An Assamese Short Story by Krishna Bhuyan
Original Title : Bedonar Smriti
Translated into English by Biman Arandhara
Such earnest thirst in so weak a heart! So strong the desire for beauty of the eyes dim with pain!… So impatient are the ears with waning hearing power to hear her voice once…!
I lay in a sick bed at Mission Hospital. Typhoid fever along with pneumonia. There was no knowing when death would pluck me from the bosom of the world with his cruel hand. Such deep attachment, so much hope even of this uncertain life!
The heart would flutter in fear – what if this were to be the end of life! How could death be desirable? The prime of youth, beautiful world. Only I would have to die, you would live on, he would live on, that tall tree with split leaves would remain ever beautiful even after I was gone. That meant, only I would have to die – so dear was my life!
I would remain unconscious due to fever. When conscious I would get scared – what if this unconscious state had not ended!
“Oh, nurse.” Lifting my thin hand she would press my vein. After she took the thermometer reading, her face would turn grim. Her eyes seemed to say that her heart too had an unrevealed relationship with the thermometer made of transparent glass. In a soft voice she would ask: “How are you feeling?”
Circumstances had made her very dear to me. With my trembling hands I would pull her hand to my chest, as though my intense pain would subside considerably to the touch of her soft hand. She seemed to feel my suffering from her heart. She would sit by me, press my forehead that tended to split in pain. It would give me immense peace – the eyes staring at her would get shut.
I would think – what was she to me! My acquaintance with her was of just seven or eight days. How did she become so dear to me in so short a period? I would get surprised. Such care on her part for my life! So much of attention!
“Time for medicine.” I would open my eyes – nurse. I liked her. I would speak to her in my mind – give me, you have brought me heavenly nectar – and swallow the dose of medicine which had an obnoxious smell.
After arranging my bedclothes she would slowly walk out of the room. I wished she would stay near me always, feeling awkward whenever she left. I would crave the outside world. Her touch seemed to lessen that craving to a great extent. Whenever she walked out I would notice her back – her walk induced restlessness in me – I would feel awkward, and call out to her emotionally: “Sister.” She would turn back and ask why I called.
I could not explain why I called. I could not tell why it felt good to see her before me, why it saddened me when she left; so what should I tell her! Looking at her I would say: “I called just like that.”
She would smile, pause a few moments and then leave.
Whenever I felt slightly better I would guess that I was cured. But the fever would relapse. I would endure the distress of not getting well in the hope of recovering.
Not only her, several other nurses attended on me. Their nursing too was the same as hers; still one day I said: “Sister, I like your nursing more than that of the others.” She smiled. From that day she began devoting more time to me.
I was feeling slightly better during the daytime. Towards the evening the fever rose high. “Oh, what are those? Ah, so gigantic grotesque dark men – Yamdoot, Yamdoot – come to take me away – ooh, don’t come near me – go away – ooh, ooh, ooh.”
“What’s wrong with you?” I woke up to her touch. I was just dozing off.
“I had a bad dream. What time is it sister?”
“How long will you remain on duty?” I asked.
She said: “There is no replacement today. I shall stay back if necessary.”
I asked : “Wouldn’t it be a problem for you?”
She said: “What problem?”
The fever stopped relapsing. The black cloth that malady had spread over my life gradually began to disappear. I understood that her wish had emerged victorious. I saw a smile of satisfaction on the doctor’s face. Although there was no fever today, I did not have the strength to get up.
That day in the beginning the weather was quite sunny. But suddenly clouds appeared in the sky. The wind started blowing gently, rain was about to come. The patchy sunlight gave a new look to the world. An unknown joy thrilled my mind. The door was open and I could see far into the distance; looking over the green trees at the beautiful infinite blue sky I thought about the relationship my restricted life had with it.
She came in on some errand. Her pretty face appeared prettier to me. Kindness exuded from her eyes.
Now I do not seek her near me writhing in the agony of unbearable pain. I now seek her to give away the overwhelming love of my heart. The emotions of my weak heart seek expression before her.
She finished her work and left. Nowadays she prefers to stay away from me like before. She comes only when necessary. It hurts me very much. I get crazy to give her something in return for the soulful nursing that she gave me. I sometimes think the agony of fever is much better, because it brings her closer to me.
For so many days there was no contact with the outside world. I had not even noticed carefully the things that had occupied my room. The room was clean and tidy. On the wall was a picture of Jesus on crucifixion. Straight in front of me I saw a message nicely framed in glass – ‘Believe in Jesus, you will find peace’. Suddenly I remembered, she was a Christian, I was a Hindu. I felt sad. Although that difference was a small matter for me, I remembered the dangerous attitude of society. My mind turned rebellious against society. Again my eyes fell on the message – ‘Believe in Lord Jesus’. The word ‘Lord’ was not there, it rose from my mind and shone there – ‘Believe in Lord Jesus’. I found peace. I found fulfilment, society did not.
The calling bell is at arm’s length. The hand wishes to reach out slowly and press it, I can’t, I retract it. She had left just 10/15 minutes ago, how can I call her again! Whether or not I should indulge in this trifling act depends upon my wish. And yet, feelings of shyness or fear, or something else forbid me from doing it. Dejected, I look at the switch and think about its relationship with her. The switch – so compassionate! As if it understands the language of my soul, as if it is impatient to express my heart’s feelings before her!
Suddenly the ticking sound of the clock falls on my ears. I look at the clock. Half an hour left to 4 o’clock. Oh my, still half an hour, 30 minutes left! She will bring me my tiffin only at 4… Eh, the clock is ticking so slowly! So long only six minutes have passed! If only there had been no clocks! All this is mankind’s materialistic civilisation to bind the free life with some unnecessary rules and regulations. Looking at the minute hand of the clock I say inside me – go my dear hand, hurry towards 12. Oh no! So long only 12 minutes have passed! As though time would not move if I keep watching. Thus, I remain impatient for her to come. Some time later my eyes again fall on the clock – just eight minutes to go. So, she’ll come now. The heart flutters slightly. Hey clock, hang on, go a bit slow; let her come a little later, lest my dream should break if she comes now!
She brings my tiffin and leaves after a few useful tips. The words that overflow in the heart remain buried there. No courage to speak up. I get angry with myself only after she leaves.
Huh, am I crazy? What is all this that I am thinking about! I have not yet regained the strength to rise from bed, but already made her mine, imagining to be cured! I believe in fate. Still, so beautiful are the colourful images of thought!
Nothing much happened. I recovered even as I added colour to my thoughts. That day I prepared for my return home. I was happy to come out into the midst of the hearty laugh of the free outside world from the tiny room of the hospital filled with sorrowful screams of pain. Yet, sadness at my having to leave something behind seemed to reduce that joy to quite an extent. Something from the fearful recesses of the grave hospital said – don’t go, there is peace here too.
I took leave of everyone. I thought I would tell her everything frankly at the time of leaving. She came. Carefully suppressing my surging emotions I said: “Bye then.”
“Fine then, bye,” she said. My eyes wanted to pierce through her heart to see what change had undergone in it for me. I understood she felt very sad; I wanted to speak up but couldn’t. I returned home, strongly revolting against my mind.
I stood upright in front of the mirror. My previous youthful appearance glowed. The hair that had fallen off, began to grow well again. The eyes regained their glow. Suddenly as if that form of mine disappeared from the mirror and in its place appeared my emaciated, dirty, pale frame at Mission Hospital. Someone came and stood behind me. Who was it? Sister! She asked – how are you?
I thought I had made a blunder by not telling her. So long I suffered unnecessarily the pain of not telling. She loved me, otherwise why so much of care, affection and nursing!
In the afternoon I went to Mission Hospital. Everybody was happy to find me in that state. When I asked them about her they told me to go to Room No 3.
What a sight it was! The beautiful house of imagination in my heart crumbled away. The image of the sweetheart of my heart vanished. In its place ruled the chaste form of the idol of a deity. I found her sitting near some unfortunate one like me and examining something attentively like she used to do in my case. The patient screamed; her face turned black. Gently giving him a cold sponging on the head, she sat on a chair nearby and kept staring at him.
I understood – she was enjoying her life by dedicating herself to the service of all those in distress. Her love was more altruistic than the love I had thought of. I did not dare to disturb her. I retraced my steps silently from the verandah without her being aware of it. Still alive are the sweet memories of that pain!