It gave Sashank such a strange feeling to stay overnight at a hospital neither as a patient nor as a visitor. He was there to sell a scanner machine. Dr. Ramani, Sarala’s sister who had signed the MOU after so much deliberation was also kind enough to let him be the hospital’s guest for that night.
The next morning he had to catch a train to the next city, to another hospital, to see another doctor.
It was by chance that he had enlisted this hospital in this remote town in south India as a potential customer. He often forgot the hard learned lesson that there are no potential customers but only customers. One never knows.
Sitting in the dining hall, he looked around. Everything was either white or gray. The beetroot curry someone had spilled on one of the tables stood out in dark pink. The nurses around him were all in white and the walls were off white above the eye level and gray below that. There was nothing to catch one’s eyes except the pretty faces and cute smiles of the nurses. How did they manage to maintain their pleasant bearing even this late at night? Most of them would have got into that uniform before sunrise, he was sure.
One of the nurses came over to him and said Dr. Ramani was waiting for him on the ground floor. He suddenly recalled his appointment with her. She had told him they could meet after dinner and go for a walk around the campus.
“It is not as charming as your Kerala, but still it has its own beauty,” she had told him that morning.
He doubted whether she was trying to imply something. The comment sounded strange to him at that time. Now that he had toyed with it much in his mind, it was no more interesting or intriguing.
Down below, on the ground floor, Ramani was waiting for him, browsing though a magazine. He could see that she was no more in her doctor’s drab uniform but in a kind of party wear. Was she returning from a function or something, he wondered.
As they walked down the steps into the moonlight, he asked her whether she was returning from somewhere.
“No, I am here to see you. There were no other engagements anyway.”
That was interesting.
“How long do you know my sister?”
That wasn’t a question he had expected.
“Not long. We don’t even know much about each other. We met at a railway station two years ago. It was a long wait for the train and so we got to know each other. I found her an interesting person and connected with her on FB. I put up a post asking whether anyone could help we with finding some clients for that machine and she was the first one to comment.”
“You’re right, she is an interesting character. People generally think she is my younger sister but I am the younger one. Four years younger to her”
Now that was an interesting fact. He too had made that mistake and now he corrected it in his mind.
“She was not an academic person, more into dance and stuff. I was only academic. Top scorer in every class. But that is all about me. She..she has gone to become the pride of our family. Almost a celebrity by now, right?”
“More than a celebrity. She is considered a scholar in her own field. Many dance and very few know why. She know how and why.”
Ramani laughed at that. He didn’t think it was proper to stare at her who couldn’t be called an acquaintance.
He looked up at the sky. It was a full moon. The fare away hill to the east and the north looked like they had gone to sleep under a think burnt brown blanket. Around him, the plains lay washed in gold and silver.
“She is actually a blessed soul.”
“I know,” he agreed. “But she fought for all that. It can’t be called blessing. She told me how she suffered when her man left her.”
“Still, it is blessing. Many fight and lose out to fate. She strong-armed her fate.”
An ambulance went past them, its siren freezing them for a moment.
“At any moment now, I may be wanted back at the hospital. Shall we walk back.”
“Yes, yes, sure, duty first.”
“I am sorry, we had to cut short our walk. Such is a surgeon’s life.”
“I know, I understand.”
But did I, he wondered. He could go back to his room, read something or watch a movie on Netflix or jut go to sleep. But this lady would have to keep herself awake, probably the whole night and pray for the life of a patient, a stranger to her.
He looked at her. She was more beautiful now than when he first met her.
They walked back and as they were close to the hospital, her phone rang again. She moved away and talked hurriedly over the phone. She was warm but firm in her tone.
“No need to hurry now,” she said. “She is gone. Brought dead, says the duty doctor.”
He didn’t know what to say. Dead for how long, he wanted to know. Was ti a dead body that went past them a few minutes back? What was the point in all this commotion then? But who knew? Every minute of life is also a life long enough. Same dynamics, same principles, and mysterious the same way.
“When is your train?”
He found himself rather reticent now.
“I have asked the caretaker to arrange some vehicle for you. The railway station is three kilometers from here.”
He still didn’t know what to say. This was all knew to him. People falling off like flies. He was sure that it would have been the same way for Sarala too.
Suddenly, he felt an awe for the person walking with him. He walked a little bit away from her. He senses that he was not getting the smell of the sanitizer on her. A doctor smells like mothers. A fragrance that cannot be washed away.
At the entrance to the hospital, she stopped to say bye to him.
And then she gracefully walked up the steps towards her office to sign a death certificate.
He waiter till the door closed behind her and then turned around to walk back to his room.
The moon was still shining bright.
Somewhere else some would not have finished their walk.