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This was no ordinary volunteer. Gauri’s attitude and voice flowed with simple eagerness to please, her eyes full of some emotion… what was it? Reverence? Affection?
Anu was decidedly irate today. She sat in the garden, clutching a book. To Kill A Mockingbird, to be precise. A book that she had read many times, but now the tiny print had defeated her tired eyes. At that moment, she was feeling every minute of her seventy-five years.
She swore loudly. “Damn it. My f…..ng vision is failing; I cannot read my books!”
She looked around guiltily. She could almost hear Rohan’s voice in her head, “Ma, wash your mouth with soap.”
Whatever! Anuradha thought. The only advantage of being an old woman was the considerable licence to speak her mind. Besides, she was living in an old age home and the average age of the occupants here was seventy; give or take a few years. So… no tender ears to overhear or repeat her words.
To Kill A Mockingbird would have to wait for another day. Till someone with normal vision and patience for irate old women, good pronunciation and a love for books would be able to read to her. A tall order indeed!
Still, it was a beautiful spring morning and her ‘Never Say Die’ motto of optimism stirred to life.
Wheelchair-bound and diaper-clad I may be, but I am surrounded by fragrant flowers, a cool breeze on my cheek, listening to the birds chirping. Can still feel and hear, so what if I cannot read!
Closing her eyes, she dozed lightly, suspended between sleep and wakefulness. Reliving her memories, as she often did, that beloved face and voice once more in her head.
“Ma, wake up, ma. I need you to quickly iron this shirt for the party.”
“Ma, come on! I am hungry; give me something to eat, quickly.”
“Aw, pleeease Ma. Just a lil’ more cash. Now!”
Fast, and Now, and Quick… Oh! the impatience of youth.
Till that terrible day, on an out-station trip with friends, when his speed and lack of patience could not overtake his destiny. Rushing to see him, that urgent flight to Chennai…
Her only child, her Rohan, lying in the ICU. So still and lifeless, he was. Brain dead, the doctors had called it.
She had gripped his hand and watched the machine pushing air into his lungs, the saline dripping into his veins and the beeping monitors creating the illusion of life.
Oh! That moment of realization – he was gone and only a shell of his body remained behind.
Twenty years had passed, her body was old and tired, but her mind a slave to her past and the pain of loss just as intense. Wiping her tears away, she kept her eyes closed for a few moments more… clutching her feelings close to herself, whispering, “Never say die”.
Light footsteps stopped next to her her. She could sense someone, a presence…
Her sense of mischief was stirred. She opened one eye and said, “You can talk…I am alive, you know! Not a fossil.”
A young girl in her early twenties stood in front of her; Jeans and Tshirt, medium height, serious brown eyes.
“Mrs. Anuradha Hegade? I am Gauri Venkatesan.” she said, hesitantly, pausing to clear her throat. “I am a student here in Pune, just moved from Chennai. I was wondering, you know, in my free time, if I could come here? Do something… with you, for you?” She trailed off.
Anu said, “Sure child, why not?”
“May I? Read to you?” Gauri said, eagerly gesturing to the book on Anu’s lap.
Anu let the clear young voice, perfect in pronunciation and diction wash over her. Ahh…the simple joys of re-reading, errr… listening to a good story. She had not been this happy for a very long time.
Thirty minutes later, a curious Anu called for a break.
This was no ordinary volunteer. Gauri’s attitude and voice flowed with simple eagerness to please, her eyes full of some emotion… what was it? Reverence? Affection? She couldn’t put her finger on it. And a busy student volunteering to spend time with an old woman… curiouser!
Aloud she said, “I truly enjoyed your reading… flawless! But, Gauri, you need to come clean with me. Why are you here, really? Tell me the truth, child.”
Gauri cleared her throat, “I never meant to reveal this! Ma’am, twenty years ago, you consented to donate your son’s organs. One of the recipients of a kidney was my father.”
She looked at Anu, her glance revealing her gratitude. “Appa is no more now, but those extra years with him meant a lot to us, to our family… Ma’am, we can never replace your loss. But if I could be here sometimes, with you… it would mean a lot to me – and to my family.”
Reaching out, Anu held Gauri’s hand for a long minute. Letting her son live on through other people… never had she felt more satisfied with the decision taken twenty years ago.
“Never say die, pun intended.” She said smiling at a puzzled Gauri.
The twenty-year-old pain within Anu seemed to lessen. Just a little.
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