Short Stories

Touch of Hope

“Look, Maya, I know it must be a difficult situation for you and Ayaan. But you have to put your emotions aside just for the sake of your life,” said Dr Nikhil Shah who Maya thought was kind enough to show his concern. Maya was not only his patient but she was his best friend’s wife, too.
 
Maya, in her regular cotton kurta and ankle-length palazzo which she used to prefer for the gynaecologist visit, didn’t show any change in expression. She was subtle and pale. She was the woman in her early 30s. She was kind and always calm, not showing any of her extremes; neither happiness nor sadness. Not even anger. People around her were aware of her typical behaviour. For Nikhil, it was easy and difficult at the same time to disclose the news of the complications in her pregnancy to her. He knew that she won’t react. But such news would shatter a person, especially the expecting mother. And not projecting grief for a longer period of time leads a person to suffocation and frustration. And here, she did the same; no reaction as if she didn’t hear him clearly.
 
Being her gynaecologist, he wanted to clarify it again but chose not to say anything. He said, instead, “Why don’t you and Ayaan come next week? We will discuss everything. And we can also schedule the procedure then. It will give you both some time to think about it. But Maya, I would suggest you be practical.”
 
The fingers of her hands were constantly rubbing one another. Her eyes had enough sincerity. She nodded, for the first time in this entire conversation. After a word of greeting, she got up to leave for home. ‘They must have come,’ she thought while passing the hospital gate.
 
As soon as she closed the door of her car, Maya held the steering. She forgot what she was supposed to do. She observed the steering and the dashboard for a few seconds and then the tears rolled down her eyes. She rested her right elbow on the hand-rest on her right, she clutched her forehead. She cried silently. Her cry made her ears go numb as if the pressure inside her head and throat was blocking the outside noise. She started sobbing. A few minutes later, she wiped her tears on the cheeks and around the eyes with the left sleeve of her kurta.
 
She took the bottle of water from the bottle holder on her left. A gulp of water chilled her burning throat. The pace of her breathing calmed down. It became normal. She ignited the engine and drove away towards home.
 
Maya opened the door of her home where Ayaan was showing a pile of books to two boys. 
 
He looked up and said, “Look who has come. Boys, she is Maya.”
 
Maya smiled when she finally saw them. They had been waiting for them. The boys got off the sofa and walked to her. One by one they greeted her. She bent down to shake their hands.
 
“I am Aarav. I am 10-year- old and I live- uh, sorry; I used to live in California. And this is my brother,” showing the shorter boy behind him, “Rehan. He is 8.”
 
Rehan came forward to shake her hand.
 
She exclaimed, “Oh how nice to meet you guys. I must say that you boys have very good manners.”
 
Ayaan walked to them and crouched down near Aarav. Patting his shoulder, he said in a cheerful voice, “We will have fun, guys. You will love it here. Are you all excited?”
 
They nodded enthusiastically.
 
“Let us see your room,” said Maya lifting their bags.
 
The room was moderately big; big enough to accommodate the two growing boys. Putting down the bags on the sofa near the door, Maya said, “So, how do you like it?”
 
The boys didn’t say anything. They hesitated. She walked in front of her to face them. She bent down resting her hands on her knees. She asked, “Hey, let’s eat some food. Aren’t you hungry? Because I am. What would you like to eat; pizza or pasta? How about noodles? Do you like noodles? Do you like to eat out?”
 
The boys looked up and then looked at each other. Rehan said, “We used to eat out with Mom and Dad.”
 
Ayaan was standing at the door of the room, leaning against the door frame. He liked the way she was trying to comfort the boys as per his anticipation.
 
She again said, “I have a better idea.” She looked up to see Ayaan and again looking at the boys, she said, “We are ordering noodles and some pastries at home. Let’s celebrate your arrival with a pyjama party. We can watch some movies, too. What’s your current favourite?”
 
In the kitchen, Maya was ordering food while taking out the cutlery to arrange them on the dining table.
 
She could hear Ayaan’s voice in the room, followed by the boys’. 
 
She put the phone on the serving platform and went to the room. Seeing her at the door, Ayaan declared, “So Maya, Rehan wants to take the wooden cabinet and Aarav would go for the glass one.”
“That’s great. And what about the study cabinet?” she asked raising her eyebrows.
 
“Well, we will have to get one. A bigger one,” said Ayaan.
 
At the dining table, they discussed the food and movies. On that table, everyone was trying to understand each other. Maya and Ayaan were trying to figure out everything about the boys’ choice and lifestyle, while Aarav and Rehan were trying to accept the new pair of an adult other than their parents accompanying them for their meal.
 
Rehan said, looking at Ayaan, “You know, Aarav thinks that his name sounds like yours.”
 
Ayaan narrowed his eyes and said, “Really? Hum… yes, it does.” 
 
He glanced at Maya and addressed both the boys, “Hey, but you can call me anything you want. How about Dada or Papa? I like Pops, too. I sometimes called my father Pops.”
 
The boys giggled. Ayaan also joined them. Maya observed Ayaan. She was happy to see him happy having the boys around. She always wanted to see how he would be with the kids. She was not only waiting to experience her motherhood, she was also dying to see Ayaan as the father. She wanted to see that kid in him who would forget all his worries and life hustle. She wanted to see him happy and relaxed with her again, like a child.
 
Her gaze broke when Aarav said, “Okay. We will call you Dada.”
 
“That’s perfect,” said Ayaan.
 
Maya was sitting on the bed with a file and her reading glasses. She had to bring her work home as she left the office early to visit the hospital. Ayaan sat near her. He kissed her left shoulder and asked, “So, how was it?”
 
“It was really well. Better than I thought,” she said.
 
“Yeah, isn’t it? I mean the boys are showing enough maturity.”
 
“They are at the age when they understand things. They also know what happened to their parents and why they are here now. And they are brave, too. But at the same time, they are too young to express their feelings. So they would keep things to themselves. It’s a tricky task to handle them tenderly, you know.”
 
“Hmm,” he nodded thoughtfully. “How was your visit to the hospital? Have the reports come?” He turned his torso towards her and rested his right hand on the bed.
 
She, without looking at him, said, “No. They may come after a week.”
 
“That’s it? Nothing new?” he asked, trying to look into her eyes.
 
“Yeah.”
 
“Hey, I am so sorry I could not come. I had to go to pick them up.” He put his left hand on her hand in her lap.
 
“Of course. Don’t worry about it,” she said shaking her head.
 
“So when is the next visit?”
 
Without hesitating, she said, “Nikhil will let us know.”
 
“Yeah. He was supposed to go to Delhi for some conference and then he is on a family vacation.”
 
Ayaan walked to his side of the bed and took a book from the side table. Putting on his reading glasses and getting on the bed, he said, “The kids are lovely.”
 
She realized that the topic was changed and she would try to not let it back. So she enthusiastically joined the conversation, “Yes. They are wonderful just like their parents. You must be missing your friends.”
 
He said looking into the distance with the book in his hand, “Of course. They were wonderful people and ideal parents. I feel bad for these kids. But I am sure they will acclimatize to the boarding school environment soon.”
 
She turned around on the bed to face him. “Ayaan,” she said with a lower voice as if she was about to make a request. “Let’s not send them.”
 
Putting down the book in his lap, Ayaan said, “What?”
 
She said restraining her own words, “Na- nothing.”
 
She switched off the lampshade on her side of the table and went to sleep. The next two weeks were spent holidaying as per Maya’s plan. The children got used to their godparents. Maya and Ayaan put every effort to make them feel comfortable with them. They were more conscious of them than they would have been with their own child. This holiday was important for Maya for one more reason; she wanted to keep Ayaan busy so that he won’t discuss their unborn child and the next check-ups. At home, she would panic sometimes but could not show or share this with anyone. One day, while cooking, she felt breathlessness. Rehan who was accompanying her sitting on the serving platform noticed her.
 
Before he got scared, she left the kitchen and came back once she went back to normal. Since then she had decided not be alone and definitely not to get lost in thoughts especially with the kids around. She didn’t want to scare them. When she planned the holiday, she planned for continues for two weeks. 
 
Trekking, paragliding, camping and jungle trips were ideal for all of them. Maya and Ayaan got to know kids more; their likes, dislikes, habits and equation with each other.
 
They still had two days for holidays. Maya was helping the kids to wear their jackets in their tent as it was too cold on the camping site. Ayaan was busy talking on the phone. When he finished, he came into the tent. The kids got excited to see him as they were supposed to do the campfire and have dinner around it. But Ayaan ignored them. He stood there motionless and spoke to Maya, “You missed your check-ups?”
 
Maya looked at the children and said, “You go collect the sticks near the tent. Dada will be joining you.” She stood up, defensive.
“You were also supposed to collect your lab reports,” he enquired further.
 
Now she had nothing to hide. Whoever it was on the other side of the phone, Ayaan knew the truth now. So she came up with the clear word, “Yes.”
 
“So?” he asked raising his eyebrows. “Why didn’t you pick them? Why did you skip the check-ups? Let me tell you why. You don’t care, that’s why.”
 
She stood unaffected. He spoke again, consciously keeping his voice down, “What’s wrong with you?”
 
She glared at him. He was in a great disbelief. “You are risking your life. Why? What do you want?” he loathed her.
 
“This child,” she said angrily.
 
“At the cost of your life?”
 
“It won’t do anything to me,” she said avoiding eye-contact with him.
 
“Oh it is doing, right now. It’s harming you already. Don’t you know that? You know everything, Maya. And that’s why you deliberately planned this trip so that you won’t have to go for check-ups. You didn’t pick up your reports on purpose-”
 
“So what?” she interrupted him, leaving him baffled. “So what I did it on purpose? Yes. You are right. But you know what, I have no choice. To save this freaking marriage, I had just one option. We planned this child just to save our marriage, right? Whatever love is left between us is not for each other, don’t you know that? We decided to give this love to our child; something which will be ours, something which would always connect us, something which we both would want to come back to home to for the rest of our lives. How can you forget this?”
 
“But nothing can be done at the cost of your life, Maya? What’s the point of all our decisions when you won’t be there to share it with me? We took vows.”
 
“Did you really understand any of it?” she scoffed.
 
“Maybe no. But I won’t let you die, and that’s my own vow.”
 
“When was the last time you came with me for my check-up?” she asked to which he had nothing to say.
 
“Exactly,” she said in a concluding manner. “So stop caring. It doesn’t affect me much. This child is the only thing we want to adore each other for. So let it be.”
 
He came closer to her and held her shoulders. “Please, don’t do this. We have Rehan and Aarav. They call me Dada. They want to call you Mama if you tell them to. They want to, believe me. We can adopt them,” he said an eager request. “They are our children. We have them. We can be a happy family. At least we can try.”
 
She stared at him, blankly. She could see a vision of him going away from her. For her, only the child in her womb was keeping Ayaan with her. Ayaan’s words were hard to understand now. And she was afraid of it.
 
It had been a week since the holidays were over. Everyone was back to routine. Maya refused to visit the clinic. Ayaan left for the office in distress. Araav joined the school in the city as Ayaan had decided not to send them to the boarding school. Rehan’s school would start after another week. Ayaan waited for a week but Maya was firm in her refusal to go to see her doctor. So this evening, Nikhil would come to their home and try to talk to Maya in.
 
A vessel rammed on the floor, followed by many more vessels. The noise brought Rehan in the kitchen with his toy car. He observed the floor full of rice scattered over the floor and food spilt across the kitchen. He went closer to the serving platform and saw Maya collapsed on the other side of the platform. He got scared to see her in this situation. He started panicking. He ran to the phone near the sofa.
 
“Hey Rehan, how’s your day going?” Ayaan asked in a cheerful voice.
 
“Mama fell,” Rehan said in breaking voice.
 
“What?”
 
“Mama fell in the kitchen.”
 
“We had to do the immediate C-section. But- but it was a stillborn baby.” Nikhil patted Ayaan’s shoulder who still couldn’t regularize his breathing. He was unable to bring out the words from his throat. Nikhil could feel what Ayaan would ask next. He said without being asked, “She is fine and will be conscious soon.”
 
Ayaan took a deep breath and threw himself on the chair in front of the operation theatre.
 
He felt tears in his burning eyes. Nikhil sat near him, his hand still on Ayaan’s shoulder.
 
Aarav was taken to the hospital. He stood near Rehan. Ayaan looked at them. He would never want them to see him a weak. Rehan walked to him and touched his cheek. Ayaan nodded.
 
The immediate relative was called to see Maya. She looked tired, attached to the machines via various wires. She tried to smile.
 
“You are alive,” Ayaan confirmed to her.
 
“You bet,” she sounded humorous. For the first time in many years, they sounded like themselves. But agony had its own share of role. She felt the warmth with just one touch of him on her hand she was longing for. He was there, right there, for her.
 
“I told you, I won’t let you die,” he said strongly.
 
Rehan and Araav entered the room. She smiled at them.
 
She said, “I am fine. Don’t worry.”
 
Rehan walked closer to her on the left side of her bed. He touched her hand and said, “I got scared, Mama.”
 
She could not resist the tears rolling down her temples. She nodded swiftly. She stretched her left arm to Araav. “Come here.”
 
Both the kids sat on the edge of the bed. They tangled her in their talks. Ayaan stood there, still holding her hand, watching them and dreaming of a happy family- again.
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