“Hey Ma… Oh, it was okay. The post-presentation drill was a nightmare though! Sandy is particularly after my case… It’s like her life’s mission to make my life miserable… I know I’m still learning! But she has this grudge against me since my first presentation… Can we just talk anything else, please…? You think talking about my lunch would change my mood? If its not studies, its food; like I have nothing else in my life… I’ll summarize all for you… college sucks, hostel sucks, mess food—okay, okay, I’ll talk later, bye!”

Jiya hung up and got back to her laptop, turning on the music and getting back to looking up answers for the questions she had failed to answer satisfactorily during her morning presentation. Always a celebrated topper in school, Jiya was now amongst the toppers of many other schools, studying medicine. A girl, who would walk away with outstanding grades, was now down to meeting expectations. This, along with the fact that she was studying away from home for the first time, was taking a huge toll on her.

Her mother, a practicing doctor herself, could sense her daughter’s distress and would try her best to diffuse the tension through the wires. She would even make it a point to meet her daughter once in a month, to keep up her spirits. With time, as Jiya seemed to settle with the hostel life, her visits reduced, but they would always speak at nights.

It was late October, and Jiya was visiting home, during the Diwali break. Her home looked particularly inviting, with delicacies decorating every table in the house. The sudden fall in humidity and approaching chill in the air worked up everyone’s appetite.

“Oh wow! I’ve been dying to have edible food for ages.” Jiya sighed as she gorged onto her fourth chakli. “Dorothy was spot on when she said, ‘There’s no place like home.’”

“Stop exaggerating Jiyu, I’ve had your mess food and it is not bad at all. You should have been to my college once. In our times we did not have the option of take-aways or online food chains. We’d cook in our rooms, you know… This reminds me, how many times have you ordered food online last month? You know well, it’s not good for you.”

“Mom, I’m currently in your culinary heaven and refuse to dwell on my hostel nightmares.” Jiya replied, her eyes closed, mouth full and a hand raised.

“Just remember, I get a ping every time you use my card and lately its ringing like Chopin’s Impromptu.”

“Now who’s exaggerating?!” Jiya shot back laughing. Her mother smiled. She was glad of Jiya’s improved spirit and refrained from further discussion. In four days, Jiya would be returning to college.

***

In her second year, Jiya was doing much better. She had a group of like-minded friends, had learned the hierarchies of the institution and was more confident with her academic work. Her mother had dropped for a visit once and Jiya looked happier.

“I see the campus has begun to grow on you,” her mother observed, smiling, “how many kilos have you put on?”

“Come on Mom, you know well second year is more of sitting and reading. We have so many assignments, I think I’m going to forget how daylight looks like.”

“You do have a gym in the campus. Besides you guys have a huge campus to walk. I wish you were more active, physically.”

“The gym’s always full. And it’s too hot for walks. Trust me, with the wards starting next year, I’m gonna shed all this in a jiffy. Consider this a preparation for my third year!”

“Fine, But I’m rationing all your junk food. From this month onwards you will have a fixed monthly amount to spend. All this must stop Jiya, you are smart enough to know! How will you counsel patients to remain fit?”

“Okay Mom, got it. You know these days they call this body shaming! I’m telling you this is just temporary. I’m completely in control”

In the next few months Jiya begun her undergraduate research work and got busier. Her routine had turned upside down. Skipping meals had been a daily affair and the few times that she ate she was ravenous. Her clothes, now a snug fit, reminded her of the excess flesh she was carrying around. She would hide in her overlarge white coat when outdoors, which was seldom. The mirror in her hostel room was pulled down and out of sight. She would get sick frequently and feel listless. She was aware of the road she was on and even feared the complications but would find herself uncapable of controlling when on a binging spree. Nights were spent in the bathroom ridding herself of the guilt.

Her friends would notice and would stop her often. She in return started avoiding them completely. Acidity and nausea were her constant companions. Phone calls with mother were short and mainly about her studies.

A Friday evening in September she was particularly uneasy. Her stomach ache was getting worse through the day and during her walk back to the hostel room she crumpled in a heap, unable to take the pain.

***

Bulimia Nervosa. Her mother was inconsolable as she watched her daughter being wheeled into the intensive care unit. Jiya was diagnosed with pancreatitis; her body had begun digesting itself, inflaming her interiors. She was drowning as the inflammatory fluid filled her lungs. She was pricked and punctured scores of times and hooked on to the monitor and multiple intravenous lines. Though the ICU was a familiar setting for her mother, the sight of her own daughter tethered to critical care support in such manner, utterly crushed her. Jiya’s father was back home from his overseas assignment, the very day he heard of her condition.

Jiya recovered steadily but was a shadow of her former self. Completely wasted, the disease had robbed her off her original health and beauty. She was discharged and taken home. Her mother was fully devoted to her care. It was decided that Jiya would not resume her course until she was deemed completely fit. Her was diet strictly monitored but she had no appetite. She was advised full time rest, but insomnia had robbed her sleep. She read her favorite books, listened to her favorite music, was visited by her friends often but nothing could give her peace of mind. She felt completely trapped by lethargy. Her sessions with the psychiatrist were turning out to be futile.

Her mother was wrought with worry at this state of her daughter’s health. Her father, a worldly-wise person, kept calm and kept encouraging Jiya to break out of her shell. His aim was to get her physically going, so he would take her out for walks. Her spirits would improve greatly, but it wasn’t enough to improve her health.

One night, when Jiya was fast asleep, her mother feeling particularly nostalgic, got out albums of Jiya’s old photographs. Hers was a happy childhood. A precocious kid, she had mastered many things at an early age. Her album was full of pictures, of their many family trips and her scholastic achievements. A father walked in and was soon lost in these happy memories. One picture particularly caught his eye.

***

A few weeks passed by and it was Jiya’s twenty first birthday. Jiya woke up this chilly December morning, to see a shiny new Merida crossway urban bike, standing in front of her bed. She jumped out admiring the gears and all its accessories. It was her favorite blue in color. She ran out beaming and simply hugged her father. In half an hour she was out on the road, wind in her hair, pedaling with glee. She was nine again, hiking up to a familiar path she took as a kid. A lot had changed around, she noticed, but the memories of pushing the pedals down the well-trodden path made her euphoric.

It was like a flame bursting within her as she was reminded of her love of cycling. On a slope she let go of the brakes and the wind rushed around her, cutting the rest of the world out. Then came a steep climb where she had to halt and walk up with her bike. As a kid she would pedal up the slope effortlessly, but now she found herself unequal to it. She was surprised how much the illness had cost her.

Back home, she walked in, wonderfully flushed with the exercise.

“Thanks Dad! This is truly the best gift ever.” He smiled back and asked, “Are you hungry?”

“Famished!” She exclaimed turning to her teary-eyed mom.

***

This is an entry for the event #BreakFree, ArtoonsInn’s signature Short Story Writing event, #ArTales-16.
Check out event guidelines here: https://artoonsinn.com/break-free-artales-16-open-event/

Check out Sai’s space here: https://artoonsinn.com/author/sai-surve-rane/

***

Photo by Muur van Geraardsbergen

 

Thanks for reading.

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