Aashi walked fast towards the autorickshaw stand to escape the rain. “Baba Sahib hospital,” she said as she bent over to see the driver’s face.
“80 rs.” he said and continued to drink his chai.
“80? I know it is raining, but come on.. 80? I’ll give 50,” she negotiated.
“80! The roads are filled with water. I am risking my life by agreeing to this savari,” he negotiated.
“Fine!” she said and tried to close her umbrella as she sat inside the autorickshaw, but in vain. She was soaking wet. She sighed. Her son was not feeling well. She should have stayed home, but for some reason she had wanted to go to work today.
“Aashi! Are you mad?” her husband had asked, “The hospital is in a low-lying area. It is risky. Call the head nurse and ask for leave,” he’d instructed but on deaf ears. Aashi was already readying her handbag. “Niren! I have to go!” she said as he searched for the umbrella.
“Why? Why do you.. have! to go?” asked Niren with barely contained frustration.
“Because I have to!” replied Aashi with brimming eyes, “I do not know why! I have to,” she said as she walked out the house.
As she sat in the autorickshaw she absently looked at the busy, wet streets of Bandra, Mumbai, she thought about her dream last night. She is not a religious person. She was not a devout Hindu. Why had she got that dream?.
Rishi stood near the west gate of his school with fearful eyes. He was a timid boy with a simple mind. He was afraid to go inside the school. The last bell will sound in few minutes. He closed his eyes to will the fear away, but all he got were flashbacks.
“Oh my god! This loser has so much of craft items in his bag,” said Rajesh, the math teacher’s boy.
“Empty his bag, man,” said Dhananjay with a cruel smile. Rajesh nodded and looked at Rishi who was sitting clutching his knees in the corner of the old PT room. Rajesh did not want to do this, but he was afraid Dhananjay will target him if he does not do it. He emptied the bag, and a ton of craft items from colours to glitter all fell out.
Dhananjay laughed cruelly and came to squat near the bag. “What do we have here?” He took a paper parrot in his hand and crushed it as he looked at Rishi. “You! useless freak! Why can’t you just be a boy. Why do you have to behave like a girl? Dhannanjay went near Rishi and started to kick him. Rajesh watched helplessly.
Rishi looked at Rajesh silently, as he was kicked around, with pleading eyes. Rajesh closed his eyes and closed his fist. ‘Please save Rishi, God,” he prayed. Rishi understood that Rajesh was afraid to help him. He closed his eyes and prayed, ‘Please save me, God!’
Rishi opened his tearful eyes. He held the gate tighter. He saw a broken razor blade on the sand. He took it in his hands. His mind wandered and thought of scenarios that will take him away from this situation.
“What are you doing?” he heard a girl say.
“Huh?” asked Rishi as he tried to look at her through the tears.
“Come on! The bell is going to ring! Come on!” she said as she grabbed his wrist and pulled him towards the school. He dropped the blade in fear of hurting the girl and followed her limply.
“Which class?” she asked.
“5 B” he replied in a low voice. She turned and smiled at him. She had a brown complexion, black eyes and uneven teeth. She had two badly made plaits. Sunlight reflected off her shiny earrings. She wore a small bindi and a streak of vibudhi in her forehead. Her hair was too straight. The ones that escaped the badly made plaits stood like needles on her forehead. Her eyes were too lively. They were like two moons but warm like he sun. Rishi inadvertently smiled. “You go in!” she said and waited for him to go in. Rishi, for some reason, felt safe and… strong. He walked inside his class. His math teacher was teaching Probability; she was also Rajesh’s mom. He turned to look at Dhananjay. He was smiling cruelly. “Why are you late, Rishi?” his teacher asked with a stern voice.
He turned to look at the girl. She smiled and gestured, ‘Go on!’ “Go to your seat,” his teacher said and walked towards the black board. Rishi turned to look at Dhananjay. Something changed in Rishi’s mind. He turned to look at the girl again. As he looked at her, he said aloud, “Ma’am Dhananjay bullies me.” For some reason, his teacher heard this loud and clear, amidst the chattering of young voices.
“What?” she asked, as she stopped writing on the board. Rajesh stood up from his place and said, “Mom! Rishi is telling the truth……” he fiddled with the eraser for a second, “I was part of it too……” Tears rolled down Rajesh’s cheeks. Months of torturing Rishi was eating away his soul. Guilt was killing him. “I was afraid of Dhananjay………….” He looked at Dhananjay who looked scared. Rajesh dropped the eraser. ‘No more’ he thought. He had wanted to be cool. He wanted to be part of the group. He wanted to belong. He turned to look at Rishi, who was smiling. Rajesh smiled too. “I was afraid to tell you, mom,.” he finished with a teary voice.
“I was afraid to come to school. I was afraid to live. That is why I am late, ma’am,” said Rishi.
The math teacher stood there dumb felled for some time. She looked past Rishi at the girl outside the class door. The girl had a glow surrounding her. The teacher squinted to look at her. She smiled and walked away.
“Dhananjay!” she yelled, and the boy stood up with scared eyes. “Shall we go to the principal’s office, Rishi?” she asked, and Rishi smiled brightly. “Yes, Ma’am,” he replied.
Aashi walked towards the hospital building with wide steps. The autorickshaw had stopped in the beginning of the street. There was water logging on the roads. The gate to the hospital was wide open. A Naga Linga (Cannon ball) tree stood tall neat the gate. As Aashi walked past the tree, the flowers’ fragrance reached her nose. The fragrance combined with the rain was divine smell.
She stopped in her track and looked at the tree. It had flowers; during the monsoons. Her eyes went wide with shock. Were there flowers yesterday? She thought. “Nurse Aashi!” she heard Deepika yell. Aashi placed a reminder on that thought and walked towards Deepika.
“Aashi! Com quick!” she said as she ran/walked towards Operating rooms. Deepika gestured Aashi towards the Prep room and went into operating room 3. Aashi went in the prep room and startled as she heard a cry of a woman in labour. Aashi had been a gynaecology nurse for 6 years. She was witful and logical. Her trained ears told her this woman will deliver in the next 5 mins. Aashi walked her hands and walked into the operating room. Deepika and Manjula were trying their best to keep the woman and her child alive. They were both newbies who were scared out of their wits. Manjula was crying and holding the woman’s hand. “Where is the doctor?” Aashi asked.
“He is stuck in traffic, I think. He had left 2 hours ago,” said Deepika. She was checking the crowning and doing her best to keep the woman reassured. Aashi took her place and checked the crowning. She moved and checked the baby’s position. The baby was ready. Aashi took the file from Manjula and checked some details. “Parimala!” she called and got the woman’s attention. “Push! The baby is ready. Push every time you get a contraction,” said Aashi.
Parimala nodded and followed. Aashi kept giving instructions and Parimala followed. Deepika and Mnjula readied the baby carrier and sterilised the scissors. Deepika looked on as Aashi expertly handled the situation. But then, Aashi did not know what Deepika knew. Parimala was scheduled for a caesarean next week. She was 41 years old. Parimala was the wife of an TV mechanic. Her pregnancy was a miracle. The couple had given up on trying. Today morning, Deepika had received a call from Parimala’s husband that they are on their way to the hospital. Deepika had called the doctor and he was shocked. He was afraid Parimala will not be able to handle it, considering her age.
“PUSH!” screamed Aashi and pulled Deepika out of her retrospection. Deepika watched as Parimala pushed the baby out. Manjula helped Aashi cut the umbilical chord. Aashi placed the baby on the baby carrier and Manjula took the baby for a wash. “Thank you!” said Parimala with teary eyes as she looked at Aashi. Aashi smiled and nodded. She checked Parimala and waited for the placenta to fall. “Relax!” she told Parimala and walked out the operating room. She leaned on the wall and looked at the naga linga tree. She remembered her dream. She closed her eyes and thought of the baby. Was what she saw real? Was she just remembering her dream and daydreaming? Maybe she is just tired. The baby looked in her eyes. It smiled and started to cry.
Definitely a daydream. Decided Aashi. Newborn babies do not look at a person’s eyes. Aashi walked to the room where Deepika was cleaning the baby and wrapping it in a clean towel. She was smiling at the baby as Aashi walked in.
“She’s beautiful!” said Deepika with teary eyes.
“You did good Deepu!” said Aashi, touching her shoulder.
Deepika looked at Aashi and said, “You saved us all today, Sister. You saved us all.” Aashi looked at the baby in Deepika’s hand. “Want to take her to her mother? I will clean up,” asked Deepika.
Aashi smiled and got the baby from her hand. As she walked to the room, she stopped and looked t the Naga linga tree. All the branches were turned towards her and the tree was on full bloom. She turned to look at the baby. It looked like she had 5 hands on each side. Aashi blinked and looked again. The baby turned in her hand. There were 2 hands. Aashi sighed and kept walking towards the baby’s mother. She hugged the baby to her bosom. She felt herself warming up.
To read part 2, click here.