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How do you forgive yourself for an accident that happened because of a few minutes of inattention? The guilt can haunt you for ever.
Here is the first winner of our July 2016 Muse of the Month contest, Prasanna Rao.
The cue was: “Dreams have a strange beauty, no matter how terrible.” – ― Samhita Arni, The Missing Queen
A terrible scream coming from room 101 woke up Aruna who had just begun to doze sitting in her chair. It was quarter to 3 in the morning and it had been a rare uneventful night. As Aruna approached the room she saw Nurse Stella walking swiftly from the opposite side.
“It’s Anita again. Her nightmares have increased but the nurse on the morning duty had informed me that she was very calm and trouble-free the whole day”, Stella informed Aruna as they entered together to find the sole occupant of the room lying on the bed and thrashing wildly about. Her arms were flailing above her head and her green hospital gown had ridden above her thighs, as her legs banged repeatedly against the metal rods bordering the bed.
Aruna tried to hold down Anita’s arms but she seemed incapable of comprehending to pleas. “Anita, calm down, it was just a dream. I’m here now. Go back to sleep.” No pacifying words seem to soothe the patient as Anita continued to stare unblinking at the roof, her mouth frozen in a scream. Aruna knew that nothing worked in this stage and the patient had to be sedated. She quickly seized the syringe from Stella’s hands and injected it into Anita’s arms. The flailing stopped and gradually Anita closed her eyes. The hospital returned to its eerie dead silence. Stella turned as she was about to leave the room.
“Go on, I think I’ll stay with her just a bit longer”, Aruna said while straightening Anita’s gown and pulling the blanket over her frail body.
For the last 20 years Aruna worked as a nurse in the female ward of Sai Niketan Institute of Mental Health. She had never taken a personal concern in any patient’s case. But ever since she heard about Anita’s story she couldn’t help feeling pity and empathy for her and the doctors too encouraged her to interact with Anita as she responded positively to the tenderness from the elderly nurse. They had developed an unconventional bond in the most inconceivable of circumstances.
As Anita escaped into a disturbed, drug-induced sleep, blurry images began to form and fade away. She tried to hold on to some of the images but it slipped from her hand as easily as sand. Then she heard a sound. A girl. The sound of a little girl giggling at first which then got blown to guffawing. The kind of laugh when you are being tickled uncontrollably. Anita felt that she was watching a movie, one that she was being forced to watch against her choice. A scene unfolded in front of her.
Anita was sweating profusely as she clutched the cold, impersonal white sheets of the hospital bed, spent and tired from the ordeal. “It’s a girl. Here have a look”. She saw a small crunched up face, red and puffy as if she had been sleeping for nine long months. But she was beautiful. Anita knew that she had met her angel. She also knew her daughter’s name then – Pari. She took the small bundle of happiness and kissed her baby’s forehead. She promised that she would always love her and protect her, that she would give her the freedom to make her own decisions, she would be more of a friend than a mother. Oh, her heart felt that it would burst with pride and joy.
The next scene showed Pari when she was about a year old. Anita and her husband, Nikhil, had taken her to a park and Pari had just begun to walk. She saw a bird and began toddling excitedly towards it in an attempt to grab it. Pari faltered in her steps. Anita was about to help but Nikhil stopped her. Pari regained her balance and resumed her happy pursuit.
“Don’t worry so much. She’ll be alright” Nikhil remarked.
“How can I not worry? She looks so delicate and vulnerable. What is she falls down and gets hurt?” Anita replied keeping an eye on Pari.
“Come here”, Nikhil pulled her into his arms and explained, “It’s natural for babies to fall down, get hurt. It’s their learning process.”
Anita couldn’t help but worry about Pari. She realized that she was becoming one of those over-protective parents that she herself despised. She relaxed a little.
“That reminds me. We have to install the safety railing on our balconies. It isn’t safe to have a toddler in a 10th floor apartment.” Anita reminded Nikhil as he looked exasperatedly at her.
The scene shifted rapidly as Anita subconsciously tried to escape from one memory that kept haunting her. She saw Pari going to her school on the first day, she felt her own apprehensions as her little girl left her hand and ambled towards the classroom. Anita saw herself returning back to work determined to resume her career and confident that she could balance her work and home. She saw Nikhil and herself beaming with pride when Pari won the spelling bee contest in her first grade. Her brows crinkled with worry when she saw Pari crying after she fell off from her bike while riding in the park.
Anita was reliving her life through her dreams. It was like flipping through an album of her life.
Memory is a cruel gift from God and how Anita wished that she could wipe away all the images related to that evening. But the more she didn’t want to think about it, the more she was drawn towards that memory.
Pari was 10 years old and Anita had picked her up from her daycare. It had been a tough day in office for Anita and all she wanted was to stretch out on the couch at home and fall asleep. But Pari was in a chirpy mood. She was talking animatedly about her day at school. Anita had a raging headache and how she wished that she had a few moments of silence. Once they reached their apartment, Anita just wanted Pari out of the home, so that she could relax and sleep for some time.
Anita asked Pari to play with her friend in the neighboring apartment. The little girl happily obliged because it was not often that Anita allowed Pari to go to her friend’s house. Anita heaved a sigh of relief and didn’t even bother to change. She fell on the couch and was asleep soon.
Anita tried to wake herself up. She wanted to shake her own shoulders, scream at herself, but she was unable to stop the events that took place next.
The loud banging on the door woke up Anita as she struggled to understand what was happening. Someone was shouting at her, telling her about Pari who had fallen down from the neighboring flat while playing in the balcony. Anita refused to believe this. Hadn’t she asked Nikhil to fix the safety railing? Or was it for their own balcony? She could see Pari on the concrete floor, surrounded by a dark red liquid around her head. She looked like a broken porcelain doll, so peaceful and serene.
Anita’s heartbeats raced and she began to convulse again. Aruna wiped the sweat beads that formed on her forehead and gently stroked her hair. Anita relaxed and returned to normal. Her lips turned upwards in a slight smile and
Aruna guessed that she was having a dream about her little girl. A pleasant dream. Aruna bent down near Anita’s ears and whispered.
“Close your eyes and have only good dreams my dear. For dreams have a strange beauty, no matter how terrible they eventually turn out to be.”
Prasanna Rao wins a Rs 250 Flipkart voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the 10 top winners at the end of 2016. Congratulations!
Image source: shutterstock.