Excuse me! It’s time for vital. A strange but sweet voice juddered his half-asleep, sedated eyes. It was Sanjog’s second day in the hospital and first in the orthopedic ward after he was brought from the post-op ward earlier that day. His eyes opened to the sight of a beaming face, the white uniform, with stethoscope neatly hung around neck, clearly representing the purpose of her visit. The room was empty, may be because of his tranquilizing slumber. She measured his pulse, fever and blood pressure and recorded the readings on a green file she had brought with her that largely read ‘Bed No. 223.’ The clock struck half past seven in that cold Sunday evening of November.
Sanjog was laid in a small room, good enough to be called private cabin but general in reality, meant for patients who required some special precautions. He was not one of them but because of his uncle’s close acquaintance with the administrative staff in the hospital, he was endowed with that privilege. A separate room in hospital at the price of a general bed was the only great favour one could have asked for in such a hapless time.
‘You don’t look ailing when your hands and legs are covered.’ His mother threw her consoling remark. When he was taken to the operation theatre as an emergency two days ago, no one had hoped to see him lying that way sooner, but to everyone’s wonder, witnessed his cheerful countenance as windfall.
Early in the morning the next day, the first thing that greeted him was that congenial smile again. Disposing the scattered medicines and reminding him of its dose, she left the room throwing him an enigmatic glance, and an unfailing smile. Meanwhile, Sanjog was occupied by the thought of Ikchha, not because Ikchha resembled her or their smiles, but only because he was expecting her to be there. The last time he had a talk with Ikchha was on Friday on phone, some two hours before his accident. They had planned a date the very next day as it had been long since they’d met. She’d been busy with her office and he was out of town until a day before that fateful day. Sanjog asked his sister to look over his mobile, as he was undoubtedly sure some plenty of missed calls must have made their way in, and plausibly many from her. But to his surprise, there wasn’t even a single missed call, neither from her nor from his friends.
As he thought of his ‘friends’, he happened to remember his favourite jacket that he had lent to Abhisekh on Thursday when he was shivering in that cold evening bash. He presumed Abhisekh to have called him to return it or to at least know his whereabouts but the calculations were opposing. Sanjog was expecting him and with him, many others who were always around him in his days of glee. The day he returned from Biratnagar, his mobile was flooded with calls from his friends as they were expecting a lavish party from him not because of an occasion but as a usual treat that Sanjog threw every so often. Have they come to know about my mishap? he wondered.
Until that time, he had already come to know that he was a patient in the hospital for another couple of months, and that he’d have to become accustomed to the quirkiness of the place. Every morning, when the doctors came for round, they looked like fiends to him, because of the way they carelessly fondled the deep laceration, on the area of fracture just below his knee, would every time compel him to respect their ruthlessness. After a painful day in the hospital bed, fighting with broken limbs and shattered hopes, dusk approached and with it, arrived the smile comforting his sedative temperament to some extent, as was always of high dose of painkillers and antibiotics.
Her smile beamed in that disconsolate ambiance of the room and captivated the entire evening and night until morning. His woes got some space to rest until the aroma of the smile subsided. But that merriment didn’t last for long. She had a rotation in her duty and was supposed to be in the evening for only three days in every fifteen days, the rest being either at morning or day. Nevertheless, the time she showed up was ample in alleviating him. He was unknown to that affinity of her enveloping him but always sensed some peculiar pleasure in it. Her name was Gunja and she had become his sedatives – much more tranquilizing than the pills; his companion – much more endearing than the loneliness.
Days rolled on, and it was already a month that he had taken to bed. His mobile didn’t witness a single call or message except from his family, but still, he was hopeful that one day Ikchha or Abhisekh, or someone, would turn up at the door. By that time, the everyday smiling acquaintance had turned into brief gossips and intimacy. She put her additional attention in attending him and he enjoyed her company of a comforting companion despite of what the ethics of her profession and his confines as a patient allowed them. They gradually peeped into their personal lives through gossips and most of the time, she was an inspiring factor for him and he a grudging. As a result, his isolation and irritation, failure and frustration was moderated remarkably.
He believed that his thirteen year association with Ikchha had yielded in him such a strong determination that there was no alternate of her in his life. But this belief started shuddering as the hope of seeing her stand at the door slowly started withering because the magnitude of loneliness he was encountering each day could only be felt by either himself or his new ally. He postulated that she, at least, should have been there to feel him after all they were getting married in July – as planned by their families. He was filled with dismay when she had one day said, We are going to the States after marriage. I have many dreams to pursue. And the very next minute, she had smirked, I am not going to marry until you own a Terios. He had taken it as her jest then, but lying on the hospital bed, all alone, with brutal twinges of hopelessness and hardness, he slowly started believing that she really meant it.
His days in the hospital, as usual, passed with pangs of the doctor’s heartless treatment and Gunja’s assiduous service. She was, most of the time, found stationed at 223 in between her break from work, and they used to have hilarious conversations that always ended on a serious note. By then, their gossips had transferred abode from bed no. 223 to their mobile phones. From her, he came to know that she was also in a relationship and was getting married soon, but she wasn’t looking quite happy while saying this. About him, he had told her everything beforehand.
Sanjog was smiling every time and cheered everyone, but in loneliness, tears were his best friends. He didn’t feel like crying of the pain that his fractures had induced or that of his solitude or his fate, but of the one that Ikchha and his best buddies like Abhisekh had induced in him. His success, before the accident, had attracted all of them but he had deemed that attraction to be their love for him. All his achievements and affability came to stake as he was left fighting the battle of living life all alone. Besides family, the most important people of his life were absent in his hardships when all of them were equally present in his pleasures before. Gunja, however, filled that part.
His tenure in the hospital was coming to an end. It was Gunja’s leave that day for no reason; therefore, he called her up in the evening-
Are you coming to see me off tomorrow? His hopeful voice dropped.
No! I have an off day tomorrow and I have much to do at home. And by the way, tomorrow is his birthday, so I am going out with him. Her voice, glum and choked, could clearly be heard.
You will come if you think you need to. Take care of yourself and of your life. He ended the conversation briefly.
The next day, settled in a wheel-chair, he was ready to get discharged. His eyes, wandering around the not-so-familiar world outside 223, failed to stop at his will. The lift took him down, he boarded a cab with heavy heart and the vehicle was about to make its way out when he found her standing at the gate wearing that same affable smile.
She opened the door and got in. The cab slowly dissolved into the busy lanes of Kathmandu.
Jayant Sharma is a freelance translator and writer from Nepal. Having served in various national and international organisations as a translator, editor and writer, he contributes regular write-ups to major national dailies and South-Asian journals regarding arts, literature and culture, and has more than a dozen of books translated and edited to his credit. His interviews on translation and writing have appeared in various newspapers. He also has worked as editor for different magazines and currently is the executive editor of Kathmandu-based English literary journal ‘SATHI’, and desk-editor of a weekly literary column in Sikkim-based English daily The Sikkim Reporter.