5: Fate Not Coincidence
“Shantanu. See who has come to see you.”
“Chachuu! What happened to chachu Daddy?” Megha turned to her father.
“Megha!” Shantanu exclaimed smiling.
“Nothing’s happened to chachu sweetheart, he’s just playing the game of doctor-patient and he is pretending to be the patient. Soon he will say ‘mein kahaan hoon (where am I) just like in the movies.”
“What? Is that true? Chachu say it. Say mein kahaan hoon!”
“Mein kahaan hoon?” Shantanu complied.
Megha burst into giggles; “Ohoh that is sooo funny! So you are not hurt Chachu?”
“No my baby, I’m just pretending just like you do sometimes, when you don’t want to go to school.”
“Oh yes! I say that my stomach hurts…like this;” she clutched her stomach and make a face, “Then Great Dadi ma lets me stay at home.”
“What? You do that? I thought Dadi ma was smarter than that. I will have to warn her;” Akshay said sternly.
Shantanu burst out laughing then winced.
“Just like that Chachu! That is how I do it;” Megha declared with a toothy smile.
“Dadi ma is a pushover Akshay. Don’t you remember how we used to make a fool of her when we were kids? She never found out. Maybe she did but pretended not to; Shan said smiling.
“Careful bro! You don’t want to ruin those stitches. Seems like they’ve made a road map of your stomach;” Akshay grinned. “Perhaps you are right. Dadi never denied us anything and now she’s indulging Megha. Naughty girl!” he said aiming his fist playfully at Megha’s chin.
Shaan watched this tender interaction between father and daughter with pleasure. He couldn’t recall the last time when he had seen Akshay take time off work to spend some time with his daughter. Perhaps this accident had done some good after all.
Megha started to look around as if searching for something or someone. Shantanu then noticed for the first time the small scruffy looking teddy bear she held in her hand.
“Chachu? Have you seen the nice Doctor Aunty who gave me this teddy?”
“I don’t think so sweetheart. Why do you ask?”
“Did you Dad?” Megha looked at her father.
“The only female doctor I’ve seen is your chachu’s Doctor Agarwal;” he said giving his brother a knowing wink.
“Shantanu uncle, you know doctor aunty is the best doctor in the whole world;” Megha declared seriously.
“Why do you say so honey?”
“Because she gave me teddy;” Megha thrust the toy into his face. “Look isn’t he the cutest? After the akk- see-dent, Teddy was the only one who slept with me and told me not to be scared. And I was not.”
Shantanu threw Akshay a concerned look. He didn’t want to believe that poor little Megha had to spend the nights since the accident alone with only a bedraggled stuffed toy for company. His brother dropped his eyes in guilt and hugged Megha tightly; “I am sorry baby. From now you won’t sleep alone anymore, you’ll sleep with Mom and Dad.”
“Really Daddy? Then I can give my Teddy to uncle, to keep him company in this scary place. Here Chachu,” Megha deposited the bear on Shantanu’s chest.
“But won’t you miss him Megha?”
“No Chachu. Dad and mom will be there with me;” she said smiling adoringly at Akshay. “Teddy will take care of you. He’s a brave bear.”
Her uncle reluctantly nodded his thanks and examined the bear. Teddy looked much loved. He was missing his right eye and his fur that had once been snow white was now a dull shade of grey. But he had done well in his inanimate life by helping drive away a little girl’s fears.
“Hello visiting time is over for now!”
Shantanu looked up to see a matronly appearing plump nurse enter his room pushing a cart with some paraphernalia in it.
“Hokay brother!” Akshay stood up. “Will see you tomorrow then. Megha, say bye to Chachu and tell him to get well soon. By the way Mom and Dad will be around tomorrow.”
“Get well soon Chachu! See you later and if you see my Doctor Aunty be sure to give her a kiss for me. Bye Teddy!”
“Bye Megha. Thanks for coming. I will be home soon.” Shaan then mused as they walked out; I wonder what your Doctor Aunty looks like.
“I am your new nurse from today; my name is Mrs. D’ souza!”
“Oh Hello Nurse D’Souza, I am Shantanu Khandelwal. It’s very nice to meet you but where is Nurse Chandni?”
“She got moved to another floor. Okay let me take a look at you;” Nurse D’Souza scrutinized him closely with her beady eyes as if she was examining a fascinating insect under a microscope.
Shaan tried to meet her stare but couldn’t. He felt himself blushing as he was not used to being at the receiving end of a feminine stare especially of someone old enough to be his mother or even grandmother. Nurse D’souza was among the lucky few women who stopped aging after forty-five.
His plump new nurse nodded; “Dr. Agarwal was right. Only 40 plus.”
Shantanu frowned, “40 plus? What’s that?”
“Itne gore chikne, bilkul Titanic ke hero ke samaan (You are so dashing just like Titanic’s hero), I wouldn’t blame any girl for not doing her job. Poor Nurse Chandni. How I wish I was young too!”
“You mean Dr. Agarwal was responsible for shifting Nurse Chandni?” Shantanu asked irritably. What does she think of herself?
“Well, I think she did right. When Dr. Agarwal orders something she likes it to be carried out and she won’t tolerate inefficiency of any kind. Looks like Mr. Dhak Dhak here has been distracting our nurses even while asleep,” she smiled broadly as Shaan looked around dearly wishing he could make himself invisible.
“Okay let’s get to work! It’s time for your bath.”
“What? You must be kidding me. A bath?” Shantanu looked at her in horror.
“Well it’s a sponge bath. You don’t want to get a bad skin infection do you and I also need to change your dressings.”
“I..I don’t want to do it; besides I am still too weak:” he sank back into the bed and pulled the covers up to his shoulders.
“Who said you have to do it? What am I here for?” a big smile lit up his nurse’s face.
“Is it really necessary now; can’t we do it tomorrow?” Shaan asked.
“Of course it is and it’s our Dr. Agarwal’s orders. God help us if we don’t do as she says. Now stop dilly dallying and don’t be shy. I’ve seen everything.”
Shantanu unhappily submitted to Nurse D’Souza’s attentions as she sponged him down efficiently and changed his dressings. She then forced him to eat something called soup that actually tasted like bathwater. When he complained about it, her standard reply was that it was Dr. Agarwal’s instructions and for Nurse D’Souza her words were written in stone. After an exhausting morning he could only find four letter words to describe the mysterious Dr. Agarwal and he fervently wished never to cross her path.
Shantanu was sitting in the recliner listening to his favorite music when he finally felt his world returning. He had reluctantly agreed with Dr. Agarwal’s instructions to start moving about. In the beginning, he could barely stand without his knees buckling but with the help of the physical therapist, he was able to walk a few steps. It was hard to believe that the accident had made a complete invalid of him. But the therapist had assured him that the first step was usually the hardest.
He smiled, thinking that Dr. Agarwal was definitely not a bad doctor. She obviously knew her job. Though she sounded like a tyrant and a mean task master though Nurse D’Souza seemed to adore the ground she walked on. Perhaps she was a crotchety old spinster with no family; her only passion being her job. Suddenly he didn’t want to meet her; he felt terrified like when he had been summoned to the principal’s office in school for playing truant. Why had Akshay winked when he had mentioned her today? Did he intend on playing one of his cruel jokes on his unsuspecting brother?
“Hey anybody home?”
Shantanu was so lost in thought that he almost jumped out of his chair. The source of the disturbance turned out to be a well-built man of medium height dressed in blue scrubs who had apparently just walked in to his room. He seemed not much older than himself but carried an air of haughty indifference and entitlement about him. Shantanu, being an excellent judge of character, took an immediate disliking to him.
The annoying man gave him a big grin and said, “Hey so you are up my sleeping beauty? Long time overdue! By the way, I am Dr. Deepak Mishra, CT surgery fellow, here to do rounds for my lazy chief. So how’s life in this hell hole man!”
“Not too bad doc;” Shantanu replied. He was amused to hear a future big shot surgeon talk in this manner. It made for extremely poor PR. He stored his name away in his brain as someone he would advise people to avoid at all costs.
“So you know what happened to your toy don’t you?” he said while barely touching his belly with his hand.
“I mean your Porsche man! I bet it was one expensive piece of work; must have cost a fortune yeah?”
“What happened to it? Nobody has said anything to me;” Shantanu looked at him suspiciously.
“Ohhh sorry my bad!” (though he didn’t appear sorry at all) “But I heard that it was totaled. You know khallaas. Mashed up like that;” he made a gesture with his hand.
Shantanu didn’t want to believe him for his car had been one of his prized possessions. But he guessed he was correct. It probably hadn’t withstood the impact. He wondered why Akshay and his father had kept the news from him.
“So what yaar! Ek aur aa jayegi and this one would be faster and way cooler;” Deepak said with a ghoulish grin. It was apparent he was enjoying Shantanu’s discomfiture and annoyance.
Shantanu glared back at him. The feeling was mutual.
“Hey Nurse! Where is Dr. Agarwal? Have you seen her yet? I heard she lurks around here a lot.”
“No sir I haven’t,” said Nurse D’ Souza. She had just walked in. There seemed to be no love lost between her and the upstart surgeon.
“Looks like I’ve been having bad luck all around. With work and with women,” he winked at Shaan. “But I wish you the best man. Take care!” He swaggered out in a hurry seemingly to chase Dr. Agarwal down.
Better you than me! Shantanu thought and tried to lose himself in his music again.
Shantanu awoke the next morning acutely aware of his surroundings for the first time since the accident. The past few days except yesterday were little more than a blur. But today was different. It was clear, bright and beautiful and he wanted to soak it in all the way. He kept his eyes closed wanting to enjoy these few moments of solitude before the chaos of the rest of the day unfolded.
His night nurse had left after handing over to Nurse D’souza who seemed to have him again today. He actually rather liked her despite the fact she was the appointee of the fearsome Dr. Agarwal. He felt she was genuinely caring and kind. He heard her bustling around humming tunelessly seemingly to let him rest for some more time.
Then he heard someone step into the room. It was someone light-footed; definitely feminine and sprightly though he wasn’t sure how he arrived at the conclusion. It was someone unfamiliar.
Oh Shan when will you give up your wishful thinking? A light step could also belong to a heavyset person who was light on their feet! Shaan decided to play a game that he had amused himself with ever since a child. He kept his eyes closed and let his other senses take over. He tried to form a mental picture of how a person looked and their personality by the way they moved, the tone and inflection of their voice and the way they conversed with others while totally ignorant of his eavesdropping. And most of the time his hunch was right. That was why he had come to trust his instincts both in his personal and professional dealings.
Excited, he waited to see what the unknown person in his room would do next. He heard her (of her sex he was sure) pause at the foot of his bed. He felt the tiny hairs at the back of his neck stand up as he sensed her eyes gazing at him. He longed to see the look in those eyes but that would put an end to his pantomime.
Then he heard Nurse D’Souza say in her loud cheerful voice; “Oh good morning Dr. Agarwal. Sorry I didn’t hear you come in.”
“Good Morning. How are you today? Did Mr. K have a good day yesterday?” a low, musical voice said. It was downright sensual Shantanu thought. His heart skipped a beat. So this was the fearsome Dr. Agarwal whom he had been dreading to meet. But the image he had formed of her was entirely different. He had thought of her to be loud, brash and rude, not soft and… almost sexy as he was sensing her to be. Could he be mistaken?
“Yes doctor. He has been tolerating his diet though Mr. Rajkumar here doesn’t find our hospital food very palatable but then who does? He worked with the therapist and also sat up in the chair for a while.”
“That’s excellent. He should be ready to go home in a day or two. Has he been up yet? Hello Mr. Khandelwal.”
Shantanu heard footsteps approach his left side. A strong whiff of her fragrance drifted across his nostrils as she gently tapped his shoulder. Reflexively he took in a deep breath and filled his lungs with it. It was distinctly herbal and very pleasant. He refrained from opening his eyes for fear of his mental image being shattered. He willed his mind to slow his breathing down as it threatened to become ragged underscoring his excitement. It was hard to appear relaxed and asleep while his nerves and limbs tingled with anticipation.
He didn’t expect what she did next; she pinched him!
“Ouch!” He was suddenly wide awake.
She threw her head back and laughed; a joyful happy sound and then looked at him with a triumphant smile on her face.
Shantanu stared back stupefied. Those eyes; those large, beautiful black eyes were the same that had been haunting him for some time. Was it fate or coincidence that they had found him again.