My Parents were frantically moving around with X-Rays and reports of all the medical examinations that I’ve been through lately.
None could tell me what my problem exactly is, at least, not as of now.
I sat in one of those hospital chairs, restless of all the hustle-bustle around me, but the inability to do so in me. I held on to my stomach that was burning like hell. I felt like having been placed inside a hot oven to be baked as a cookie.
“Ouch!” I yelled in utter pain.
My Mum grimaced. She came to my side and handed me the water bottle.
“Must be ulcer. Don’t worry, we’ll get rid of it somehow,” she consoled me.
My digestive tracts cooled down a bit, once I slurped down the cold water.
Yet, the burning lingered.
I shook my head sadly.
“What do all these say?” I asked my Mum, who was holding on to my CT scan, PET scan and endoscopic ultrasound exam reports.
All these tests over the week on an empty stomach have drained all my energy and hope.
“They say, my Teju has to eat well on time to be alright,” she replied, placing her hand on my shoulder.
“Ma, I’m not a two year old to buy that.”
I forgot my introductions. Pardon me.
I’m Tejashwini aka Teju, a twenty two year old, working as a Financial Advisor in an MNC and having a boyfriend since 19. I earn a decent salary, live with my always-talking-about-getting-me-married-off persistent parents.
Lately, I’ve developed a recent illness of tummy pains, stomach burns and what-not related to my tummy. And since I might soon be married away to someone of my parent’s choice, they’re over-seriously concerned about my frequent stomach aches. So, all these scans and test reports over the past few weeks are biting my head off.
“Tejashwini,” the nurse called out.
Just as we were about to enter the Doc’s room, I got a call from my colleague.
“Can’t you attend that later?” Dad queried.
“You ordered me to take the day off. I had already warned you that I’d be bound by phone calls. Didn’t I say I was on an important project?” I argued.
They left me in the corridor and entered the Doctor’s cubicle together.
Shrugging, I answered the call – “Yea, Hello, Sneha.”
I had to sort out an urgent problem for my colleague and so it took me a great deal of time. Even before I could finish, my parents were out.
“Shall we go?” Mum whispered, as I was still on the phone.
We made an exit to the parking lot, got into our car and drove out of the hospital premises.
“Yea, fine, that’ll do. Anything else, do ring me up, Sneha,” I said and hung up.
“Everything alright?” Dad asked me.
“Yes, Pa, so, what did the doc..”
“Will you go to office today?” Ma, who sat at the co-driver’s seat, interrupted.
“No, you asked to take a full day leave. Didn’t you? Now what, you want me to go?” I asked surprised.
Ma remained mute.
I was sitting right behind Mum and I could see something was wrong from her face that reflected in the rear-view mirror.
I sensed that we weren’t heading home.
“Pa, where are we going?”
“Temple,” he replied.
It was queer.
“Ma, was it your plan to kidnap me to the Temple since I was denying to come to one for so many months?”
She gave a short laugh and turned her face away from the mirror.
We reached the temple and as soon as I got out, I confronted Mum.
“Ma, you pretty well know, I’m…” I stopped mid-sentence, when I saw her tear-stained face.
“Ma, are you okay?”
She made a quick escape into the temple. Before I could approach my Dad, he was off too.
I decided to track them down. Something’s certainly not alright.
I saw my parents in front of the altar, doing sincere prayers and as I neared them, I sighted tears glinting even on Dad’s face.
I had enough.
“Pa, will you both break the silence?”
Just then I saw Mum holding onto the scan reports and that smelt fishy. I came to a conclusion that something that the Doctor had said has upset them. That’s the only possibility for them to assume gloom since the time I left them alone at the hospital.
When I got no reply, I could only imagine a number of diseases that might’ve afflicted me. My fear was reigning control.
“What? Did the Doc say I had a tummy cancer or what? Why do you both look so doomed?” I smirked at them.
I saw shock written all over their faces.
“Wha.. What?” I muttered, “Is.. Is that it? I’ve a stomach cancer?”
Ma simply nodded.
“Gastric cancer, stage three,” Dad said, after much struggle.
“Hey, didn’t you take the whole day off?” Sneha cooed on seeing me in office.
“Am gonna convert it to a half-day leave I guess,” I replied, managing to smile somehow.
My stomach hurt just then.
“Are you okay?” she asked me, sensing my facial expression.
I skipped lunch, worked overtime and reached home late.
By then, my Mum had decided to act normal.
“Eat your dinner,” she said, like every day she used to.
“No, I already have,” I lied.
I shut the door to my room and splashed water all over my face.
I didn’t cry a bit since I heard the shattering news. Too much of rigidity sown in my character, I guess.
Like routine I dialled up Vinay’s number.
“Hey, Darling,” was all he said and I broke down.
I ended the call, went to the restroom and cried my heart out.
I wailed like a small baby, banging the walls around me, but I knew, it was all – useless.
I wiped away my tears, resumed my strong nature and reached out to my mobile, which was buzzing on my bed.
It was Vinay.
“Hey, sorry da, Ma barged into the room suddenly, so I had to end the call abruptly,” I lied.
“Is everything okay?” he asked.
“Yea. So, how was your day?” I veered him away from asking me any questions.
But, I wasn’t smart enough.
“Hey, I almost forgot! How come you ended up in office today when you were supposed to be at the Doc’s?”
See there, didn’t I say, I ain’t smarty-pants?
“Yea, it got over pretty soon and I flew like a free bird to the office,” I replied, maintaining my usual composure.
“So, what did the Doc say? Any cure to your frequent tummy pains?”
“Well, are you free tomorrow? I think it’s been a long time since we saw each other?”
“What? Did the Doc suggest that meeting me would cure you? If so, tell him, I’d always be your lifetime remedy,” he joked.
“Oh, yea, I pretty much guess so.”
“Well then, that’s settled. Tomorrow, I’m gonna get rid of all your pain. Embrace them for the last time today. Kyunki mein lifetime guarantee deti hu,” he mimicked the dialogue from the Bollywood movie – Hasee toh phasee.
I doubted if he could really get rid of my cancer.
“Fine then. See you tomorrow outside my office in the evening,” I said and hung up.
No sooner had I thrown away my mobile on the bed than it vibrated again.
It is Vinay.
“Whoa, what happened?” I asked.
“Hey,” he said, followed by a silence.
‘Hey’ and ‘Mm’ are our code words or signals that the person who called out ‘Hey’ was gonna say something cute and romantic.
“I grew up the beard for you. Hope you tickle them at least tomorrow, when we meet up,” he said and I could envision the grin in his voice.
Tears rolled out.
“I will. Always.”
I hung up.
My parents tried talking to me the next day, but I gave them excuses and kept myself occupied.
When I left my office that day, I was determined not to let my cancer thing ruin my entire life.
Vinay picked me up later.
“To where?” he asked.
He was stunned.
“Are you kidding?”
“I don’t guess so.”
“Are you sure you need to do the introductions today?” he asked.
“It’s about time I did.”
After much hesitation, he rode us home.
My parents were astonished to see me arrive home with a male counterpart, that too on his bike!
Dad gave him a stern stare when I linked my hands with his.
However he pulled it out uneasily.
“Are you still sure?” Vinay asked me.
There was some kind of grit he could sense in my voice.
We walked hand in hand again.
“Pa, he’s Vinay,” I introduced.
He shook hands with my reluctant Dad.
“Why don’t you invite him inside, Pa?” I asked when my Dad made no such offer.
“Yea, sure, please do,” he obliged unwillingly.
My Mum remained silent, leaving my Dad to handle such situations as usual.
“We’ve been in love for more than four years,” I continued, “And I want you to break the news that you told me yesterday.”
“What news?” Vinay asked, taken aback, “Are they getting you married to someone else?”
But, Dad was stunned.
“You can’t marry anyone you like!” Dad hollered.
“Well, anyways, my life is done with me. So it doesn’t matter if I marry anyone at all,” I scoffed.
“What’s going on now? Teju?” Vinay, clueless looked up to me.
“Ma,” I said, looking at her, “Please do the honors. I’ll freshen up and be back.”
I left a shocked-at-my-cool-as-a-cucumber-nature trio, stranded in the hall to settle matters amongst themselves.
“What the hell! You can’t leave me alone and rot to hell just like that!” Vinay, shouting, burst into my room.
“Well, I can’t help it,” I replied.
“Teju, I’m so sorry,” he rushed to hug me tight.
It did me some good, I should say, because I finally found someone in whom I could confide my fears and tears.
“Just don’t leave me. I don’t wanna die,” I wailed.
He hugged me even harder.
“But, I may want to die this way, on your chest, your arms around me..” I swallowed my words as I said them.
“You’re not gonna die, I.. I’m not gonna let you!”
“You’ll have to,” I said, removing myself from him.
I pulled him out of my room to where my parents were seated.
“Uncle, can’t we cure her? I mean, technology’s developed, we could take her to the best hospitals, Can’t we.. Can’t we just do something?” he pleaded.
“Vinay, stop freaking out, Okay? You’re getting on my nerves!” I screamed.
I wanted him badly to comfort me, to tranquilize me and to say everything is just gonna be okay. But, his adverse reaction only makes me feel, I’m gonna die sooner.
He turned quiet.
I made him sit on the sofa, while my Dad prepped to brief him out.
“Look son, we’ve talked to the Doctors..”
“Uncle,” Vinay interjected, “Don’t you think she shouldn’t hear this stuff?”
“That’s okay,” I paused, “I already know. Everything about me will be in the limelight from now on. No hiding.”
“Okay,” he said meekly.
“We’ve talked to the Doctors,” Dad resumed, “They’ve suggested an Endoscopy and then Chemotherapy. Medicines are to accompany her diet. We all are hoping she’d survive through it.”
“As if,” I sneered.
“Stage four is the last phase. Now, we can try to at least remove those cancerous cells and help her live a bit longer. Won’t help much though, but I know my daughter’s stronger. She’ll surface through it,” Dad said encouragingly.
“Yea, you’re right. I don’t think that’s gonna be enough,” I said.
“Then?” Ma voiced.
“Vinay, I know this is gonna be tough for you,” I said, turning towards him, “But..”
“But?” he asked, anticipating a storm.
I knew it wasn’t an easy call.
“But, leave me. I’d be dead in about a year or so. Just forget me, save yourself from all the trouble I’m gonna go through. Just go.. Go anywhere, somewhere, I just don’t care! Just go find yourself and live your life, unlike me,” I finished.
“Are you mad?” he said, jumping up from his seat.
“Maybe, she’s right,” my Dad said, getting up too.
I knew it meant good riddance for my parents. Anyway, they weren’t ready to accept our love. So, my decision only brought happiness to them.
“Teju, you know, I wouldn’t be able to do this,” Vinay begged.
“Yeah, you’ll feel pain for a few days, then it’d be over soon, trust me,” I said, not looking into his eyes.
I didn’t have the courage to look up to him to say all these as I wanted only him right now. But, that meant I’m being selfish, not bothering about his future, without me later.
“No! No way! I’m not gonna leave you. I ain’t any quitter! Do you think I considered you a passing cloud in my life?” he said, roughly holding my hand.
I touched his chest, looked into his watery eyes and sobbed, “Just go.”
“You can’t do this to me!” yelled Vinay over the phone.
I felt sorry for him. Yet, I knew I’m doing the right thing for him.
However, I had this yearning for him. I wanted to spend the rest of my days with him. I wanna cut all ties with my family, friends, relatives, with anyone and everyone except him. I wanted him next to me every morning I wake up, want him say I’m living a normal life just like others and he’s not gonna let me rot soon.
Yet, “Sometimes, you just have to let go,” I whispered.
“Let go? You’re ditching me! Yea, that’s what you’re doing and I doubt that cancer story. You and your family made a fool of me today with such a story! No, am not gonna buy that!” he screamed.
“A story?” I asked, angered, “Do you think I badly wanna dump you and realised a simple ‘go away from me’ wouldn’t do the trick and so I staged this cancer play?”
He was silent. I heard his fuming very distinctively. I apprehended that thinking that the truth was a foul play gave him some comfort than the real thought of me drifting away from him.
“Vinay, I’m gonna die soon! Can’t you get that thing inside your head?”
“You won’t. I mean, I won’t let you to,” came his desperate voice.
“I know, but, this is beyond anyone’s control. I’d be gone and you’ll bereave for the rest of your life. I don’t wish that to happen. Why don’t you understand that?”
“Then, will leaving you to suffer alone do me any good?”
“That’s what I’m hoping for.”
“That’s not gonna happen. Go and blather it to someone else who’d take that. It’s either you or none.”
“We’ll see. Time changes anything and everything.”
“Just sleep over it. You’ll agree to what I said in the morning,” I said and hung up before he could argue.
But, he called back, all the same.
“Hey,” he called out fondly.
After much hesitation and uncertainty, with tears in my eyes, I said, “Mm?”
“Will you marry me?”
My heart throbbed faster. I wanted to jump up and down like a kid, the happy celebration possibilities were endless, yet (Ah! Aren’t there so many buts, yets and ifs in my life? sigh).
“Vinay, get over me. I’m not good for you, at least from this moment, not anymore.”
“Didn’t you always wish for a ‘forever’ and ‘hamesha’?” his voice croaked.
“Yea, I did, when I thought I had a lifetime to live with you,” I said, sighing.
“Teju, open the door!” someone yelled outside my house in the night. Loud knocks followed.
Before the noise could wake the whole neighbourhood up, I rushed to see who it was brashly calling out to me.
As soon as I unlocked, I gasped.
“Vinay, what’re you doing here?”
“You.. you..” he staggered, “can’t ditch me..”
He came so closer to me and smelt of liquor.
“Vinay! You’re drunk!” I exclaimed, shocked.
“Who is that?” Dad’s voice loomed behind me.
I stepped aside to let him catch a glimpse of Vinay who stood unsteadily in the porch.
“What’s he doing here?” Dad repeated the same question I had asked.
“Pa, move back, he’s drunk.”
“You Scoundrel!” Dad barked, raising his hand.
“Uncle!” he yelled, “This is between your daughter and me. You, please, ssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” he placed a finger on his lips.
He lingered on the last word for a few seconds.
I saw Dad’s temper rising. I realised I let this thing go on for too long.
“Okay, okay,” I said, distancing them both, “Pa, we’ll do fine.”
“No, I’m not letting a drunkard enter this house,” Dad refused to leave the spot.
“Pa, I can handle this. Don’t worry. Now, please, excuse us,” I said, pulling Vinay by his hand.
“No, you’re simply ditching me. Ha! Yes! Brilliant Vinay! You figured that out!” he blabbered, while Dad left.
I took him inside my room, locked the doors, pulled him to the bathroom and splashed water onto his face.
“Whoa! What are you doing?” he asked in a haze.
I wipe his face with a towel and made him sit on the bed.
“Hey!” I called out.
I smiled. His senses were still a bit clear despite the alcohol’s temporary haziness.
“Why did you come here now?”
I emphasized on the now to drive the point straight to his head that he had visited at an untimely hour.
“Where did I go to come?” he asked wondering.
I comprehended this wasn’t going to help me much.
“Can you ride home all by yourself?” I asked.
“Not before telling how cru.. cruel you’re to.. to leave me.”
“Okay, you told that now. Now, tell me if you can manage by yourself.”
He lurched forward and hugged me and we both swayed.
“Teju, I love you! Do you know it’s meaning? Through joy and sadness, sickness and health I’m gonna support you. I won’t leave you to suffer alone.”
“I know,” I whispered.
He cried on my shoulders.
“This ain’t God’s fair game at all! To put you through a hell like this!” he wailed.
“I didn’t enter that hell still. Look, I’m perfect now!” I said, pulling him away from me.
Just then my stomach churned and I groaned in pain.
“No, you’re not! Do you feel that?” he asked kneeling down.
He placed his hands on my stomach and I grimaced.
However, at the same time his touch made a million butterflies flutter in my stomach.
“I wanted you to suffer in pain when we’re to have a baby, not this way,” he said and kissed.
My visions blurred and I knelt beside him too, face to face.
He cupped my face immediately.
“I don’t find a new love for every season. I’ve already said, it’s either you or none.”
He kissed my forehead and I threw myself over him.
He fell down on to the floor, both of us still hugging. But, he had lost his steady consciousness by then.
I dragged him onto my bed and he curled up.
My estimates were wrong. His senses have been knocked out. Riding home now didn’t mean safety to me.
I placed a pillow under his head and covered him with a blanket.
“Teju, please marry me. I wanna live the leftover days with you. I’ll be your doting husband. I promise. Hamesha,” he said in his sleep.
I leaned over and kissed his forehead. He threw his arm over me.
I cuddled on his chest and pulled the blanket over us.
“Mm, this dream’s nice. You beside me, I feel safe,” he continued to mumble; “I want you when I wake up. I wanna reach out to you, kiss you good morning.”
I caressed his beard.
“Yea, I want you to do that too. Ah! This dream’s perfect.”
He breathed every word into my ears and later kissed them softly.
I wondered if he was really asleep and raised my head.
Just then Dad knocked at the door.
“Pa, it’s Okay. We’re doing fine,” I answered.
But the knocks persisted.
So, I unwound from Vinay and opened the door to let my Dad in.
“Has he slept here?” he asked gruffly.
“Okay, you sleep with your mother tonight. I’ll take care of this Rascal!”
“Pa, We’re fine. Don’t do anything to him.”
“Do as I say,” he ordered.
I looked at the sleeping figure on my bed and left him to my Dad’s disposal with a heavy heart.