The nursing home was a small one. The patient’s disease was a serious one. She had acquired a rare skin disorder when she had gone to help cyclone victims in one of the coastal villages of eastern Odisha. It was a village that couldn’t be located on any map of India. The patient had no family. Not any more. Except for the girl sitting beside her.
The girl sat stock-still at the same place from the time she admitted the patient to the nursing home, which was forty-eight hours ago. She murmured a prayer whenever she felt something calamitous was about to happen. Looking at the patient, the girl wondered why one failed to fathom the bond with someone until that person began slipping away. Did death sever the inner attachment to the near and dear as well? People who meant the world to us at one time, seemed like a distant memory at another. Our own reality changed its face, and a huge part of our life went into accepting that change.
The girl didn’t realise when tears began rolling down her cheeks. She brushed them away impatiently. Why couldn’t things just remain the way they were? she wondered. She swallowed a lump realizing the futility of the question. Not every relationship is about flowing together forever. Sometimes, one just takes a little bit of the other person, surrenders a little bit of oneself to the other person and then continues flowing independently, sensing those acquired bits within oneself and cherishing them always.
Soft, helpless moans broke into her musing and the girl quickly went over to the bed. She caressed her friend’s forehead. The moans grew a little louder.
‘Sister?’ the girl hollered. Nobody came. She walked out of the room and espied a nurse at the far end of the corridor. By the time they returned to the room, the whimpering had stopped. The nurse checked the pulse and then the heartbeat. And then shut the gawking eyes with her palm. The girl plonked down on the chair, knowing fully well what this meant. The nurse rushed out, saying, ‘Call the doctor. The patient in room number 9—Raisa Barua—is dead.’
The girl in the room looked at the body. She felt strangely light but broken.
NOTE: This story is published in collaboration with Penguin Random House.
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