Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Intro : Crossroads

The silence that usually pervades the atmosphere of a hospital was suddenly broken by the shrill ringing of a telephone. The Nurses' Station being strangely unoccupied this morning, the ringing persisted till the caller eventually gave up. The hospital resumed its air of muffled activity, while two figures stood in the Fire Escape, engulfed in silence of another kind. Armaan and Riddhima stood facing each other, struggling with emotions too much for words. This had been their little sanctuary. A little corner they had made their own; a space that still echoed with memories of three beautiful years. The last time they had been here together was over seven months ago. They were here again today. And something was different. He saw her gaze turn icy, and it broke him. He could see the resentment, and the pain in her eyes. There were no tears. This had come too far to have any space left for them.

 Riddhima : (in a low, firm tone) "I have nothing to say to you, Armaan. Nothing left in me to give you. I died six months ago, and everything I had ever felt died with me. I've learnt how to survive on my own by now. And that is the way I want to be. (A tinge of bitterness makes its way into her voice) Don't even think, for a second that I still...(falters, drops her gaze to the ground, then immediately looks up again) Your being here makes no difference to me anymore, Armaan. Main tumse yeh pehle bhi keh chuki hoon. I don't care where you are, or what you do. And you have absolutely nothing to do with my life. So if you will please...excuse me..."

It was too much. She couldn't help it. She had said what she had wanted to say ever since Armaan had come back to Sanjeevani a month ago. But the words felt so hollow and worthless...And she knew her eyes would give her away. She made her way out into the corridor before he saw the tears, leaving him standing absolutely still, like in a trance.

Armaan had not expected to hear any different. But he had never imagined it would hurt this much; tug at his insides so painfully just to look in her eyes when she said it. He could feel his resolve threatening to crumble. This had to happen, he said to himself. She needed to let it out. But had she let it all out yet? No. What could he do now, so that she would? He stood there gathering himself together, when his pager went off. He glanced at it, and put it back in his pocket. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and set off towards the General Ward.

        * * *

Riddhima entered the General Ward, a little hesitant and awkward after the scene in the Fire Escape. She had lost control for a moment. But not again. Armaan was her colleague, and they could share a perfectly normal working relationship. Yes. That is how it should be. She spotted him measuring the blood pressure of an old lady occupying the bed on the far left.

Armaan : (Sees her come, but pretends not to have noticed.) "Aunty, aap ka blood pressure abhi bhi thoda high hai. You need to keep it in check before it gets you in trouble."

Riddhima : (Walking up to him) "Dr. Armaan, Dr. Kirti ne aapko is general check-up ke baad Path Lab mein bulaya hai. So..."

Armaan : "Uh...Okay. I'll finish Ward 1 and then...yeah."

His pager was ringing again. He fished it out, glanced at it, paused for one moment, and then put it away. He resumed the check-up like nothing had happened. It had not escaped Riddhima's notice, however, and she looked at him curiously. It rang again. This time, he didn't bother even to take it out.

Riddhima : "Dr. Armaan, aapka pager baj raha hai."

Armaan : (Without looking at her) "I know, Dr. Riddhima. Thank you for telling me, but I would really appreciate if you'd let me do my job and get on with this check-up"

Riddhima : (Now certain that something is very odd. He's being unreasonable and defensive. She knows he does that only when something is disturbing him and he doesn't want to talk about it.) "Armaan-"

Armaan : "Please, Doctor Riddhima. Let it be. (About to resume check-up when he pauses and turns around) Besides, what's it to you any- OW!"

He had turned around carelessly, hitting his left hand hard on the table next to the bed. He winced in pain, and Riddhima reached out instinctively. Armaan looked up, but she stopped herself just in time and retracted.

Armaan : (Sarcastic) "Yeah. You don't care, right?"

Riddhima : (Avoiding his eyes and inwardly cursing herself for giving in for the second time in ten minutes) "Patient, Dr. Armaan..."

Armaan turned away. After a few moments of silence, his cellphone rang out. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, and with a look of exasperation, took the call. It was from the Nurse's Station. They had received three calls already from Pune Sanjeevani. This was the fourth, and it sounded very urgent. Something about his father, Billy. He turned towards Riddhima.

Armaan : "I'll...just be back Dr. Riddhima, tab tak aap check-up poora kar lijiye."

Riddhima kept gazing at him as he made his way out of the Ward. Something was wrong, and she could sense it.

    * * *

Armaan held the receiver to his ear, and listened in complete silence to the man on the other end. Billy had suffered a heart attack, and was in the I.C.U. There was no one with him. They had found a copy of Armaan's hospital ID in his wallet, and wanted him to come to Pune as soon as possible. While he was listening, Rahul and Muskaan came and stood next to him, checking and signing some files at the Nurses' Station. When the man asked Armaan by when they could expect him, he disconnected the call.

Muskaan was fidgety. The Nurse who had taken the call had told them about Billy, and she couldn't understand why Armaan was acting so indifferent. Rahul had told her to keep quiet, but she couldn't help it.

Muskaan : "Yaar Armaan, tujhe abhi nikalna chahiye. Pata nahin wo kaise honge-"

Armaan : "He's in a hospital, Muskaan, Doctors hain wahaan, mere hone se koi jadoo ki chhadi nahin chal jayegi. He'll be fine."

At that precise moment, Riddhima joined them at the Station with a bunch of files in her hand, making Armaan even more uncomfortable.

Muskaan : "Armaan tu aisa kaise keh sakta hai...?! I mean wo tere dad hain-"

This time, Rahul interrupted her.

Rahul : "Rehne de Muskaan. Chal, Emergency Ward mein kaam hai. (Muskaan is about to retort) Chal...!!"

He dragged her away. Armaan wouldn't look at Riddhima, and hurriedly walked away when she opened her mouth to say something, leaving her gazing after his retreating figure.

     * * *

Lost in deep thought, Armaan sat behind his desk in his cabin when a knock sounded on the door.

Armaan : "Come in."

The door opened to reveal Rahul, holding a file in one hand, and a syringe in the other. He was about to speak, but Armaan forestalled him.

Armaan : "Dekh yaar, agar tu mujhe dad se milne ke baare mein lecture dene aaya hai to please, abhi mud aur bahar chala ja. Seriously."

Rahul : (Smiles ironically) "Agar main tujhe lecture de sakta na, kisi bhi cheez ke baare mein, to na mera naam Rahul Grewal hota, aur na mujhe is waqt itni hassi aa rahi hoti ki tujhe actually laga ki main tujhe convince karne aaya hoon. Tu hamesha se wahi karta hai jo tu chahta hai. Yeh mujhse behtar koi nahin jaanta. So then, tujhe main pagal lagta hoon jo tujhse wo karvane ki koshish karunga jo tu nahin karna chahta?!"

Armaan : "Beta tere bhi apne tareeke hain. I know you pretty well too, you know. Aur dekh pagal to tu vaise bhi-"

Rahul : "Achha chal chal...Main kaam karne aaya hoon, aur tu phir bhi bakwaas hi karega. (Walks towards him with the syringe) Ab chal, khada ho."

Armaan : (Eyeing the syringe suspiciously) "Kyun'?"

Rahul : "Fikar mat kar, I'm too young to go to jail for homicide. Kuch nahin karunga tujhe. Dr.Kirti ne kaha hai ki hospital ke is wing mein sabko yeh shots dene hai. There was a case of H1N1 in General Ward 1 jiske test results abhi aaye. Unhe pata hai hum sab ki duty lag chuki hai vahaan aaj subah se. So get your butt here and take the shot."

Armaan stood up and walked over to Rahul on the other side of his desk. Turning his back to him, he lifted up his shirt, and Rahul injected him with the vaccine.

Armaan : (Turning to face Rahul, and batting his eyelashes exaggeratedly) "Khush, Dr. Rahul?"

Rahul : (Grinning) "Bohot."

With that, he left. Armaan turned around to return to his seat. But before he could take more than a few steps, his head began to spin. Reaching for his desk for support, he felt giddy and nauseous. Slowly, his vision started blacking out, and he collapsed in a heap onto the floor.

     * * *

Pitch black. The silence broken only by the dull whirring sound of an engine. Armaan opened his eyes slowly, tentatively. Getting used to the initially blinding brightness, he found himself staring out of the window of a car, speeding along vast green country. This was surely the highway. Slowly, he turned to face the only other person in the car, sitting in the driver's seat. Riddhima sat looking straight ahead, determinedly avoiding his gaze eventhough she knew he had woken up. Armaan went on looking at her, bemused, until she finally drew a deep breath and turned to look at him.

Riddhima : "I am not doing this because I care."


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