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But after a day Naina had felt moody and had sensed that the same tablet would make her feel better. She’d paid Kaku again and had gotten the tablet.
“This will be your place Naina.” The in–charge staff put down Naina’s bag near the cupboard and looked up at her. “We offer the best services; we have contacts all over the world. You’ll surely have no complaints. You can change and make yourself comfortable. I’ll be right back, if you need anything just press the button here.” She showed a button which looked like a telephone receiver and left the room.
Naina looked around; the room had a window which over looked a few trees and the Bangalore city traffic below. Inside the room was a large sofa, a TV set with a USB jack which also could be connected to a game. The furnishings were bright peach and lemony yellow. She walked a few paces and found the bathroom. It also had a walk–in wardrobe. She decided to put all her clothes in this as she didn’t know how long she’d stay here.
Naina was a seventeen year old high school girl. She looked at the cheery room, everything was right, only the room wasn’t in the right building. The right and bright room in the wrong building brought a gloom of doom in her. Her head swam, her eyes welled with tears, and the room swam away from her sight as she plonked herself on the comfortable bed. This was no star hotel that she was used to. This was an extremely sophisticated multi–speciality cancer hospital. She was admitted in the pediatric ward, in an extremely expensive room.
It was just a few days ago that she and her bestie Kavya had planned to celebrate their eighteenth birthday. It would be in Greece, they’d decided. On Santorini island with all their friends from school. The best of hotels would be booked, and with the best of services. There would be booze, fun, food and mostly the best of marijuana or meth or anything that could get all of them to exploit the splendors of life.
These were kids who studied in one of the best and most expensive boarding schools in the country. The school had a sprawling campus of a hundred and fifty acres; horse–riding, swimming, tennis and other sports were encouraged and facilitated with world class faculty members. Kavya and she were friends from the first grade. Their parents were very rich and well known business magnates.
Naina remembered clearly now the fateful day that had changed their lives. They were in the seventh grade. Naina had a splitting headache one day when kaku bai (the cleaning maid) had given her a tablet which had soothed her. She’d woken up with a happy mood and floated through classes like a cloud which had just cleared it’s frustration by pouring out.
“Kaku Bai the medicine you gave me not just made my headache vanish but also made me feel lighter and happier.” said Naina
But after a day Naina had felt moody and had sensed that the same tablet would make her feel better. She’d paid Kaku again and had gotten the tablet. Naina told Kavya about this and had introduced her too to the tablet. With time the dosage and substance increased and before they knew they were completely into the clutches of these substances.
On this bed she also remembered another day that had brought another sharp twist in their lives.
“Come on Naina” said Kavya, with a lopsided smile. She was standing on the table and doing a Kangana Ranaut from ‘Queen’.
“I’m the queen, all I want is just another drink.” They’d giggled silly and had mixed a lot of stuff together and had drunk it. They had hailed a taxi and it was then that Kavya said “You know, Naina, if I were you, I’d donate those beautiful eyes of mine, after my death. In fact this is my agenda on my eighteenth birthday, organ donation.”
“The world is beautiful to these drunken eyes; I want those poor blind people to see it for themselves.”
They’d reached their rooms and slept peacefully, in a trance as if in paradise. Naina woke up the next day to find out that her friend had suffered a seizure that night and before she could be given medical aid she’d passed away. That was when Naina realized fully the extent to which she was drowned in substance abuse.
“Aunty please, take me away from here, I can’t face my parents. I need help; I don’t want to die like Kavya.” She pleaded with Kavya’s parents. This was the day she begged for a new lease of life.
Her parents had admitted her to a rehabilitation centre in Bangalore. She experienced the wrath of hell in this place as her body showed withdrawal symptoms. She’d decided with grit and determination that she’d emerge victorious in this battle. Her mother stood like a rock by her day and night.
Naina awaited her eighteenth birthday, she knew what she wanted to gift herself – a brand new life and she would be a gift to the world outside, she’d decided to donate her organs and not just her eyes. She had realized that life was very precious. She knew that Kavya would be proud, her mother would be proud!
It was one was these days that she experienced a sharp jabbing pain in her back. She’d dismissed it a few times thinking that it could be one of her many vicious withdrawal symptoms. But it was more than four months in the rehab and most of her symptoms had subsided. The jabbing became almost close to a sharp stabbing pain and Naina could not get out of bed one morning.
“Let’s run a blood test first, if nothing can be found we’ll have to do a bone marrow test.” Said the doctor. A series of tests were conducted and finally the results were out.
“It’s bone cancer and in an advanced stage.” She had declared. “We’ll have to shift her immediately to a Cancer Hospital; it’s in the final stage. The best hope is a bone–marrow transplant. She’s a young girl and she’ll respond to it very well. If needed to be shifted to the US arises, let’s do it.” These were what the specialists decided and Naina was here in this super–speciality hospital and the luxurious room.
As she sat here it dawned upon her that in a few days she’d turn eighteen. She smiled thinking of all the impish plans that they had sketched. Though it was just a few months ago it felt as if she’d aged double in these months. She’d come to love her body, her life, her parents, and acknowledged with new light all the privileges that she was bestowed upon with. In these few months she’d acquired a hobby, to make jewelry from clay.
“Naina are you ready for the first cycle of chemo?” This was just a rhetoric question from the doctor; there was no escape she knew. Chemo, rest and making jewelry became her routine. Naina became popular as ‘The girl with a magic wand’ she’d randomly fish out a pair of earrings for the nurse or a tiny bracelet for the cleaner. Her mood lifted whenever she saw someone smile.
“She’s not responding very well, and her other organs are affected” Said the doctor. “We must get a bone marrow match soon or it’ll be too late,” she added. Days went by but a match never came.
Naina spent her special eighteenth birthday in the hospital. “I want to cut cake with the other children” she said.
Too weak to walk, she was wheeled to the general ward. The sight that welcomed her gripped her heart with an icy cold hand. She saw children of all ages, some were leaving without hope unable to pay the expenses and looking out for cheaper hospitals. Some parents extended their palms for charity; all that they wanted was to keep their child alive. Naina looked at her mother’s eyes and saw the same desperation.
“Ma make a promise, it’s my eighteenth” she requested. Mom looked at her quizzically. “Get people to make the jewelry that I’m making as a hobby.”
“I cannot donate my organs as they are useless now. But I can definitely make a difference in someone’s life. The money made by selling the jewelry can be given away as charity for these cancer patients.” Her mother listened; she knew it was futile to say anything now, all she did was to nod in agreement.
“Every parent wants their child to be special ma. But I’m not special, I’m a limited edition ma. I’ll live on in the smiles of these parents who can pay for the treatment.”
Naina knew then that the childish promise that she and Kavya had made was not broken. She could not donate organs but she could definitely gift smiles.
Header image is a still from the movie Fault In Our Stars
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