This story is by Narayan Kamath and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Ravi sipped on his coffee. Not bad. Yesterday he’d forgotten to say ‘without sugar’ and it had been sickeningly sweet.
The lounge outside the operating theatre complex was overcrowded, so Ravi had headed down to the cafeteria. In any case, he hadn’t eaten anything since supper last night. He found a seat at the far corner, close to the television which was playing the cable news channel.
There was already someone seated at the table, but he barely acknowledged Ravi, his head buried in his phone. Looking up at the TV, Ravi heard the anchor say “Another day without any parliamentary business transacted, as opposition walks out in protest”
“These jokers should not be paid if they don’t attend the session,” said his companion, looking up from his phone.
“Hmm,” said Ravi, not wanting to get into a conversation about politics.
“By the way, I’m Hitesh,” the man continued. “I saw you outside the OT earlier. Who are you waiting for?”
“My wife. They are operating on her.” Ravi said.
“Tchh… Tchh… Tchh… What happened?
“Oh! What stage?”
Ravi was getting irritated. He didn’t really want this conversation. He wondered what to say, when the man’s phone rang, and he got up and walked away, speaking into the phone.
Ravi was amazed at how difficult it was for him to speak about Bharati’s illness without getting angry, or emotional, or both. While his wife had complained of headaches for over a year, she had refused to visit a doctor, brushing him off with a characteristic “Oh, it’s nothing! I’ll be fine after a brief nap”
And it seemed that it worked, for a while. Until it didn’t, and three days ago, his neighbour called to say that Bharathi had passed out outside their door, and she was now on her way to the ER in an ambulance.
Sitting in the crowded cafeteria, Ravi strangely felt alone. His mind seemed to endlessly play the events of the last three days. And it kept looping back to the moment outside the CT Scan room, where Dr Pillai had broken the news…
“It’s Stage 3. I’m sorry. This is not what you want to hear, but it’s what it is”. Dr Pillai had a reputation for telling it straight.
“What does that mean Doctor? Can’t you do anything?” asked Ravi
“Of course we can. But understand, at this stage, the chances are low. A few months earlier, we would have most probably got rid of this tumour completely. Right now, with how it has spread, we can’t be too aggressive, or she might become a vegetable…”
“And if we don’t operate, how long do we…”
“Difficult to say. Weeks to months. And it won’t be pretty…”
Ravi got the picture.
Three more to go, thought Ravi as he dialled another number.
“Hello! Ajitbhaiyya? Sorry to call this late…”
“Ravi? Sorry, I haven’t spoken to Jaya yet. I’ll let you know tomorrow. But Ravi, I must tell you, there’s not much we can spare…”
“No help is too small bhaiyya. I’m running out of people I can call ..” said Ravi, his voice breaking.
It would cost around five lakh rupees to get Bharati operated. And the subsequent chemo and radio treatments, twice that. Their entire savings added up to less than one lakh – that too because Bharathi had dreamt of buying their own home. He could muster another lakh, at best, by selling the few pieces of jewellery his mother left them.
He hated asking anyone for money, but this was no time to let pride come in the way of giving Bharathi a fighting chance. He made a list of all their close friends and relatives, and started calling each one.
“Don’t you have insurance?”
Ravi would explain that his employer did not provide insurance, and that they couldn’t afford the premium on their own.
“Oh, I’m sorry. We just loaned money to my brother. If only you had called a week earlier…”
Others were less subtle. “Are you mad? How are you going to ever pay back such a big amount?”
Only a handful of people said they would get back, and Ravi was almost through calling them a second time – and it only added to half a lakh at most.
Ravi had already tried at the office. “You’ve already taken a loan against your bonus – so there’s not much more we can do. But let me talk to Sethji”
That was yesterday. So Ravi called his manager once again. “Joshisaab, did you speak to Sethji?”
“Ah Ravi! I’m sorry – I tried my best, but Sethji says business is really slow. He doesn’t even know how we will pay salaries next month, so forget about any loan”
“But sir, I have worked so loyally all these years. Doesn’t that count?”
“Sorry!I am only the messenger.”
“But, this is not fair! Who can I turn to?”
“I’m really sorry. Sethji won’t help. But Ravi, I know someone who might. He will want something in return, and I’m not sure you’ll agree”
“Who Joshisaab? You know I’m really desperate. I will do anything!”
“Listen. Why don’t you come over to my house around eight? You can meet him there”
“Come in Ravi! What will you have, tea or coffee?”
“I’m fine. Is he here yet?”
“Any moment. You sure you won’t have anything?”
It was another 5 minutes before the bell rang, but to Ravi it seemed much longer.
“Come in Vishalji! This is Ravi, who I spoke about. Ravi, this is Vishalji, Sethji’s son-in-law. He’s a big lawyer. He has a proposal for you. Please hear him out and decide carefully. I will step out, and leave you two to discuss in private”.
“Thanks Joshi,” said Vishal. “Ravi, I heard your story from Joshi. I am aware of your problem. My client also has a problem, and I think you two can help each other”
“How can I help Vishalji? Please tell me.”
“I wanted to get you something, but they told me you can’t eat, since they will be operating tomorrow morning”
“Ravi! Where have you been?”
“Oh, I’ve been here mostly sweetheart. You’ve been sleeping all day”
“Yes. I don’t know why I feel so sleepy. Are they drugging me?”
“Oh, just a little something to let you rest dear”
“I’m scared about tomorrow. What do the doctors say? Will everything be OK?”
“Of course darling! They will be done by noon, and we will be back home in a couple of days”
“Home. Did you remember…” she drifted off to sleep.
Ravi stayed on for a while, looking at his wife’s beautiful face, radiant despite the ravages of her illness. He recalled how she would be embarrassed whenever he praised her beauty. His eyes filled with tears as he thought about what tomorrow might bring
They rolled her into the OT just after eight. He had accompanied her to the prep room, where doctors went over her charts , discussing their strategy. Dr Pillai took Ravi aside and said, “We are just about to take her in and start operating. It’ll take about three or four hours. We’re going to try local anaesthesia first, as the risk is lower. If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to go for general. The risk is higher, but still acceptable”
Ravi wanted to ask what could go wrong, but thought it better to focus on the positive.
The doctor continued to explain, but it all sounded so gruesome, Ravi tuned out until he heard Dr Pillai say, “So you realise this is complex surgery, it’s late stage cancer, and the chances of survival and recovery are lower than normal?”.
Ravi managed to nod weakly as he signed the release.
In the cafeteria, Ravi turned up to look at the TV as the anchor said “In Breaking news, in the Attibele hit and run case, lawyer Vishal Bharadwaj is hosting a press conference. According to Bharadwaj, his client Dilip Shah, whose car was identified on the basis of eye witness accounts and cctv footage, has decided to cooperate with the authorities. Cutting over live…”
“My client has been recuperating at his farm after a severe flu, and was not aware of these developments. The car is certainly his, but he was not driving it at the time. His father arranged for an employee to pick it up from the farm and drive it to their home, Thursday night, when the accident happened. The employee panicked and drove straight on, and left the car at Mr Shah’s home – without informing anybody. We will be meeting the police together with the employee at five pm today, when he will surrender…”
Ravi looked at his watch. Vishal had asked him to be ready to be picked up at four. The operation would be over by noon. Would he get to speak with Bharathi first?
He continued to sip on his coffee, tears streaming down his face.