This story is by Awais Zaka and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Ali Sayed, a senior Cardiologist, who had worked in three continents, now lived in the United States, in Tovi, Michigan. He worked in a small community hospital because he had to hold onto something. Once he was an ambitious man, young, strong, and vigorous, who dedicated his life to become a cardiologist, but now he had become old with slightly hunched back and gray sagging eyebrows. He was given to melancholy spells and often sat in his place for hours looking at walls or through windows, thinking about his vanity, his life, and limits the life imposed on him. His nickname was Saydo, from Sayed, but recently his friends twisted it to Sadhu, which means sage or the wise. One summer day, he was sitting in such melancholy mood in the back-room of physician lounge looking through its big window, when a nephrologist, a bulky, beaming youth of thirty-three, Dr. James Jared, stepped in, lowered his briefcase on the floor, his iPhone X on the table, and sat opposite him. Aura of dark roast from Sadhu’s cup, mixed with Sadhu’s mysterious presence, filled the room.
The day had started with a bright sun, but by noon dark clouds descended from nowhere and hung low in the sky, and not long after, it started pouring against the hot earth. Now It was almost evening. They got into conversation.
“The weather looks bad,” said the nephrologist.
“It’s gonna be horrible, this storm,” said Sadhu.
“Storm? What storm? There is no warning of the storm today or even this week!” said Dr. Jared.
“That’s how life throws curves sometimes,” Sadhu sighed.
The last words puzzled the nephrologist. Both remained silent for a while. Sadhu kept looking through the window. There was a time when he loved to talk, always ready to debate and discuss anything. He had, as he used to say, a philosophy of life. Recently, however, he had grown more and more silent. He liked to meditate.
Soon clouds began to thunder like angry gods. Flashes of lightning seemed to tear dark clouds and their sound vibrated the walls as if bombs were going off in the next room. Rain thrashed the window glass, like a mad man. Trees on the field beyond seemed to be swinging like a gathering of dervishes in trance.
“I don’t think we can get out of here today!” said Dr. Jared.
“it’s all the same whether you stay here or not,” said Sadhu, adding “the world moves on.”
This answer gave nephrologist another jolt. He had never talked to Sadhu before and was not aware of why other people, with the exception of students, avoided him. He had just finished his training and returned to his home town for the community, maybe to hold onto something, or perhaps he had his own constraints. He stared at Sadhu for a while, without any influence on the bent figure. Sadhu started.
“We live in our illusion of freedom. If we take time to consider, all we have is constraints. The state limits our lives with its laws; then society brings its own list of rules; whatever space is left is taken away by one’s family. I left my home forty years ago, in a small village in India. I had a room of my own then and I couldn’t use the bathroom without interruption. I had a room of my own now and still, I can not use the bathroom without interruption.”
Sadhu lowered his gaze from window to the young man, looked into his soft brown eyes, and then looked at the wall on his left, then on the right, as if asking them to answer for him, and then finally returned to his pensive position, gazing through the window. He resumed.
“I wanted to learn more, do more, achieve more. I lived in Australia, worked in Saudi Arabia, practiced in England, before coming to the states where I worked in all sorts of institutes. And what for? All I could finally do was plumbing heart vessels of people and make sure they got their optimal pill to pee their salt out. I barely have choice enough in using medicines of my own choice; I have to do whatever hospital policy tells me to do. I spent my whole life to be able to do—just this?”
It was absolute darkness outside. Flashes of lightning diminished into sparks. No more thunder. A text alert lit the iPhone X.
“One barely gets out of parental restrictions when he lands in marriage trap,” continued Sadhu.
The young man replied to his wife and slid the phone into his pocket.
Sadhu continued, “First I had to follow the codes of my parents. I had barely fought out of them when I found my self under new codes…my wife’s. And I had just learned to compromise for others when kids began to explain how I should behave.”
The nephrologist now started feeling uncomfortable, particularly since Sadhu had guessed his wife’s message. A mystique or creep! he thought to himself.
“You are young, you must know how much constrain time puts on our lives. One-third of human’s life is lost in sleep, more than third in work, and whatever is left is occupied by the family. Leaving for himself what? Few hours a week? We want to do everything in the world, in this limited time. We divide time into days and nights, weeks, months—years. We sell our present to buy the future, and when we get to the future, the present had already become the past. All our energy, our passion, our hard work changes into mere memory. Chasing the future, a man misses his present. Once there he thinks he hasn’t done enough—or maybe nothing.”
The nephrologist walked over to the window and to peek outside he unlatched the door, which sent the door flapping like a bird trapped in a room. He struggled it back into the locked position. He stood their, tall and robust, looking through the window, his eyes full of the wait. Clouds were now melting away revealing a big bright moon. Creamy white moonlight covered the trees like a sheet of silk. Sparks of lightning gave way to twinkling stars. OMG, please pray it clears soon!
Sadhu also walked to the window and stood close to the other end of the window leaning against the wall. He looked at the young man with those eyes covered by gray sagging brows. Not standing the weight of that grave gaze, Dr. Jared turned and looked toward Sadhu. As if waiting for this connection, Sadhu resumed.
“Man makes too much of his freedom. Blah! He has no control over his birth, which country, what house, rich or poor, white, black, or brown. Even if he reckons all this a given he still remains trapped in his own mind. Research now tells us that a kid’s psychological features are almost ossified by the time he is four. Every day they find something new about the workings of the brain. Last month in a science magazine they reported a vendor in Brazil who, after stroke, could not say “no” to any of his customers, and gave them candies whether they have money or not. This insight sent my head into a spin—for the first time I realized why some people get addicted to alcohol and others don’t; why some of the friends always helped while for others it was easy to say ‘No’. This made me ask myself “how much I did by myself and how much I did because I couldn’t do otherwise.”
He walked back and sat in his place. Someone opened the door from the main lounge, looked at both doctors, grinned toward nephrologist, and exclaimed, “Storm is over James, let’s go.” A smile lit James face. He picked his briefcase and walked toward the door.
“It was nice meeting you Dr. Jared,” said Sadhu.
James walked out of the room. Behind the closed door, Sadhu heard “That old man bored me to death.”
Sadhu smiled and resumed his meditative spell.