When Zariya crashed on the road from her scooter, she was 19. She was at an age that identified her goals and realized them as dreams. In a split second, she lost everything. A sharp gravel stone pierced the skin under her neck and cut through an internal carotid artery. She lay there, immovable and entirely paralytic, except for the working grace of her sensory organs. She could see people gathering around her. A few men trying to remove her scooter, which felt weightless on her legs. She could see people pick her up and one of them placed her into the backseat of a car. The front seat, the textured leather cover, a faint jasmine smell and blowing horns were all apparent to her. She felt her blood dripping onto the seat, her senseless fingers sticking onto the glass window. It almost never happened. And then days later, she woke up in a plush private hospital. The sobbing of her parents, flower bouquets, the creaky doors, and the pungent medicinal smell filled her ambiance. This was, however, her side-stop in a longer journey; a journey which would transcend through many hospitals and finally land her at General Govt. Hospital in the city. She would survive on aided support, yet would never recover. She couldn’t die either. All she could do was to lay on the cot and spend her days……..
Seven Years Later:
Vikram suddenly woke up from a deep slumber and patted around his side table. After almost dropping it down, he latched onto his mobile and turned off the alarm. It was ten minutes past six. He closed his eyes and his body begged him to stay put. 3 or 5 minutes wouldn’t really change anything. Vikram, however, knew the trick having fallen for it plenty many times. He sat up and took a gulp of water from the bottle near his bed. By seven o’clock, he readied himself. A bag packed with precisely six books, some pens, some apples, and his office ID tag thrown in. He walked out of his small room and locked the door behind him. Just as he stepped away from the plankton seeping door and towards his bike, his mobile rang.
‘Vicky… Hello… Vicky… Hello?’ the voice said.
It was his Mother. She usually called him in the evening when he returned home. This call was an oddity.
‘Amma..! Can you hear me…Hello’, Vikram replied, raising his voice a little. He was a soft talker. But then, his mother was old and in her own words, growing deaf in one ear.
‘Vicky…Book a ticket for me for Duronto Express tonight’, His Mother said as clearly as she could. Vikram tried understanding the request or rather question the reason behind it. Did she tell him something? Was he supposed to remember something? But before he could come up with anything, his Mother intervened,
‘Vicky, you know Kamili aunt’s father right? He passed away an hour back, and I need to be in Hyderabad at the earliest’ she declared.
Vikram promised her he would book her a ticket as soon as possible and got off the call. His office was in Hitech city, fifteen odd kilometers to his place. But then, he had stopped going to his office for a long time now. For the past six months, his day started with a pretense of it and had to zero in on finding the perfect human resource for a said target project. However, everything had changed after he met her. Drishti. She was everything to him now.
He reached the Hospital within an hour. This was the only time that the doctors allowed him to visit Drishti. Dr. Swathi had taken pity on him and more so, on her. Her sympathy made way to his prolonged visits. She was dead otherwise, but her life breathed inside. And he was essential for her healthy heart beat. The scans and records showed the remarkable escalation in bodily activities when he was around her. And for Dr. Swathi, taking care of this abandoned young woman meant a treatment better than any.
Five months earlier, during one of her unscheduled visit to the hospital, she saw this man talking to the young woman. Dr. Swathi rather than ousting him chose to stand near the door, and hear what he was saying,
‘So, when Isabel saw her dreams now, they were filled with more vivid possibilities than of blurry days past. She yearned to fly. Soar into the sky, and whizz through the spongy clouds, and towards the warming suns’.
She then saw something strange happening to Drishti that night. She cried. No one knew how and when these two unrelated people met each other. Only the man and the woman knew the story. Everyone else just saw the chance to save a life. A tired soul, deprived of happiness and the world, held captive in a static young woman. From that day forward, Vikram would come in to meet Drishti every day. He knew the staff and the doctors. Everyone helped him as much as they could by giving him the provision to sit and tell her stories; stories that seemed to move her consistently. The phenomenon felt mildly spectacular.
Vikram parked his bike and entered the Hospital greeting all the known faces and smiling at the lesser known. He wished Lakshmi at the reception. She was busy attending patient and could only afford to smile back. Vikram leaned over the reception desk and took up the register. He entered his particulars and placed it back. Vikram almost bumped into Nagesh, the ward boy and his tray of syringes as he reached the third floor. Nagesh told him that Dr. Swathi hadn’t arrived but that Drishti was awake. He nodded in agreement and paced up to her room.
Drishti always had a twinkle in her eyes whenever she saw him. A fading hue and a bright shine in her iris. Dr. Swathi had never been more particular about anything else.
‘Hi… You’re up… And I’m sorry I got late. By ten minutes I think’
Vikram placed his bag on the table and pulled up the steel stool from below it to sit closer to the bed. He was amused to see her eyes, her nose twitch slightly and hoped that she could move her slender fingers someday. He didn’t want to miss that and always ensured that they were always in his line of sight.
‘So my mom called. You know her right. She’s always concerned about people. But, well, this time around she had some…’, Vikram stopped midway, remembering his promise that he’d never talk about death or anything depressing while talking to her. He vowed only to talk about everything generally optimistic and categorically happy.
‘Some function here in the city tomorrow… ’ he continued.
He then began his story ‘So you remember where we stopped right? So Isabel is found by her father in a stable. Her sister, Gretchen tries to warn her… .’
It was a singular endless story that began six months ago. A tale of the dreamy eyed Isabel who went out to fetch her dreams, every night. And every night in Isabel’s life was a story in itself. Something that Vikram wrote during the afternoon as Drishti slept and completed it when he was back home. Through the stories, Isabel was trying to find about Drishti, if that was her name at all. Vikram believed that someday one story of his would make enough sense to her. And that day, she would have the strength to snap out of her condition. Combinations and permutations were as important as the dreamy ecstatic quality of the tales. They had to be mixed up to find the perfect story. The thought of finding her story had consumed him. He had to solve her story by one of his.
In the afternoon, Vikram wrote the next story in the canteen. His bank balance had fallen to hundreds now and fruits and bread were all he could suffer. He had already skipped dinner for a while now and breakfast did not matter anymore. The long hall of the canteen with steel benches started bustling with the relatives of the admitted patients. People needed food when they grieved for someone. He observed them for a moment and searched for a pair of eyes, which fixed on him. They asked him silently what he was doing with the Drishti.
One aspect always troubled him. How could she be just left to her own, to fight and live for herself? Was she an orphan? Was she disowned? Was she living in a different city or perhaps country? Maybe her parents never knew how fate had wounded their child. All that he and Dr. Swathi could come up with was that she was previously admitted, elsewhere. But eventually left here by an old man who the nurses claimed wasn’t related to her. He claimed to have found her on a bench outside the hospital. And that was seven years ago. Then from, Enquiries and search missions had been taken up. No one knew where she came from. A humanitarian NGO bore her treatment costs and owned up the investigation on her whereabouts. At the end, everything came down to her waking up.
And she could. The condition was more psychological. She had lost the will to come back.
Vikram returned to scribble the next story in his notebook.
‘Amma, why do you have so much luggage?’ Vikram asked as the railway porters swarmed around him and his mother. Two suitcases and one luggage bag. There was something wrong.
‘I’ll tell you… Let’s go first’, His mother ushered him towards the exit. A cab awaited them outside. As they settled, his mother started to speak.
‘You know, your father mentioned that you are growing thin by the day. The last time he came here, he scolded me after coming back home. As if I wasn’t allowing you to eat anything… Your father is like that. He starts to argue somewhere and goes somewhere else. And everything is my blame, my mistake…’
His mother jumped from a silent explanation to an agitated monologue.
‘Amma…Amma. What’s your plan then?’
Vikram roved about, half-realizing what the answer would be. And it was exactly what he had feared. She was here to stay for a month. He fell silent. He had neither the money nor the time to afford company. His pretense, the lies that surrounded his life; everything would fall apart.
A couple of days went by. His mother made his flat feel like home.
Isabel ran behind a dream which saw her challenge her sister and ride a horse. She fell down and woke up in a doctor’s hut. The canteen felt more compulsive now. The stories had to be completed there at without delay. His finances had now reached the five hundred rupees mark. He found himself walking down the white corridors to the toilets at the end. He sat down in a cubicle and wept uncontrollably. He couldn’t change anything. He almost dialed his office after six months, but then couldn’t bring himself to call. He had no job and soon he would have nothing else. He looked up at the cobwebs at the ceiling. Faintly moving with the air. He couldn’t leave Drishti. And he couldn’t live without realizing her story. He went back to her room. And held her hand near him.
Tears rolled down his cheek and dropped in her palms. Soon, he composed himself, stood up and left.
Vikram’s mother saw something terrible in him; something that was eating him up inside. He wasn’t the usual forthcoming person. She decided to confront him. Her efforts, in whatsoever form, couldn’t help. Sometimes, he shouted at her or just closed out. It was as though he were bound to be somewhere else on a distant moon.
All she could see was a furious writer scribbling something in a book after midnight. That was all he did. Through the night, she kept thinking about him and in the morning, her blood pressure dropped to perilous effects.
..Isabel went through the thickest woods. The rivulets glimmered and the stars shone. She crossed the paths laid over by the creepers and the bridging trunks. She saw her reflection in the puddle of water. Her wonderful black hair and her brown eyes stared back at her. It was spectacular. A little ripple moved her away. She bent to catch herself but instead fell down. She splattered into the water with no reason, after all. Sometimes that was the only reason apparent. She was an orphan who wished not to lead her life. The drowning gave her purpose and breath. Life had nothing much to offer her and so she chose death. However, she hit the river bed and struggled to die. She was too tired to swim back up yet too adamant to let go. And so she remained a bridge; a bridge in between the choices she made. That is how our story ends. Isabel in the water, gulping air once in awhile by peeking over and trying to die nevertheless. The End.
Vikram closed the book. He had lost everything. A day after his mother passed away, he realized that he should have been normal. He couldn’t visit Drishti and continue the story. People always led their lives just as normalcy demanded them to. He dreamt of having a job, having a life with Drishti. Watching her come alive and probably smile at him through the winds and rains. But he knew it would never happen.
His father never knew the actual reason. Vikram’s obsession to a woman who meant something in his life. From the time he had seen her. He had lied to everyone at the hospital that he was a writer. He wasn’t. He lied to her and yet, not an iota of the nerves in his mind hated her for it; not a single strata in his heart held her responsible. He was abnormal. Abnormal for her.
The next day, he did not read out the story. He just sat there, as Dr. Swathi and other nurses covered Drishti’s face with a blanket. Her hands felt cold and her breath had long gone. Her eyes closed and life seeped out of it. He couldn’t complete the story as she would’ve liked it. As they transferred her body to a bed with wheels, Vikram saw her pillow. And as she left the room after seven years, he saw that the pillow had minute patches of wetness. She cried. He sat on the stool opposite her bed and flipped the book open. And then, he read out the last part of Isabel. A reasonably wonderful life of…