At the watering hole

I parked by the bar. It was dark already. With the winter almost upon, the sunset was encroaching more of daylight into the cold darkness of what was going to be wintery nights. I put the handbrakes, locked, and made my way to the entrance. The waft of alcohol carrying within its pungent bitterness the bitter-sweet happening in the lives of people drinking within greeted my arrival. I rubbed my nose to ease the stinging the pungency always brought upon. I made my way to a corner table and put my back to rest.

Central-barThe bar was well lit. It was actually a posh establishment where open-minded women who got a few drinks down their throat weren’t frowned upon by equally open-minded men. Nor stared upon given the decent crowd. It was precisely because of this that Nandita frequented this place. Nandita well would be my good friend back from the days at college. We did medicine together and while I turned towards basic research, she went on to become a psychiatrist. I remember her as this patient, timid girl who was a great listener. People used to ease their woes to her even back then. She would give them an attentive ear and sage counsel. She once told me it wasn’t as much about the counsel as it was giving them a chance to hear themselves vocalize their problems and worries. The solution more often than not lied within. We have been keeping in touch since and we met whenever I was in town.

I was in town today. Well even yesterday, when we had met. We spent the night at my place. And the morning, I saw her dress up into her venerable doctorish garb. We had an open relationship, given the open-minded people we were. And she being the shrink came in handy to keep things in control. She planted a kiss and said she had toasted some bread and made coffee. I smiled and asked when we would meet again. With a nonchalant wink and a ‘let’s see’, she left. I had slept through most of the morning. Research back at my lab had been in quite a frenzy over the past couple weeks. We had made significant head-roads into a receptor that was over-expressed on treatment-recalcitrant metastatic breast cancer. Currently we were screening dozens of molecules to target the receptor in a hope to control the cancer and buy the patient few more months. I was heading the team preparing the monoclonal antibody to the receptor. We had succeeded in cloning the receptor and were generating potential epitopes against which we will screen our antibody library. Things were in track and I needed a break from that hectic mayhem. Home, sleep and a few days of retiring repose was all that was on my mind.

Having ordered lunch, I called up my parents to check if I could meet them tonight. They lived in the other side of the city. I had my own apartment. I liked it so. Freedom and control on my own life. It was then that Nandita had called. She said we had to meet, tonight. There was an unnerving urgency in her tone. She seemed distraught. I said sure, come by my home. She suggested we instead meet at the bar the evening. While I didn’t drink, I had no qualms with bars. I agreed and here I was waiting for her to show up. What could it be I wondered. We had met only the morning and she was well as she left. Maybe trouble home, or at work. Be it either, I thought better to not over-think it. She would be here in a while. She could speak of it then. I suppose.

rest_logo_84The music system in the background was playing a Mozart in a subdued volume. As against the usual image of a bar as a place of lugubrious despondency, this bar was very alive. It had a cheerful bright sparkle in the goblets hanging by the bartender, as in the attire of the waiters moving between tables. One such guy approached me and I asked him to get me some coke. As when he raised his brow in a quizzical glance, I said I was waiting for my friend to show up. He smiled and made his way to the beverage stand. Just then, through the waft of bitterness that I have introduced you readers before came this surreal fragrance that reminded me of something familiar and intimate. With a smile I turned towards the source of it and said hai to Nandita.

Yes, she had come to evoke this intimate familiarity I felt disarming my reserve. I now was willing to surrender the entirety of my will with earnest alacrity. Some people fall in love at first sight. But I guess I didn’t fit that bill. She rather grew over me. With an imperceptible gradualness, I had slowly and softly fallen for her as a feather falls in still vacuum. The lull adding to the poignancy of this process. And akin to that moment of dull thud when the feather hits the floor, I now felt decidedly in love. I got up and pulled her chair.

She sat and looked at me. It was a look that I still remember with a slight shudder. It was a look that bore into me, right to my very soul, and pleaded for help. Her entire feminine fragility was wrought large in her vulnerable poise. She didn’t make an attempt to hide this dainty frangibility that seemed to exude through her person and wash over me near. I felt my knees. It had this funny feeling of weightlessness. It felt weak, as if I might not be able to stand up. Or rather if I did, it would pave and give way to my weight. She blinked and looked away. I made most of the moment to exhale the air that somehow felt to have frozen in my windpipe and breath-in a good volume to last another arduous gaze-lock.

She called the waiter and ordered herself a beer. She turned to me and the very moment to avoid those perilous eyes I looked down and quipped that I had already asked for coke. I could hear a slight chuckle, which would imply she had given a slight smile. Still a teetotaler aren’t you she said.  I looked up, at her, into her, and couldn’t help smiling in turn. Her pain, which was so awash on her being a moment ago seemed now to have thinned into a veneer. She smiled a bit more. And I could feel my eyes welling. It felt strange that I should cry, for no explicit reason, for the sole sake of having seen her. But I could see that she was suffering. There was something she had gone through that had brought her enormous pain. And this sight with her in its plight brought me pain. I had cared for her. Since always. Though it was now that I realized how much I was willing to do for her. Was it this love that had sprouted off recent and had slowly grown into a little sapling raising its open palm to the luxuriance of the radiant sun, or was it genuine concern for a person who meant a great deal, I couldn’t surmise. But I was sure of the certainty that she was important to me. And I wanted to not lose her place in my life.

Couple Holding Hands in CafT

Couple Holding Hands in CafT

Her beer came, as did my coke. She started sipping from her drink. I kept quiet. I knew she was unsettled by this something which was weighing on her mind. And she would speak of it if-when she chooses. Small talk for the sole intention of filing the silence did no good to either. I had learnt this much from her. A wise friend teaches so much to us. We patiently drank from our glasses. With each gulp, I could see her throat move an inch up, and then inch down with that ferment of grape beer. But slowly and gradually, the intention to ease her unrest banked up within. I moved my chair close to her and put my arm around her, as if supporting her shoulder. She eased herself. The tense tautness of her person melted a little. She drew herself near and rested her head on my shoulder. I held her other hand in my palm. Hers was moist. And it felt warm. I gave hers a gentle squeeze. She intermingled her fingers with mine and closed her palm into a clench with my palm held inside hers.

How I felt that moment is ineffable. To put it lightly, I felt useful. Useful in the most significant and important way imaginable. True my research could prolong the lives of many by a couple months. It had made me feel substantial. But this moment, this now, I felt momentous. I felt my very existence had become reasonable. That moment I knew what I wanted most for all the moments that were to follow. Her hair was brushing against my stubble of two days. Her weight felt so light to bear. I could feel her breath with each exhalation against the skin of my neck, as could I hear it. I gently squeezed her shoulder. A moment later, I felt her sob. A wetness was streaming down the skin of my cheeks and it wasn’t my eyes that were tearing. I wiped the tear that was forming a puddle against the bridge of her nose. I had this profound feeling coursing through every vein of my body. I had to tell her how much I loved her. It had grown from a realization, through to a certainty into a compulsion. I inhaled, and waited, as if warming the breath with my ardent affection for this dear person in my arms, before I would say it. I parted my lips and began I… when she began as well, overlaying my recital with hers, saying, I killed a man. I killed him. I could have saved him. He had come to me yesterday. He had said existence pained him. He wanted help. We spoke. But it seems I could reach him. Couldn’t ease his pain. Couldn’t help. He killed himself. I failed him. What use is there to what I learnt.

And with these, she looked up, into my eyes, pleading for an answer to assuage her pain. I only held her closer. I said lets go home. I paid our tab and we drove home. All the while she had her head supported on my shoulder. At home, I made her some dinner. She ate sparingly, amidst sobs. We didn’t speak about anything. That night, in bed, she lay disturbed, troubled, holding me close by. The morning, I saw her with her eyes closed, her brows eased, breathing softly and rhythmically. I sat there, looking at her sleep. When she woke up, I brought for her the bread I had toasted. It was slightly c7b0eb8ce18be12558ee99bd2eeb4be3burnt on the corners. She applied jam on it, while still in bed. I poured her the coffee I brewed the morning. She looked at me, and we both smiled the same moment. She only said the coffee needed more sugar. And as an afterthought added, thank you, and well I know you love me. I cut you off yesterday. As I opened my eyes wide at her perspicacity, she gave a meaning chuckle, while still strained by her tragedy, yet with that lightness of being loved, as if meaning in a mock tone, ‘I am a shrink you see. And a good one’. Though as the irony of the implicit rib the chuckle intended to convey struck in view of yesterday’s mishap, she cast her eyes down. I got beside, and we kissed.

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Roomie Woes’

I was fiddling with my code while my roomie walked in. He had a long face. It’s not that he always had one. He seemed extra desolate, in deep despair, thus the pronounced increase in the apparent length of his face. I returned my gaze to my laptop screen and typed in another two lines into the code. Kate Chruscicka’s Requiem for a dream was playing into my earphones. And he didn’t need my prodding. He coughed up.

“I proposed and she jilted me”. Well, better tragic now than later I thought. I don’t really hold love, emotions and other stuffs in high regard. But I kept my thoughts within. If he needed a shoulder to cry, he would have to go out find another.

He continued. “She said she was already in a relationship.” This while did come as a surprise, but was completely explainable. We hadn’t seen her hang out with any guy other than this roomie of mine. Pretty, with long legs and that gorgeous feminine poise, she sure would garnish any gathering with an ample serving of witticism and laughter. But she never got my heart skip a beat. I doubted if I was alexithymic. Yeah, it’s a medical condition, quite rare. Read of it recently. Apparently these people don’t feel emotions. Maybe I am amongst. While my mind was considering the possibility, he let out a sigh.

lgbt-flag“She told me whom it was, this lover of her’s.” He sure was not going to spare me the length of his tragic tale. I hadn’t the least interest in him, her, or her love interest. But then aren’t roomies nature’s way of telling you ‘suck up, you haven’t always a say’, which we only later realize, as to be applicable as to ‘ever’ as well. His nasal twang preceded his dialogue that sounded like, “It’s her roomie, Sheetal. They are in love. She’s a lesbian. I am in love with a lesbian. What is to happen of me!”

This last proclamation sure got my attention. It was novel. The novelty made it interesting. And it put a lot of things into perspective. While two girls cozying up oft seems ‘cute’, this instance conjured up the image of it being ‘cheesy and steamy’ as a genuine possibility. Well, good for him I thought. They sure made a very plausible pair. Sheetal must have been the ‘guy’ in their lesbian relationship while his love interest the ‘miss’. It made me wonder, is it really always the case in a lesbian relationship, or a same-sex relationship for that, for one partner to be more feminine while the other more masculine?

I have no qualms with LGBT. But this incident got me wondering. The usual straight couples, it’s a mutualistic attraction of estrogen and testosterone. Funny are the cases where there is a mismatch between the gender of the partner and his hormonal personality-type. But more often than not, the divide of feminity and masculinity is well represented and quite balanced. Now does this personality dichotomy remain in same-sex relationships? While as it’s been popularized by media, be it gay couples or lesbian couples, there does occur a semblance of such dynamics. Lesbian couples got one partner quite a tomboy while gay couples got a man who is such a girl! But is it a rule, implicit maybe? If it were, then is there a possibility that it is indeed misplaced affection?

I am not trying to be judgemental here. It’s not about if it is wrong or right. I just ponder if it could be that my roomie’s love interest, the one that jilted him, fell for a ‘guy’ who happened to be biologically a girl. Or is it that she fell for her full cognizant of her being a girl, with ‘her being a girl’ being an essential motivation for her having fallen for her? Well I haven’t enough data to answer that, not inclination or energy to fetch them. I let it pass.

The code on the screen seemed complete, and the requiem crossed its crescendo and was mellowing to its end. My roomie looked at me with painful despair, hoping I would assuage his hurt and shoulder him in his moment of emotional tumult. But that would mean me having to break character. I thought it not worth doing. But then a roomie is a roomie. I eyed him suspiciously and mumbled, “Cheer up, don’t be so down beet. She could go both ways for all you know.” And I left while he looked at me in utter bewilderment. Hope it was good utter bewilderment. As in, you opened a crack of light into my dark dungeon kind of utter bewilderment. And not the ‘how can you be such an unfeeling ass’ one.

Tan tea talks, touché

It was pre-admission day. As if attesting to the fact, the ward spotted a handful of occupants. Soon done with my night due’s, I informed the Staff nurse and retreated to the doctor’s cabin. I was hoping to rest my legs for the next day’s sake. Finally, a moment of quiet and peace! With day break, it was going to be admission day again. I dreaded admission days!

I sat on the bed and put down the steth dangling around my neck. My neck felt sore. The mattress was clothed in a green bedcover. I wondered the reason for the preponderance of green clothing in the hospital. Even the surgical drapes are all green isn’t it. Is it because the color green has a soothing effect on mood? Nay, maybe just another accident, a chance event frozen in time. I dug into my bag looking for a book to read. There was the evergreen Washington’s Manual for medical therapeutics. And lying in disarray behind was one more, Love in the time of cholera. A novel by the Nobel winning Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I weighed my options, and quite guiltily picked the latter.

With Beethoven’s moonlight sonata playing into my ears, as I was turning the pages in the book of how Florentino Ariza persists, persevering in his profound heartfelt love for Fermina Daza through over five decades, the moment of perfect repose caused the picture of my life flicker, and blink within. I had done well at school, modestly too at college, and now I sit playing the last innings at the medicine ward before I graduate with a license to practice. I was done with my night dues, had no indent to write, my car fuel-tank had diesel to the full and I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I allowed the thought to linger, savoring every iota of gladness it brought upon. Just as if bringing me back to my sense, there was a sharp tap on the door.

I opened and the nurse said the patient at bed-12 was breathless. I picked my coat and steth and followed the nurse. He was an old man, in his eighties. I remembered his diagnosis, left lower lobe consolidation, probably a case of community-acquired pneumonia. He should have been discharged by now, but he wasn’t responding as well to the antibiotics. Probably because of his lean sickly physique adding to his age. I auscultated for breath sounds. There was a wheeze. I injected a deriphylline and advised the nurse to give him a salbutamol neb. His vitals otherwise was fine. Probably the COPD flaring up because of the infection. Walking away from the bed I noticed it was past midnight. And I didn’t feel like sleeping. I wrote down my number in the duty doctor’s register and set for a walk.

for blog 1The corridors were deserted. While crossing the ICU I noticed the intern, actually an extern, an extern-intern, some girl who had gone to China to do her medicine and was intering at our hospital, call out for the attendant of some patient inside. She needed him to get the ABG of the blood she had drawn. It shone bright right in the corridor light. I heard myself chuckling in good spirit that she finally got a hang of pricking the artery right. I have always marveled at this feeling of pride you get on mutual accomplishment. It feels like one another amongst us got a knack of how to do one another procedure which could help save someone’s life, or relieve someone’s malady. That feeling of camaraderie was a heartening realization. Though I guess, there would be something akin to that in other professions as well.

I crossed her and walked down the sliding ramp to the ground floor. There was a scuffle of steps as another stretcher was pushed to the casualty. Those intern’s at the casualty seemed unusually occupied for the night. I thought of lending a hand and walked in. There were two intern’s, one making an AR entry for the case that was brought in, while another was bent over the patient taking a BP reading. Basics, always! Taking BP was the first thing with that clinical touch I remember learning while in first year. And over the years, time again I have realized how superlative is the amount of information that one can gain from it. With an appreciative nod I made myself useful and wrote down the admission note for the case. As the intern told the BP reading, my heart skipped a beat.

I was so drunk to the feeling of sublime peace and contentment this night that I was living in a passive haze. But as the voice of the intern, and soon her pretty face turned as toward, dissipated the haze, I blinked in recognition. Her lips trembled and she hid her gaze with a down-turn of her eye-lids. Yes, we had a history. A poignant one. A painful one. The air suddenly felt heavy, burdened. While though she still had me thrilled, I knew it wasn’t  a good idea. I finished the admission note I was writing, adding a chest x-ray and ecg to it, and got up to leave. It was better not to say goodbye. It was better not to say anything again.

I walked out the hospital and set to a stroll in the alley that runs behind the tower blocks. This alley curiously was always windy. The reason as for beats me. The night, the breeze, the quiet lull, and the memory of her in the casualty set something stir within. I walked over to the tan tea kiosk and ordered their name sake. I unwound one of their archaic glass canisters to pick a biscuit while the fellow was simmering the milk. She had left me. Yes, in what seemed like a different life, she had broken up with me and we had parted ways. It wasn’t a particularly amicable end though.

The fellow got me my tea. I have never liked it. Frankly, I hated it. This tan tea. I wondered why I ordered it as that confused bitter-sweet aroma of tea effused form the cup and assaulted my olfactory senses, and soon my gustatory ones too with the first sip. Just then a voice spoke from behind, ‘Why are you drinking that? You never quite liked it.’ I knew the voice, just as I knew the face, and the person better than most. I turned towards her, full aware that her disarming smile is going to bring back old wounds. She smiled. And somewhere within, it started to sear.

‘I don’t know’, is what I said in response to her question. She smiled a knowing smile. I knew, and I knew that she knew. She used to love it, this tan tea. And over the months that followed, I used to come here to relive figments of those moments from that past while together. The happy moments. I looked into my cup and didn’t reply. ‘I thought the casualty was quite busy’, I heard myself say. She came close by and the smell of her opened flood-gates within. True indeed that smell is the most emotionally potent of all the five senses. Memories with an olfactory tag are the most resilient, as are the most detailed. ‘It was, till a moment ago. Now cases have cleared up’ she said. Of course, I thought.

There was an uninterrupted quite but for the rustling of wind against the leaves in the tree that stood imposingly opposite the Neuro block. Neither spoke nothing. Just stood together, along, in presence of the other. It felt terribly long since. It felt good. I felt vestiges of that happiness brim within which we shared once before. As if mirroring my emotions, she said ‘It didn’t have to end the way it did, you know.’ She was looking ahead, into empty space as if those scenes were playing before her eyes. ‘But it was you who ended it’ I retorted. She grimaced, ‘I know. But still, it didn’t have to end like that.’ As inexplicable as ever I thought. She had a way of stringing words and putting things that just didn’t seem to make sense. And quite often as it happened, left me without a reply.

love_doctorI turned towards her. Her eyes still had that pearly whiteness to them. Gorgeous she indeed is as she was. ‘You lied to me. About too many things. How am I to entrust me to someone such?’. Her voice quivered as she let it out. It felt like déjà vu. I remember this conversation from over a year before. And I remember me wording the very same reply, ‘it wasn’t a lie. Just not the entire truth. I was afraid of losing you.’ ‘That you did, didn’t you’. Her barbs were still as apropos. ‘Touché’, I wanted to say, but thought better against. I knew she could trust me. I knew I loved her. But I didn’t know how to have her know that. X-rays don’t show what’s inside one’s heart, do they.  Much less into the head since Galen set that mistake by Aristotle right.

I wasn’t prepared for what she would say next, not by a long chance. ‘I have missed you. Miss you still. Your foolish visage walking alone through the corridors of the hospital is a painful sight. Let’s give it a shot again shall we?’ My first thought on hearing these words was, is this for real. But then the bitter after-taste of the tan tea that I had just finished sipping removed that doubt and I blinked baffled. As inexplicable as ever, women! And as if the entire extant universe conspired against the moment, my phone rang. The nurse was calling. The old man with pneumonia was not doing well. I got up to leave. I probably should call up the attending. His frail fragile body was giving me a reason to fear.

I realized that I hadn’t responded to her, she by side, with her words still hanging in the air around. Of course I would want to give it another shot. And importantly, not mess it up this time. Before I could put it into words, she quipped, ‘Sick patient in ward right. I could hear. Better get going. Let’s meet up say day after tomorrow? I will come pick you. It will be your post admission day. You will be too tired. I will drive you home. We can stop for coffee en route.’

I blinked, beamed and bounced up all at the same time. She was keeping tab on my whereabouts all this while after all. I gave her a quick embrace as she broke into a broad smile. I can swear there were tears welling up in her eyes. I whispered, ‘I love you’. It all felt a dream I was too afraid to disturb. As I doubled towards my ward, I could hear from behind the fellow at the kiosk call her out for her order. ‘Madam, your coffee.’ And I knew. And I knew that she knew that I knew. She never liked coffee. While I did.