This short story is selected as Story of the Month Nov’2014 and won INR 1000
This story is selected as Editor’s Choice
The taxi turned into Bhu Road hurriedly. For its two passengers, speed was probably of the essence. Dr. Bernard Augustinho knew was that if he didn’t reach their destination soon, something inside which had been building from the moment he’d received the call would explode. There were no tears on his face; those would come later. Beside him his wife, Flora, wept silently. Bernard didn’t reach out to console her. He had said already what had to be said; he’d done what comforting he could, all the way from Goa and through the flight. But her tears had not stopped.
Suddenly, through the glass, he saw the hospital. It was the second time he had been here, the first two years back he’d accompanied his daughter, Rosalyn, in her bid for a residency. She’d succeeded. Flora hadn’t been there then, just as she shouldn’t have come now. The phone call had been from the Dean’s office: Rosalyn had been in an accident.
The driver swung into the CASUALTY entrance. They hurried to the nurse-station. There was a CMO at the desk.
Bernard’s words rushed out. “My daughter was brought here four hours ago…” She reached for a register. “Rosalyn Augustinho.”
The CMO looked up suddenly. “You’re Rosie’s parents.” She said. “She was wheeled into OT immediately.” She’d gotten to her feet, no longer distant and unconcerned. “Dr. Benjamin’s operating.”
“Which department is he?’
Bernard had asked the question, but it was Flora’s eyes the doctor searched quickly, as though to ascertain how much she’d be able to handle. “Neurosurgery.”
Bernard felt his wife’s grip on his arm tighten.
She put a comforting hand on Flora’s arm. “Rosie’s one of us: everybody’s doing their best.” Seeing their helplessness and hopelessness, she found the words feeble to her own ears. “There’s nothing you can do but wait.” She gestured. “I’ll inform you soonest I hear anything.”
Bernard put his arm around her and guided her to the plastic seats. A few others were there, and some glanced up as they approached, but there was no surprise or interest in their eyes, only a numbing kind of shock that had reduced them to machines, waiting and praying.
Bernard settled her down and as she did, her hand reached for his waist, pulling him into the next seat. “Bernard.” It was the first she’d spoken since they landed. “She’s our only child.” He said nothing; he didn’t trust himself to speak. He wasn’t sure he could say the right things now, wasn’t sure the words would be the ones she needed to hear… the ones they both needed to hear. “Not even a girl anymore; she’s 24, all grown up; a lady; she’s a doctor.”
Her eyes met his, trailing fresh tears, and even though he wanted to tear his eyes away, so he could cry his own tears, he kept his gaze fixed. Looking away would hurt her, and God knows she was hurting enough. “We’ve been doctors for years, both of us. All these years, all we’ve done was to treat; we’ve made people better, brought joy and life to so many.” She spoke the words slowly and softly, as though normal speech was beyond her. “How could He do this to us?”
“We have to be strong.” His voice was gentle, punctuated by the briefest of smiles, displaying a gentleness he hadn’t thought himself capable of. “It’s a test; God’s testing us – it happens to us all. He wants to see how strong our faith is. So we have to be strong. He’ll give us our Rosie back. He won’t let her die.” And even as the words came out, he wondered: why then, am I crying now?
A movement near the entrance made him look up to see a large man enter. His face, greying and intelligent, showed extreme weariness. The lady CMO had looked up and the surprise that sprang onto her face was so utter that Bernard frowned.
The CMO hurried to intercept the newcomer. The man spoke and a horrified look leapt onto the CMO’s face. She gestured in their direction. Bernard found himself stiffening as the large man looked directly at him.
The big man advanced slowly, face turned down. Bernard watched him, unsure if the CMO had pointed at them or someone else. Suddenly, Bernard saw something that sent his senses reeling. The man – obviously a hospital doctor – was wearing a name-tag:
Dr. Benjamin Aimes
Department of Neurosurgery
Dr. Benjamin stopped about a foot away and looked into his face.
Bernard’s mind was telling him wildly that it couldn’t be, that Dr. Benjamin couldn’t be here, that he couldn’t have just walked into the Hospital when he should have been in the OT, fighting to save Rosie’s life. Madness! This was just not rational. Unless-
“Where is she?” He demanded harshly.
Benjamin towered above Bernard. His eyes were swollen, and Bernard realised with another stupefying shock, that he had been drinking. “The internal haemorrhage was massive.” The tone of his voice was low and dignified. “We tried our best – it was no use. There was just too much brain damage.”
“Rosie’s dead?” Bernard didn’t recognize the voice as his wife’s. A shroud, dark and overwhelming, settled over him, shutting out all sensory inputs and strangling the responses he suddenly wanted to make.
“No.” The word was uttered as softly as a syllable could be and still be heard. “But Rosalyn will never be all those things you wanted her…” Benjamin’s voice trailed off, as though he too had been overcome. “She’s been brain-dead for three hours now. We put her on a life-support system – it’s the only thing separating her from the inevitable.” It didn’t seem possible that those reddened eyes could convey emotion, but it was there. “I’m so sorry.”
A ragged sob burst from Flora’s lips, lips that had remained silent and detached for so long, now quivering with wretched life. “Dear God – no! You can’t -”
Bernard sank into the bucket seat. All over again, words were failing him. Images swirled through his mind, filling it, images not of the present, but from the past, of his daughter, of the lady who had once been a girl, and then a child before that, and long before that a squalling babe in his arms, a dream in his and his wife’s minds, a daughter he no longer had… If there’d ever been a time for crying, if ever the tears should have flowed freely and without shame or inhibition, this was it. But there were no tears.
He raised his head to the neurosurgeon. He took in the reddened eyes and the gaunt face all over again, and felt anger begin to bubble. “Yes – you’re sorry. Lose your patient and head straight out for a peg; standard operating procedure; all in a day’s work for Dr. bloody Benjamin, Neurosurgeon.” It occurred to him that he couldn’t possibly have meant what he was saying, but the thought got lost, swept away in a bewildering torrent of mental outputs.
Benjamin, for his part, had merely stiffened, sign enough that the barb had found a mark, but whatever else he might have felt, whatever else he might have wanted to say, he brushed aside as inconsequential. “I grant you – my manner and my conduct must seem unbecoming.” His shoulders lifted. “It seemed a – logical thing to do. Losing two doctors so tragically…”
Bernard felt suddenly stupid. “Graham?”
It was Benjamin who displayed surprise, and with it came realization. He slumped into the seat next to Flora’s, and all he could think was how pointless it all was… “Mrs. Augustinho, this will come as a shock – a further shock. You obviously don’t know.” He was facing her. “Graham was your daughter’s-”
“No.” said Bernard in a tortured voice.
Benjamin looked sympathetic. “They had been going steady for some time already. These things happen. Everyone thought they were a fine pair. Popular, easy-going, fun to be with, and they cared for each other. He was in an accident this afternoon. Major brain damage.”
Flora was looking up. “Was that how Rosie sustained her injuries? The same accident?”
Benjamin shook his head. “I’m so sorry to have to say this: Rosalyn jumped from her hostel terrace.” His expression was a resigned one. “She’d tried to commit suicide.”
Something close to anger flared within Bernard, almost propelling him to his feet. “Suicide? That’s absolutely crazy! You don’t know what you’re saying… Rosie would never have contemplated suicide!”
“Was it because of – Graham’s accident?” Flora’s soft voice seemed to displace her husband’s harsh words with ease.
“When Rosalyn got news of Graham, she’d heard the worst – that there was no hope. She then made her own decision.”
Bernard was staggered. “It can’t be-”
Flora got up and wiped her tears away. Her own bearing was dignified and detached when she looked at Benjamin. “I’d like to see my daughter, please.”
Benjamin nodded, rising at once. “Of course. I’ll take you to-”
Bernard got up. He fixed Benjamin, reeking hatred. “Where is he? Where’s this boyfriend?”
The neurosurgeon seemed surprised. “Is that so important?”
“Damn right, it is.” Bernard took a step forward. “I’m going to kill the ba***rd.”
Flora caught his arm, her dismay surfacing instantly.
“Not possible, Dr. Augustinho. You can put it down to bad timing. Graham died at 5.35.” He began to walk. “The ICU’s this way.”
* * *
The scene seemed out of a wax museum, pivoting round the bed on which the shattered form lay.
Flora was at the side of her bed, hot tears splashing on Rosalyn’s cheeks.
Bernard stared at the foot of the bed, almost as lifeless as his daughter.
Beside him was Benjamin, head bent.
Flora broke the spell, tenderly kissing Rosalyn’s forehead for what she knew would be the last time. When she turned away, her eyes sought her husband; Bernard nodded then grim-faced, looked down again, as though in guilt.
When Flora spoke, her voice was calm. “Dr. Benjamin.” He looked up. “Thank you for everything. I know you must have tried your best in the OT, but it wasn’t in your hands. I think her destiny was decided a long time ago, when she said she wanted to become a doctor.” She smiled as she looked again at Rosalyn. “We’ve said our goodbyes, Dr. Benjamin. You can turn everything off now.”
There was sadness, deep and immeasurable, in his dark eyes. “You know I can’t do that.”
Bernard’s head pivoted toward him instantly, and Benjamin almost recoiled at the rage he saw there. “Damn you! Haven’t you already given us enough grief?” He wheeled about on the word, feeling the onslaught of tears that was imminent and left the room.
“You don’t know what you’re asking.” Benjamin said bluntly.
“You’re wrong.” Flora’s voice was soft, almost delicate. “The grief I feel now is overwhelming, but has done nothing to cloud my judgement.” She looked into his sad eyes. “I know exactly what I’m asking.”
Benjamin gripped the railing of the bed. “Your grief has blinded you, woman! How can you stand there and calmly tell me you want your daughter to die? After all the years spent raising and loving her, is it this ridiculously easy to say goodbye?” His face was ugly.
Flora knew she was close to breaking down. She wanted more than anything to throw her arms round her baby and keep her safe and protected. But it was not to be, she realised. She also knew she could not afford to break down. The deed had to be accomplished now. Her resolve might never be this strong again. What she saw now to be the correct course of action might never be taken if put off, rejected as unacceptable by a broken parent. Bernard had known it was the right thing to do. And she knew it now. “Saying goodbye is never easy, but it has to be said. Our goodbye came – earlier. We’d have done anything to prevent it; too late for that. It’s too late for anything now, except to say goodbye. Keeping those machines running won’t ease our grief. It will only prolong it. We’ll always be waiting, wondering; every night before we kiss her goodnight – will this be the last time? Will she be alive in the morning? I don’t want that.” She looked at Rosalyn. “We’ll say our goodbye now.”
He stared at her wordlessly.
“I know I can’t appeal to you as a doctor, because we’re all part of that same heartless breed; but maybe as a human being, or as a parent…. please.”
“My hands are tied.”
Flora rounded Rosalyn’s bed slowly. There was no hurry, there was nothing to fear from Benjamin. Because when he’d said, “My hands are tied.” he’d been saying hers weren’t.
The machines died in unison submitting to that single decisive movement of a mother’s wrist.
She waited there, next to the bed, watching as her daughter’s chest stopped moving.
She turned, and saw that Benjamin had started to the door.
“Dr. Aimes.” He stopped, turning wordlessly. “Some of the things my husband said. Some of his words were harsh. But they weren’t said in anger. They weren’t directed at you. His grief blinded him – and you were in the wrong place at the worst of times. The decision to let Rosalyn die was the most painful he’d – we’d – ever had to make.”
“It’s been a day for painful decisions.” Benjamin’s smile was kind.
The small man who rushed into the ICU stopped in front of Benjamin, his face a mask of woe. “Ben – you shouldn’t have done it. The IMC doesn’t condone euthanasia.” He shook his head miserably. “It was a bad move.”
Flora sprang to his defence. “Wait a minute! Dr. Aimes had nothing to do with this. If anyone’s guilty, it’s me.”
The newcomer frowned at Flora. “Who are you?”
“This is Dr. Augustinho,” said Benjamin. “Rosalyn’s mother.”
The small man seemed to shrivel. “I – I’m so sorry. I – it’s a terrible tragedy…”
“It would be a greater tragedy to take any action against Dr. Aimes.” Flora went on. “The blame for her death rests wholly on my shoulders.”
He stared at Flora, still breathing heavily. “Her?”
“My daughter – Rosalyn.” She stopped, suddenly subdued. “Who did you think-?”
“Graham Aimes. ” said the small man. “Benjamin’s son.”
Dr. Benjamin removed his letter of resignation from his pocket, and gave Flora a brief nod. “It’s been a day for painful decisions.”