The leaves of the drawbridge came down gently after the massive luxury liner glided past smoothly. The people on the deck waved to the excited children on the shore who were cheering and clapping and sending up multicoloured animal shaped balloons entwined in their fingers. We shepherded the children to the waiting van as the balloons went up and the sun melted into the sea. The van, as our apparel was blue with the words “wish upon a star” printed on it.
The programme sheet lay before me. The origami session held the previous weekend was a roaring success with the children in the wards, so much so that a few case sheets and charts clipped to bed rails had ended up as samurai helmets and paper frogs. Today there was another session in the afternoon and I stashed bunches of coloured paper in the drawer in readiness. I set out to inform the kids about the schedule, extending my stride as always to avoid alternate black tiles. The marble flooring was a dramatic black and white and I smiled as I thought of Rocky the kid with suspected oral cancer. “Do you see that?” he asked me as I wheeled him to the recreational room last time, “See what” I asked following Rocky’s outstretched hand. “Zebaa” “Ahhhh” I said as a zebra conjured up before me and melted swiftly into the tile.
Halfway through the curving corridor, I abruptly pulled a halt with my right foot hovering over the dreaded black strip. “Naina...”I had not heard anyone call me that for a very long time. I turned round to see a figure detach himself from the entrance to the orthopaedic ward and walk towards me. I stood there gasping like a fish while my brain swiftly dealt with the clutter in my head to come up with a younger version of the person before me in faded denims, a tee and overgrown hair.
“Niraj” I acknowledged, softly. This was my
best friend’s brother who was older by ten years and on whom I had such a crush
that it had all but destroyed me. The last I saw him was before his wedding
almost a decade ago. I lost my mother roughly the same time so I had an alibi
for my depression.
“............consultant two days back.
”He was probably answering the query in my eyes but my mind was far away. “I thought I saw you yesterday...” he said, his eyes fixed on the charcoal black braid I wore that reached my waist, “...but was not absolutely sure.”
I absently explained the cause for my existence at the hospital, underlining the logo on my midnight blue mandarin coat with a pen.
Mrs C wished to see the new flowers on the grafted rose bushes in the terrace garden of the hospital before being discharged, a visit to the aquarium was due for the newly crowned in house chess champ, a visit to the zoo to see the new born giraffe, sunset from the top of the lighthouse and round two of the Sudoku competition. I was putting shape to this week’s wish list. There were bound to be changes in the programme, but first I would need the consent of respective consultants and work around the treatment schedule for each one on the wish list.
The cafeteria was noisy and cluttered, but it was all right with me because I had mastered the technique of insulating myself completely from my surroundings ages ago.
The coffee was usually sent sloshing down to stop at roughly the same distance from my folders and files everyday, but today it slid into my periphery of vision very slowly. I looked up with distinct triangular brows as I sensed an alien presence at my table. It was a week since I met him but Dr Niraj Sharma looked extremely comfortable in his new setting. He poached a chair from the neighbouring table and settled down beside me with his beverage.
This is what people who knew you since you cut teeth, did. They barged in like rhinos and made sawdust of all barriers you had painstakingly erected round yourself, and the smug looking specimen before me was as good for me as a pinch of arsenic. I simply could not afford to fall off my boat again.
“Dee is coming down next month. She relapsed into hysterics when I told her about you. She would have preponed her trip if she could.” He took a swig from his cup and I watched his bony profile as the drink went past the bobbing Adam’s apple.
I gathered papers into a folder with the untouched cup of coffee at my elbow and made to get up.
“In the past you could not wait enough for me to come and rescue you from the clutches of the rose bush. Now you go out of your way to avoid me. What gives?” I mutely raised my folder in defence and turned on my heel.
He finished his coffee in one swift gulp and caught up with me. We walked down the corridor together in silence till he took the turn leading to the car park and I headed for the stairs.
Rocky gifted me a beautiful mobile, with origami animals dangling from a circular cane frame. I hung it above the window of my tiny cubicle and watched the cleverly folded animals frolicking in the breeze.
“Refocus” my counsellor had instructed me and I was doing precisely that and I could feel the anxiety pangs ebbing away with time. It was just as well that I had been assigned to a super specialty hospital next week.
The following week went by in a blur with three of us meeting patients and their relatives. Forms were filled and waiting lists drawn up. The wish list was long and we sorted out the ones that could be tackled immediately, for example - a desire to spend few hours at the beach and the others where special arrangements would have to be made for someone who wanted to have an aerial view of the tea plantation in a helicopter. In spite of all the diversions, there were moments during a day when I saw a face that was all angles with an oversized knife edge nose and a broken brow reflected in insipid cups of coffee and I would violently disperse the image with a stirrer.
I was back at my regular cubby hole the week after. My table was piled with forms and other papers, but my eyes went to a slip of paper pinned down by an old fashioned paper weight on the far right of the table. “Lunch at two at.....................?” It was signed “N”.
I determinedly worked through the papers till five to two, then picked my bag and trudged down to the ward because that was where he would be normally at this time of the day. The ward was peaceful with none of the flurry which accompanied the doctor during rounds. I made for his cabin and knocked. No answer. I nudged the door open a little bit and found him in deep slumber on the sofa. I stood there undecided, but my prying eyes picked out the grey at the temples and the deep purplish scar on the calf of his right leg partly hidden under the trouser hem which had ridden up slightly. I turned to leave as quietly as I had entered, but my wrist was held in a lightning grip.
The Story Wish Upon a Star continued here......