Back to previous chapter Chapter 6
Andrew sipped the last drops of tender coconut water. It tasted so much sweeter after what he had heard.“I’m in the presence of a great lady,” Andrew thought, smiling down at the old lady reclining in her easy chair. “Now I know from where Ameesha has got her values. What an incredible feat by a single parent! Imagine an expatriate bringing up a foundling, and then letting her be cared for by an orthodox Brahmin widow, in the most complex country in the world.
Both Andrew and Margaret then fell silent, each deeply immersed in their own thoughts. They were startled by the sound of a jeep roaring up the pathway.
“Sorry I’m late, Mother,” Ameesha apologized, as she ran up the steps. Then she realised there was someone else on the verandah. They hadn’t turned on the lights. So she couldn’t recognise the visitor.
“For Goodness sake Mother, why haven’t you turned on the lights? We seem to be having a guest.”But before she could reach for the light switch, Andrew greeted her.“Bet you’re in for a surprise, Girl.”In that moment, her mind flew back over the years.“Put your eye to the scope, Girl. Bet you’re in for a surprise.”“Andrew, is it really you?”She was all in a flurry. A hotchpotch of words tumbled out.“What are you doing here? Why didn’t you let me know you were coming? I’d have spread out the red carpet and cooked our fatted calf.”“Don’t you bluff. I know that you can’t even make a decent cup of tea.”
With the lights turned on, Amy rushed to Andrew and threw her arms around him.
“Welcome to India!” she said.
Amy was never very demonstrative with her affection except towards her mother. Now Margaret was surprised to see how spontaneously she had reacted to Andrew’s presence.
Andrew was glad to see Amy in such fine fettle. Her dusky features were truly enchanting, and those dark luminous eyes made his heart skip a beat. He knew without a doubt from where she had acquired her poise and dignity. She was Margaret’s wonder child.
“I arrived in this country a few days ago with a well planned itinerary. I wanted to see all those famous places advertised in the brochures which my travel agent had given me. But something I saw in the papers made me think of you. So I put everything on hold, and here I am.”
“You mean visiting me was not on your itinerary? Had you forgotten that I live in this country?”
“Oh no, I wanted to save this visit for the end, so that I could spend more time with you, and take home pleasant memories.”
“Now that you’re here, I hope I can persuade you to stay for a while and see how different life is in these parts. Besides, the kind of illnesses you see here, you could never hope to see in good old England.”
Long after Margaret had retired for the night, Amy and Andrew sat in companionable proximity, catching up with each other’s news. There was so much Amy had to tell him about the hospital and her work among the rural poor. It was both difficult and challenging. Over a year ago, Margaret had retired from hospital work, and Amy had taken charge completely.
“It took a while for people to accept me,” she said, “In the early days, when I had just got back from England, many would refuse to have me examine them. They insisted that only Mother should touch them. But she can be firm and they soon grew to tolerate me as a ‘necessary evil.’ Even today, I hear that after my polluting touch, Brahmin women have a cleansing bath after they go back from the hospital. I guess I’ve developed a thick skin these days. It doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve been more privileged than most people here, and that naturally causes heartburn. I’m Destiny’s Child, and I believe that love and compassion will eventually make them understand the oneness of all humankind.”
“Hey, you’re already talking like a missionary,” Andrew teased.“It’s my power of positive thinking,” Amy muttered.“Atta Girl!”
Then Andrew thought he sounded patronizing. He got up and put his arm around her.
“It’s great to see you so full of life, dear. I hope you’re making use of all the skills I taught you,” he said, taking her hands in his and thinking back to the times he had held them and guided them in performing some intricate procedure.
“I know I’m going to enjoy my stay here. But now I hear my stomach growling, and if you don’t give me something to eat, I’ll probably drop down in a faint.”
“I’m sorry. How thoughtless of me! Come, we’ll see what I can find,” she said, leading him towards the kitchen.
The table was already laid, and Umakka turned up like a genie.“Too late for a large meal,” she told Amy, “There’s tomato soup, a large salad, cheese and bread. I’m going to my room now. Don’t forget to drink your glass of milk before you sleep………and turn off the lights.”
Her proprietary airs made Andrew smile, especially as he had already heard her story from Margaret.
“She’s a dear,” Amy said, “She has cared for me since childhood and while Mother pampered me most of the time, it was Umakka who enforced discipline. She was so good at it that Mother never interfered. Poor dear! We are the only kin she has…… No, that’s not exactly correct. She has a number of relatives in another village. They couldn’t be bothered about her.”
That night, sleep was late in coming. Andrew’s presence had reopened bitter memories – memories she thought, would never resurface again.
“Of course I’m thrilled by his visit. Andrew was my friend, teacher and guide for the latter part of my stay in England. I have beautiful recollections of the time I worked in his Unit – how he would walk into the wards on his rounds , his head held high, imperious like some Maharaja, his white coated entourage in tow; or his masked elegance in theatre, his hands like an artist’s dream cutting, tying, fastening, with nothing but the tinkle of instruments breaking the silence; or his casual ‘well done’ when I learnt a new procedure and did it to his satisfaction. Andrew whose second name was ‘precision’ never used an extra stroke where one would do. He was meticulous to the point of vanity.”
But as she lay wide awake in bed, other memories returned to haunt her. They would have surfaced anyway because trouble had a way of following Amy wherever she went.
Dr. Bhandari a well wisher of the hospital and Margaret’s dear friend had invited Amy for a cup of tea at Diana’s Restaurant. Ameesha was always nervous in his presence. She couldn’t guess how much he knew. Many times she was on the verge of telling him her version, but baulked at the last moment. Who knew how he would react? Perhaps he too would blame her. Besides, in all these years, she hadn’t even confided in her mother, hoping to spare her more pain. But Dr.Bhandari was his usual jolly self and had merely called to caution her.“Child, watch your back. There’s someone stirring mischief against the hospital, and you in particular. I’d like you to inform me if you encounter any problem. I have sufficient clout in this town to bring mischief makers to book.We must meet again soon. It is so refreshing to spend time with you. The smile on your lips tells the world that you take happiness with you wherever you go, just like your mother. I consider myself fortunate to have her as my friend.”
Amy wept as she thought of the old man’s words. Would he feel the same when he knew the truth?
Continued .... Chapter 8
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