An Unspoken Word

It was just a white curtain that separated them inside a large room in a hospital bustling with patients, doctors, nurses and bystanders. Busy as always- people were filing in and out- of course, they were as this was the pre-COVID era.

Two beds on either side- an older man was sitting on a chair at the far end of the room. He was snoozing lazily on the chair, waking up troubled every time he heard some mild sound. He had dark circles under his eyes- he hadn’t slept in days. His chair was between the window and a bed where an old lady lay.

She lay motionless next to the windowsill on a bed far too large for her. The rays of the morning sun had its way on her face. She was as radiant as the rising sun. Her wrinkled face was glorious, calm and elegance intertwined even as she lay still. Tufts of wavy silver hair was falling on to her face. Her body rose and fell with mild undulations- the only sign that showed that she was still alive. The dangling remote control for the bed was moving in sync to her breath. Monitors and screens were stable with squiggly lines moving hitherto. A central line was placed on her neck, her life support for medication and fluids to keep her alive.

She was a mother, a wife and a daughter. She had everything- a high profile job till she retired, drove a Mercedes till she couldn’t drive anymore, a large house, staff to wait on her head to foot, everything she needed and wanted. And something she did not need, definitely didn’t wish to have- cancer- oesophagal carcinoma.

It was almost cured, she was better. The lost hair was slowly growing. She was talking. And well.

And then, she collapsed during a function. People were filing in day in and out while she was at the hospital. Soon the number started dwindling. Then it was just her and her husband. The painkillers were always keeping her sedated. He was there, every day, every night, by her side- just going home to get fresh sets of clothes.

On the other side of the room, he was getting restless on his bed. The IV cannula on his hand was being filled with one medicine after the other by a nurse. His little eyes were fixated directly upfront. A piercing look from him bore deep into the nurse’s heart as he winced in pain. The doctor told him he is getting better. His ‘neck thing’ was off since yesterday, and he was counting his days for his ‘hand thing’ to be removed. His little fingers counted days. Days were becoming months, and months were almost becoming a year. He had lost count now.

He was a boy, full of fun and frolic, climbing trees and throwing stones at trees and boys who jumped on the trees. He was a studious chap, scoring well in his class. He and the boys were enjoying life till he fell on the ground that fateful day. The nurse in the school gave him a glass of glucose, thinking it was the heat. It wasn’t. He lost his interests, and he was suddenly weak. His friends thought he was lazy. He no longer climbed trees, and he no longer was studious. He was no longer himself.

He got admitted to the children’s ward in the hospital. He used to cry every night in pain- cancer was a tough disease to beat. He hadn’t heard of cancer. He had just progressed from addition to subtraction in school. He used to cry silently every day in anguish. People used to come over to see their children with presents and toys. No one came for him- just one of his teachers came- the day he got admitted- to dump his belongings there. He couldn’t fathom the intricacy of such a disease but could comprehend that fact- that an orphan had no one.

The nurse was newly assigned to the paediatric oncology department. Every day, as she comes in to give the children their medicine, everyone cried or resisted. He was lying there getting injected into the cannula. That bravery made her notice him- a young man in the guise of a six-year-old. She couldn’t help but notice that no one came to visit him. She saw his side table empty- just one book- a battered old Enid Blyton. Other kids had games, toys etc. brought in while he lay gloomy. Despite the pain, they used to laugh, play and move around the room. He just lay there- eyes transfixed straight ahead- the eyes spelt pain.

She found out he had no one. Connecting the dots then didn’t require a rocket scientist- he was sad because he had no one. She felt his medicine reception would be better if he were to be moved to some other place- away from children with doting parents and a plethora of presents. So he arrived in his new room.  

The old lady was staring out of the window as he arrived. She wasn’t expecting a roommate, nor did she want to- the double room was hers to stay- a wishful request from the doctor made her oblige.

His eyes met hers. It was a silent connection. Unspoken words meant more.

Every day, they ate together. Her central line fed in glucose, while he ate his meal. She was always up to see that he was fed.

He was up and about when she woke up. He would push the blanket on to her bed if it had fallen. He would keep her company, always by her side without uttering a word.

Days became months.

Every week a small package appeared on his side table. A toy, maybe a book, some chocolates, sometimes even a new set of pajamas- he was happy. Soon became keen to know his benefactor.

She was improving. He was improving. Her central line was out. They started having lunch together. She would weakly sip on her porridge while he would devour his rotis.

As she started getting better, dinner too was together. Her husband too would join them, while getting amused by his antics.

Not a word was uttered.

The white curtain was drawn at night while they slept.

His presents kept coming.

Slowly, he would perch up on her bed, cross-legged at her feet while they would look at each other in silence as they had their meals. As she started having solid food, home cooked meals started coming. He would eat with her- she would sometimes feed her.

He would slowly get down from his bed, hoist his plates and carry her plates too.

They started having all meals together.

She started walking slowly- he would try supporting her while she and her husband would pace around the room but the 6-year-old’s body was too small for her to hold.  

Not a word was uttered.

The white curtain was drawn at night while they slept.

His presents kept coming.

He was smiling. The nurse saw progress in him.

He was happy.

He saw a mother.

Doctor had come up to her one day trying to make utter her first word- ‘Ayush’ came as a gushed whisper and then as a firm call.

She was expecting him to come running to her. She got up from her bed, past the doctor and her husband and moved the white curtain – the bed was empty.

She stood in shock.

The present in her hand burned her fingers as the nurse wheeled in another patient.

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