pain.
I was in a solitary room of a maternity ward, on a bed clustered by nurses. The fall had spared me, but not the innocent being. The unborn that was going to be a plant had gone; the seed that was to be a big tree had been rooted out. The shelter I envisioned had fallen down.
It was abortion. The wound was still leaking blood. Doctors rushed. Nurses hovered. They were trying to save me. I had no reason to remain alive. A policewoman in starched uniform stood beside my bed. Writing something. I knew what it meant. Mine was a complicated case.
When left alone, I passed an hour or so, looking at a ceiling fan. The zone of darkness was condensing. I saw my mother lying on floor. People were tying strings over her body. My stepmother, sitting on my mother’s chest, was beating me with a stick—on my legs, on my thighs, on my knees. I wanted to scream.
The fan was still moving.
A feeling of total loss had wrapped up my being; my body reduced to a bundle of bones, skin, and pain. I had all types of pain, which could be on the earth. I wanted love from my family; my stepmother stalled it. I wanted a job and live independently; I failed to get it. I wished to be loved; I failed dangerously. The man of my dream had disappeared and married a rich girl. I wanted to have an illegitimate child. It was thrown out of me. Failing at every genre of human relationships, I was at the end of my life-journey.
A deadly flash in my mind… I had no reason to prolong the life that was reduced to a naught. The room was closed in every respect, and the air was conducive for a death wish. Obeying the air, I tied my long dupatta around my neck and thought about how much time it would take to stand upon the cot, tie another end with the ceiling fan, and then to jump down the cot. A copybook suicide, a dependable spade to rout out the self.
Before I started executing the idea of routing the self out, a strip of sunrays lighted the expanse before my eyes. Someone entered in and get the closed window opened. I saw a face, the face that had outline of a full moon. Her hand went on my head. It was a touch; it was a motherly touch. She stood beside me for some moments, caressing my head, instructing something to hospital staff in few words—soft words. The voice was sweet, sweet like the bells ringing in temples.
She was Madame. Madame Lataji.
AFTER TWO HOURS, I was transported to other side of the river, into the big house owned by Madame.
It was the last day of my life: it was the first day of my life.
Vijay, Madame rescued me from my certain death. She gave me job. My life belongs to her. Donating a kidney is nothing for me when her life is concerned.
I am still yours, but with one kidney missing,
TODAY, BOTH THE OPERATIONS are over. Both the patients are out of danger. But Mr. Vijay, the man who waits for me on Sunday mornings in his disordered bachelor house, is sitting by the side of my bed, fondling my head. His eyes have the weight of a sleepless night.
“Seema, I’ve got one month’s leave sanctioned. I think we need each other’s constant presence.” There sings a cuckoo, on a distant tree. (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)