The fog that blanketed the morning of the Bassfield town finally cleared away giving in to the relentless golden streaks of the sun. The streets that lay lazily-stretched felt freshly awakened shaking off their heads from the mellowness of the snow bed. It was a routine fashion for that road to bear the weight of a silver painted bus by this time and today wasn’t no different as the bus timely turned the corner and smoothly stopped by a lamp post to have the waiting passengers embussed.
Mehek glanced at her wrist watch and immediately felt her heart slightly beat a notch higher alerting her to be ready. Her spine straightened up against the back of the seat she was sitting in, fingers curled around the strap of her leather bag as it was anytime now to get down as per the minutes she’d travelled. She now could clearly see through the window glass of the bus as the thick settlement of the puffs of white slowly melted down in rivulets of water. Cautious, she strained her eyes not to miss the stop she needed to alight at. The neighbour woman had told her one could easily see ‘LIFE HOSPITAL’ written in bold green letters right opposite to where the bus halt at. So, this wasn’t the stop.
The bus moved on after taking in the people.
Mississippi wasn’t new to Mehek but this town Bassfield in here downrightly was. And she didn’t want to give her destination amiss and make a telltale chaos before public that she was new to this place. She never wanted to embarrass herself like that even in her wildest dream as the very thought of it gave her a shudder.
To make it without any mix-up, she decided to read the passing-by buildings even when the bus was moving.
“New?” She heard a male voice ask her but pretended like not hearing it, continuing to look at the outside.
“Hello there, excuse me,” the man insisted.
Well! Giving in, she shifted her gaze from the window to find a man standing by her seat. Mehek squinted and tilted her head to come up with the pellucid sight of his features as the new sun from the window fell directly on his English-fair face distracting her from taking her first impression on him.
She made sure her face was impassive so that she wouldn’t provide him any hint of affirmative response to his query. “Yes, mister?” she sounded genuinely confused, implying that there were many empty seats for him to occupy.
“You look new here. Where are you heading to?”
“Excuse me! You’ve lot of empty seats though.”
Expressionless, she went back to concentrating on the passing-by hoardings graced with bold letters perched over the massively constructed buildings.
She knew she was curt but she didn’t like the idea of him asking her about her destination. He was one unknown man after all and he for any reason shouldn’t ask a stranger about the destination in the first place. This made her think of her grandmother and the very imagination of her possible reaction to this situation made her cringe. Her grandmother would’ve by now inferred that the man was for sure creating way to get under Mehek’s pants. That was what men were for according to the old woman. Every man’s intention in initiating an unnecessary talk with a woman was only to seduce her, deceive her and then run out on her after achieving what he wanted. She’d for god knows how many times repeated her warning on not indulging with any kind of conversation with any stranger – stranger that meant only man in her dictionary – before Mehek set her feet out of her house this morning. She really had had a hard time in maintaining a genuinely smiling face all through while repeating promising her granny that she would be careful and keep all her warnings in mind whenever being outside the house.
Mehek knew her grandmother wasn’t exactly right though. But she didn’t have all the time in the world to explain the old woman that her granddaughter wasn’t such an appeal to tempt any man at the first sight; not at any number of sight in fact. Also, she firmly believed the world wasn’t full of evil people with cruel intentions as she was telling. But even if Mehek took effort, she knew she couldn’t help her granny understand at any cost as she was suffering generation gap. Humans had changed a lot which she wasn’t aware of being confined within the four walls of her own old world for long years. She knew there was also no possibility anymore for her eighty-five-year-old grandmother to come out and see how many women were filling the roads and leading their own independent paths nowadays by breaking the walls of the stereotypes. The more the world progressed, the mare’s nest around everyone’ space was just getting thicker and so people only could spend their energy on devising a plan on how to get out of it for a peaceful sleep rather than working on playing with others’ lives. When already the quagmire you were in was so horribly a tangled snare to deal with, you possibly couldn’t consider giving time to mess up with others’ lives – the new equation that her granny had an utter trouble to get her insight penetrated into.
Still then there was no gainsaying Mehek had tried the other night while having dinner explaining that a plain jane like her wouldn’t manage to achieve even a second glance from any man when many truly gorgeous stylish divas were easily roaming around the world without any thorn in their flesh.
Her granny’s immediate reaction to that had been in a huffy. She placed her palm on the table with such impact that produced an audible sound leaving Mehek jerk involuntarily. “Shut up, little lady!” she’d chided in a voice louder than usual. “You’re too young and innocent to predict this world.” Later, after giving a long stare, she would snap in addition with a strange mischief dancing in her old glassy grey eyes, “By the way, little lady, who said unattractive of plain jane? How simply good looking you’re for that you would be taken away by a man who will give one touch to your hand and one word in your ear! Then there will be only a heroic ride and no telling after that if I can get to see you at least once before my death.”
Having her grandmother had this quipped had made Mehek abruptly pause her munching her bread slice. She gawked at her like an idiot because she’d no goddamn idea what her granny meant by saying in a flow that one touch to her hand and all those babbles like saying in her ear and the ride and all. But one thing, while her talking those, Mehek noticed she looked oddly dreamy and too much enthusiastic for her age as if reciting some infamous poetic lines from the classic era. Her such enthusiasm was as scarce as hen’ teeth to be seen that made Mehek feel happy to a fault. But then, the way she addressed her as ‘little woman’ irked her extremely whenever she said that. Her punchy throat would be so annoyingly emphatic in stressing those two words which actually spoke ‘woman possessing as little-sized a brain as a pea nut’. The degree of sarcasm while she stressed those words would brutally be assaulting her self-respect as though she wasn’t fit for living a life anywhere on this earth. It spoke she wasn’t incisive but completely imbecilic. She was always this obnoxiously dominant, ‘Shut up! I know better than you do!’
Still then, Mehek wouldn’t make her way parted from her as she was after all her caretaker. A true well-wisher who concerned about her everything. The only person she’d to say she’d for her in this world. There was no blaming her, not only for her age but for the horrible torments and wreckages she’d gone through in bringing her up all alone as a lone woman in this society. With her own eyes, ears, and each cell that constituting her flesh, Mehek had witnessed all her trials and tribulations. Even now she had it dumped fresh down her memory lane, during her childhood there were nights that were uncountable when her granny had gone to bed empty stomached giving her the only last piece of bread. Then, until she finished her food she would watch at her smiling with intent eyes that were pools of dark secrets she could never decipher. If she asked why wasn’t she eating, she would easily say she wasn’t hungry. Though she knew it was a pure lie she’d never talked about it as she intuitively had had this level of understanding her questions wouldn’t please her already hurt soul. She couldn’t do such thing even now. But since then she had an untold resolution that her granny thoroughly deserved to be happy even if she was cynical to the extreme level.
After that Mehek decided not to make any effort in future in making her understand the changed world. She could only sigh and shake her head at her quirkiness like every time. She decided let her listen to the autumn and spring through her own window. Let her be her and contented of being her at least from now. She just simply finished her dinner and silently retired to bed.
But whatever, Mehek now promised herself she wasn’t going to talk about this man to her grandmother which she knew she would definitely inquire about later this evening after her work. Else, she would screech eloquently as if shock waves coursing through her body conforming things on her own just for some random man simply asked her if she was new. Because according to her it was incorrigibly only her son-in-law, Mehek’s father, was the genuine man ever had lived and not anyone else. She always said, her daughter, Mehek’s mother, had done something felicitous beyond her ken to have had an Indian as her husband. Yes, Mehek was a half breed. Mother from America and father from India. But she knew nothing about India as she’d never been to there. It was said while her father had been in Wyoming for his work he met her mother and they immediately got married awaiting no endorsement from anyone from any side. She wondered what could have been there that made them fall madly for each other at the soonest. What could have been there with that Indian man that even the world’s toughest jury, her granny, on assessing men, had him in her good books even though he’d been the one to seize her own and only beloved daughter from her? She wished she could’ve seen him at least once in a way his face with eyes carrying plenty of love for her was imprinted in her memory forever. But since their parents had died from the rapid colonisation of cholera even before she was one, she had never gotten the opportunity to even feel the air of him by her skin and soul as well. She at least had her mother’s photograph from her granny’s old ragged collections but not his. It was only said he was too good a human and she just automatically believed it by the recurrent ingestions of such concept into her opinion system. How it would be if he was alive now? Goosebumps immediately popped up on her skin as every possible answer she could think of was just heaven.
The man’s soft chuckle dragged Mehek out from the cob webs of her deep musings. But paying no heed, she remained intact.
“Well, I got my seat now,” he said; amusement was evident in his voice.
Oh, nah, come on! What was so funny? Annoyed, she turned to look at him but was surprised to find a little girl standing by her side. The first thing that got registered in her mind was the girl was notably pale and too tenuous to hold her own body up and straight. Where did this girl suddenly come from? Frowning, she quickly rotated her head to ninety degree and found the man sitting in the seat adjacent to hers which was separated by the pathway in between.
She stared at him expectantly, wanting him to speak up.
He flashed his perfectly arranged well-sized teeth at her. “Whitney she is. She needs that place of yours.”
Mehek gave him an ‘are you kidding?’ brow rise.
“She’s this problem. Inflammation on knees. And only with this seat she can keep them projected upward as it has an iron bar beneath it, easy for her to rest her feet on it,” he explained.
Mehek noticed the place his finger was pointing down her seat. “Oh, my god!” Shades of guilt rushed across her features when she discovered he’d actually asked a place for this girl. She realised the girl had been standing behind him then but completely hidden from her view. “I’m sorry! I didn’t know about it.” She got up in a flash, carefully helping the girl to replace her.
“Whitney, you’re such a beautiful girl,” she said pinching her cheek.
The girl smiled shyly at her. She quickly said something before turning to the window, her voice was too low to reach to its significance and Mehek just guessed she thanked her.
She decided to stand on as she thought the current stop must be hers. Clinging to the vertical iron rod, she bent down to come up with the window level. The shocking contact with the ice-cold metal made her wince but she soon turned comfortable when heat was accumulated there from her hands.
When her eyes inadvertently fell on the one exposed knee of Whitney which her rucked up frock showed, she couldn’t help but ask, “Did you have any fall, kid?”
“No, it’s lupus,” said the man. “It’s a disease that is auto immune. You know, it’s like you can say your own body attacks itself from within,” he explained when Mehek reacted appropriately to his interference curiously turning her face to him.
“How long has it been since she was diagnosed?”
“Hmm, uh…” Thoughtfully, he ran his fingers across his well shaved jaw. “She was seven then per the report. You’d turned eight now, hadn’t you, baby?” he proposed toward Whitney with his both forefingers friskily pointed toward her; his face animatedly playful and full of vim and vigour as soon as he shifted his chat from Mehek to Whitney.
Mehek noticed her smile had no tinge of shyness now and her amber eyes shone with stars. “Yeah,” she uttered in a full of beans voice unlike before.
“Oh my!” He dramatically kept his fisted palm over the place where his heart was and blew out air. “Thank God, I wasn’t wrong, soon to be lady!” he ended in a rap speeding his right arm forwardly as if a musician ending his performance on stage.
A heartful guffaw that boomed out of her emaciated chest made her tiny body bounce within the seat. Her face carried a delirious pleasure that greatly surprised Mehek as she hadn’t thought of this girl to be like this when she happened to take the impression of her shadowed eyes in the first place.
“When did it relapse?” she asked him looking at Whitney’ brightly reddened knee, trying to understand how much pain she was in. The little girl must be gutsy beyond her presumption, she thought in amazement.
Just then, the bus came to a gentle halt but still that was quite abrupt to Mehek’ absentminded stance. She suffered a momentary jerk before getting her back on a conscious grip. Adjusting the slipped bag back over her shoulder, she bent down further and crazily moved her head back and forth checking for the occurrence of any sign of the words she was looking for. God, her heart paced up with each passing second as she wondered she could get to see the board exactly when the bus would start moving.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Life hospital?” she said without hesitation. It suddenly occurred to her how funny some little talk could completely bring out an absolute different approach from you for the same person.
“Chill man! That’s at fifth, counting from here.”
“What! But my neighbour told it would take only thirty minutes by bus.”
“No bus would take you in that time. Only straight buses do but you can seldom find those. This isn’t one of them. I too am heading over there,” he said in a reasonably convincing tone.
Thank God! She let out a smooth relieved sigh as finally she’d achieved a company. “Yeah, thank you very much.” Giving Whitney a light smile, she satisfactorily occupied the place beside her.
“So, it’s that you’re new to here,” he concluded.
“I’m,” she agreed this time. “Was my face that loudmouthed? I mean, was it really that conspicuous just from the look I’d on my face?” She shot him a keen look as she really wanted to know. She shouldn’t be such an open book for god’s sake.
“No, not really,” he said thankfully bucking her up. So, she really could appear different from what she was inside, she thought breathing easily. “Actually, it’s something else,” he continued, “The commuters here very well know Whitney has this place reserved without sealing the deal. So, they generally would shift on simply seeing her.” He winked at the girl whose face was beaming radiantly at him.
Excuse me! What did it imply? Was he meaning to say she didn’t leave the seat even on seeing the little girl? Was he saying she’d been intentionally glued to the seat?
She tried to derive out if he was complaining but his calm face gave her no result. It was neutral that was neither belligerent nor genial.
“But being you a commuter you must have known I’m not one such,” she directly said, quitting her effort on reading his mind.
“Whoa! No offense. Actually, I’ve this habit of missing this bus often. I thought you might have travelled in those times” he explained. “Are you anything in medical field?”
His face had no hesitation again, looking simply in her eyes waiting for her reply. If she was startled by his straightness, she didn’t show it out this time too.
“Yeah, I’m a nurse,” she quietly said. “How’s that you got it!” she couldn’t help but wonder after a second silence.
“Your tongue was having medical terms quite fluently. And it was last night.”
“Last night what?”
“It relapsed last night. She suddenly started having symptoms at midnight.” He paused. Mehek felt he was suddenly on the lookout as his gaze fell briefly on Whitney before coming back to hers. “She is having the period of flare now,” he said in a small voice, the profound seriousness in his face had a clear-cut story to tell that it was no laughing matter.
With the contagious coolness that he’d kept spinning around all this time, Mehek thought of her disease to be so mild. But by him saying flare, she knew the spirit of the disease was on its highest now which would mercilessly hurt the little body at its every turn of opportunity. With an impulsive compulsion, she snapped her head to look at the small round face; to see her pretty beaming amid such pain which she had to learn for sure. But Whitney was in between her little deep nap slanting her body and Mehek saw she crooked herself unwieldly to avoid the pain to her best.
“I think she has inflammations on inside, too,” she whispered concernedly, looking at the way even her stomach was bent forwards awkwardly like the folds of her arms and legs.
“Of course, she does. A lot indeed.”
How could he make her laugh so easily then? And the radiance on his face now wasn’t like while she’d been awake. She understood he was deliberately being such a full of bright and breezy stuff before her eyes just to keep her spirits up. Wow! Whoever he was to her, he must love her well-being along with her mental stabilization. Maybe, for his such concern he should be from her family because he also seemed to keep track of her medical records very, very well. Only very few would be enrolled in the list of a house to know what was happening there at midnight.
“What are you?” She asked with the same suddenness as him. “Let me guess, you don’t have anything to deal with your health. Are you then for taking Whitney to hospital? Are you her brother?” She rapped. “I mean, her cousin or anything?” she quickly corrected. Because, though he looked young and posh like Edward Norton in Fight Club movie, still Whitney appeared too young to be his own sister.
A visible stupefaction briefly filled his face that amused her. At that a genial smile crept over her perfectly shaped naturally pink lips as being a nurse herself, she hated wearing any makeup.
“Yes, right that somewhat. By God’ grace, I’m not having anything there to do with my health as of now. Actually, it’s currently I’m doing my internship there. You can say, well, a doctor who works without payment! But it’s not exactly the fact I’m there for Whitney. She is terrific being there for my sake. I’m studying her case and she is helping me a lot.”
Mehek was immediately impressed. She’d always dreamt of becoming a doctor but couldn’t as she possibly had no chance to give a trouble to her grandmother economically. She’d to admit he’d earned hers forever admiration for him. “That’s great! Seriously, mister,” she honestly complemented.
“Oh, thank you. And its Brett Wood. You can call me Brett.”
She decently smiled. “Nice name. And Brett, I meant it. You’re truly lucky to do medicine. I mean, you know, like…” -she gave a flippant toss to her head, absently pushing her lower lip out in reverence, appreciatingly rising her brows at him- “to be a doctor,” she finished her sentence, smiling one that disguised several emotions. “Actually, I wanted to but…it was like…all right. Leave it. I don’t want to be a pain now.” She chuckled ruefully, turning her face away from him, not wanting to continue with their ongoing discourse.
“Come on, you possibly cannot be. I can feel you’re a full of pep nurse.”
Nonplussed she turned and shook her head at his impossible nature. Oh no, not with her. She wasn’t a kid like Whitney to be shown sugar but a twenty-eight-year-old grown-up woman. She knew what she was and what not, and she’d started loving her nurse job for her own good. Alright, his dose was already enough. “Stop it! You’re such a saccharine stuff. It makes me feel diabetic,” she sounded serious.
He laughed loudly. “I must say you’re smart because I’m exactly that. Let me tell you I need a favour from you.”
What! Mehek’s every sense grew highly alert. She wondered if he was really up to there. What favour could you expect from any stranger, after all? She could hear from the back of her mind her granny snap with a face full of pride, ‘I told you, little woman!’
“What?” she deliberately sounded laconic, letting no lines of inquisitiveness cover her plain face.
“It’s just you’ve to join in a club,” he paused, looking for her response.
Piqued, she frowned giving him a ‘give it straight and be quick’ look.
“Here it is.” He took out a visiting card from his pants pocket and handed it over to her.
Mehek reluctantly took it and flipped the card. ‘SAVE LIFE SERVE GOD’ were the words written on top of it in bold letters. She learned it was a mobile camp which would collect blood from volunteers around the city of Mississippi at weekends and donate it to the hospitals around the city. God, no! She again guessed him wrong. Immediately, the warm flow of contrite rushed down her body right from the place her fingers held the card. What the hell with this day! All of misunderstandings right from the start, let alone this! She wasn’t going to let her granny’s preaching ring a bell anymore as it only kept bringing her a terrible mortification each time.
For a moment, she kept looking intently at the card before looking him in his eyes. “You told something like joining a club.” She tried to sound gentle, giving him the respect he deserved.
“If you add a new member, you’ll be paid more,” he said taking her by an immediate surprise.
Her eyes widened. “Wait! Are you telling me you’ll be paid for doing service?”
“Obviously. Why not?” he wondered as if he couldn’t understand her logic at all. “I need to sustain myself, isn’t that?” he said after a moment.
“Yeah. But I mean service is like doing for free.” She shrugged. “Maybe, that’s what I thought.” Their approaches were completely different. She knew he possibly couldn’t get her point or the other way around.
Was she such unworldly or what? Brett thought she seemed to not at all belong here like she’d born just yesterday. Too much a Miss. Goody two shoes.
“It’s fine to get money if it doesn’t really squeeze someone’s blood out,” he said in a matter of fact tone. “The hospitals are benefitted and in turn benefitting you for your service to them. Then why not? After all, I love to serve as a doctor. For that I’m in some need and the need here is money.” He suddenly grinned at her. “Now don’t think I’m not a good doctor because it’s actually I’ve to clear all my dues.”
“No. Not at all,” she denied almost animatedly coming off her guard as he was way too pragmatic for his age that made her feel so small before him for a moment which he shouldn’t take as otherwise. She discovered anew he too wasn’t economically abundant as he just said he’d dues. Still he was managing to get what he wanted and that was such gumption of him for his indubitable high life. “And Brett, I don’t think you aren’t a good doctor,” she said seriously in veneration. “In fact, you’re too wonderful to be simply a good doctor. You complete every need this profession demands from you.”
If the driver of the bus didn’t apply brake she would see how much awe he was in and not turn to the window as he loved to believe her words as precise as said. Mehek could now see the board as like the neighbour woman had told. Whitney was still sleeping unaware of having reached the destination and so she went on to lifting her up.
“Wait,” Brett said. “Let me.” Mehek nodded, letting him and he smoothly lifted her without disturbing her sleep.
They waited for the bus to move as they had to cross the road to reach the hospital. She glanced at the visiting card he’d given before keeping it safely inside her bag.
“Thank you so much,” he said in such deep meaningful voice that earned a confused glance from her while they crossed the road. “For all those words, for your opinion on me,” he explained.
“Oh, come on. You deserve it. Truly man! You’re already out there.”
She treaded quickly to the other end, eager to start her new day at work here, obviously missing his reactive expression once again as his legs momentarily stopped.
“Hey, baby,” screamed in joy, a blonde girl, running past Mehek from the grand entrance of the hospital jumping down the giant stairs.
She’d a white coat on over her plain blue tank top and white pants. She must be an intern too, Mehek guessed and stopped at the top stair, impulsively turning around her head. The blonde girl borrowed Whitney from his arms which made her resign with her sleep. She seemed to talk something zestful making big eyes to the kid that made her laugh out immediately. A whole-hearted laugh with her, too. Brett also seemed to enjoy the duo’ conversation very much as his fully stretched smile formed wrinkles round the nooks of his eyes and mouth. She was gorgeous with perfection at its peak at every turn on her body and Mehek now wondered whom had she addressed as baby while hopping down the stairs.
Phew! Whatever with these young people nowadays, she sighed and proceeded into the hospital, forgetting that she too was just in her twenties and still a globally certified youngster. She almost forgot her hormones or that she thought. She’d always been like this – never bothering about paving ways to gather attention. She was used to the world she was in and comfortable of living in her own skin.
The hospital was huge and had humongous workers bustling around everywhere, always carrying files or attending people. Mehek blended with them as one, devotedly put herself in as soon as she took charge and hadn’t gotten to see Brett nor Whitney after this morning. The dean of the hospital, Dr. Johnny Abraham, a man on his early fifties was kind enough as his age for her really could acclimatize with the new environment and work.
It was an evening now. Sitting alone in the room allotted for her along with some other colleagues from her own league, Mehek felt her body bit lethargic. She leaned back on the chair, closing her eyes, taking in the bliss of the feeling her sagged back slowly relieving. But she knew she couldn’t think of stopping for the day anytime soon as she’d to head straight to a café to haul in the needed source to maintain a decent survival. Salary coming from working in hospital alone wouldn’t make up for the spent.
Opening her bag, she took out a card her granny had provided. After a long argument, she’d permitted her to work after hospital hours, but only at the place where she prescribed. Alright, that wasn’t a problem for she just needed an allowance to work extra time no matter where. A light smile touched her lips on reminiscing how her granny sulked before falling into the mutual agreement the previous evening. Still her granny would be herself as she’d given Mehek a number to contact before going there, telling that she’d a friend there for her aid.
She hoped to meet with Brett so that she could get the directions to get to the café.
“Newbie caught the drift it seems,” Jelena, a senior nurse proclaimed chirpily while entering the room in quick pace.
Distracted, Mehek smiled at her words. “What! Oh no!” she said behind her back who was guzzling water down her parched throat.
Keeping a hand over her chest, she gulped the water left in her mouth all in a go. She turned and deliberately whispered between her quick breaths, “Believe me. You’ve. People are loving you, man! Like crazily.” Her eyes widened stressing the truth in her words and she again turned to finish the remnant of the bottle.
Her energy kept startling Mehek since she entered this hospital as she seemed to not run through at all. “Come on, but it’s not like you’re saying. I yet have no idea about anything here. I just did what I was asked and you’re telling me I’ve caught the drift.”
“You’re a nurse and people should love you.” Maria walked over to her with the same pace before taking her seat opposite Mehek. Resting her arms in the table that separated them, she leaned over. “That boy at 29th,” she whispered, “he’s fallen for you.” She winked at her and leaned back. “When I went to give him IV, he asked for you; telling me you were so kind and beautiful.”
Mehek narrowed her eyes in collecting memory and released them on realisation. “Haha…he is a kid, god!”
“That matters the most,” she chipped. “You know people should trust you, Mehek. Kids are the toughest. And you did it already. I can say you’re being blessed right by the eyes of Jesus Christ himself. You caught it right.”
Mehek gave an absentminded nod, being immersed in the mist of pleasure Maria’s earnest eyes promised her. She felt lucky for being here today, suddenly forgetting all the paths she’d used to reach here.
“Yeah, so true,” she mused. “And, well, I need to go here.” She stretched the card for the café to Maria.
Maria frowned confusedly down at the card and so Mehek explained that she needed to work for extra time. The former’s face got the lines of vivid red on stretching in an immediate smile.
Mehek noted down the details and started to set off, bidding her senior goodbye satisfactorily.
“Not only you,” Maria said while Mehek was about to cross the doorway which made her turn around in curiosity. The former smiled. “People around you too are blessed. You’re living this life,” she said, admiration was ample in her stern voice.
Credit to: Thena