by Maskwaith Ahsan;
He had just come home from his morning market-stroll when suddenly he started to feel his chest constrict. This had never happened before. Placing his hands on his chest he sat down on the bed. His wife checked his temperature which was normal but she couldn’t find a pulse. She immediately called the neighbouring young men, who came in rushing, saw his condition and called for an ambulance. But while waiting for paramedic help, he chatted with those men as if nothing was wrong. The paramedics arrived and suspected a heart attack. He was rushed to a nearby hospital.
Doctors attended to him promptly, trying to get his pulse back up. But he was more concerned about how the bedsheet in the emergency room seemed disheveled. “I am looking into it, just please don’t lecture the staff on discipline. They are not your students, we need their help,” cautioned his wife. Based on his ECG, the doctors suggested he be taken to Rajshahi Hospital where heart specialists could take over his case.
She started for Rajshahi in an ambulance with her husband, a companion of 52 years, lying on a stretcher. He still felt fine, even called up his wife’s brother in Rajshahi and asked him to line up a heart specialist. Her brother has a heart condition and consults with specialists quite often.
The ambulance ride felt like a passage to hell. Or maybe she was like the Behula from the fairytale, floating on a boat with her husband Lakhinder who was bitten by a snake, and heading towards a well-protected, happy castle.
Her mind shifted, “Is this Corona virus? But there are no symptoms, no dry cough, no body ache, no fever.” The train of thought was broken by a call from a family friend in Dhaka. He talked to him normally, as if nothing had happened. But something had happened, there wasn’t any pulse, could the heart be shutting down?
Both of their sons called, one from Dhaka, the other from abroad. She couldn’t cry in front of them, but neither could she talk. Instead she called her nephew, a senior doctor in self-isolation after one of his patients was found Covid-19 positive. He couldn’t be there in person for his Uncle, so he requested former co-workers at Rajshahi Hospital to save his Uncle. He too couldn’t understand what had happened. His uncle had always appeared as young as ever, at the age of seventy-nine he could easily sit and talk and laugh with his nephews and nieces for hours, never tired.
Meanwhile, their son abroad called his doctor friends in Dhaka and Rajshahi who immediately contacted their friends in Rajshahi Hospital. But the heart specialist on duty was absent. He refused to attend any patient for fear of Covid-19.
Several junior doctors tried to get a hold of his pulse but it mysteriously refused to surface. There were no other symptoms, he wasn’t even uncomfortable. She repeatedly asked for the heart specialist but he didn’t bother to show up, not even to save a life.
Just as suddenly as his chest constriction had surfaced and subsided a couple of hours ago, he calmly complained of disorientation. And then there was silence. “He’s left us,” declared the doctor.
She looked at his face, confused, “But that’s his face when he takes his siesta every afternoon. I can’t be mistaken. I have been seeing it for the last 52 years, even this afternoon.”
Still stunned, still in her thoughts, she was suddenly asked to finalize the burial place. Their sons wanted her to decide. And why not? She had been with him for over half a century.
She decided to take him to the place where it all started. An hour from Rajshahi, it proved to be the longest journey of her life. She had never felt miles stretch out like they did in that one hour, “I never felt time when he was around. But he’s still with me in the ambulance, so why is time timeless today?”
She kept thinking of a similar journey taken years ago; him holding the body of her baby niece who had died in the same hospital back in 1984. There was no Corona virus then but the pediatrician had still refused to attend to the child because it had been a Thursday; the day he religiously organized special prayers at home. Come hell or high water, that prayer session couldn’t be missed, not even to save the life of a child. By the time he arrived at the hospital the next day, tired of holding on she had let go of life. Putting away his stethoscope, the doctor had proclaimed theatrically, “Alas, we have lost a little diamond today.”
Jolted back to the present, she realized she had lost track of time so badly that she couldn’t even recall his burial. Everything was a blur. It wasn’t until she returned to her ancestral house in Arani that the reality of his death started to dawn upon her. This was the same house they had visited together about a month ago. On his way back home that day, he had suddenly and uncharacteristically asked those around him to pray that he would leave the world walking and smiling. That’s exactly how it happened. The smile remained with him even after his last breath left him.
Their younger son had rushed home from Dhaka just in time for the funeral. Corona hadn’t allowed a large gathering. “It’s just as well, Abba wouldn’t have wanted it any other way,” he thought to himself as he cried silently. Memories of Abba stormed into his head; a montage of 45 years appearing and disappearing through his tears.
He had prepared his elder son for this moment. In their last phone conversation, he had clearly said, “I have enjoyed my life thoroughly. None of my desires remain unfulfilled. I just worry about your mother. If I leave early how will she manage alone? Though she’s an independent woman, she will miss our companionship. Our life has never been boring together. I’m sure both you brothers will talk to your mother everyday if I depart. I don’t know why I’m saying all this because I feel perfectly fine. Must appreciate my physician here in Ishwardi, he knows his job, it’s a rare quality, you know.”
“Yeah, I know that but why are you talking like this. Your job is to reach ninety,” his son had tried to lighten the mood.
“Okay. Go now, I have a TV show to watch. Stay well, and never forget, mood is king.” Those were his last words to his eldest son.
The younger one lowered him into his grave, while one of the cousins kept the elder one connected via Whatsapp so that he too could be there for the final moments before his father’s body disappeared from sight. Like any other spring morning, a dove sang and flowers bloomed as he was laid to sleep beside the Baral River where he had taken his wife for a boat ride on a full moon night in 1968.
(To Be Continued…)