“Wake up Sister Asha! Look who is here.”
“Your doctors are here!” The nurse whispered in my ears.
I heard pleasant voices with a mild jolt on my arm. I opened my eyes as soon as I heard the nurse. I looked at the doctors and my heart skipped a beat. I sat up straight on my bed with the nurse’s help, who had looked after me ever so diligently since the time I contracted COVID-19. Thanks to the almighty; I do not have any underlying health condition, and I recovered pretty fast. Just feeling weak and fragile. I propped myself up against the Bed-Head. Right in front of me on the big wall is a family portrait picture hanging so beautifully. There are four wide walls, a floor, a roof and an old rusty looking box-trunk in the corner of the room. There is a cupboard with decorative items and more picture frames; a table and 4 chairs, and my big bed. A staircase leading down to the living room where there are enough couches to attend to a few guests and an attached kitchen. The sun has baked the house into a gray color from outside. It hasn’t been painted for a while now. The house looks dull and gray. When I came here to live, I was a young, pretty 22 years old woman. Now I am seventy-two years old. The sun and age have changed me too. The age and sickness have taken away the vivacity from my eyes and left me with gray eyes and hair. My rosy cheeks and lips have become gray also.
I was healthy and fit; retired recently as a head nurse from the hospital. I completed my full inning as a nurse, helping sick people and I am pretty happy with my life.
Just 5 months ago, around the time when pandemic started in India, I got a call.
“Sister Asha is it possible for you to join our team in this crisis?” Pleaded Mr. Awasthi, the CMO of the hospital, where I worked as a head nurse in the Respiratory ward before I retired.
“But Sir, it has been a while now that I have done any work.” I hesitated.
“Don’t worry about that, you were an expert in inserting pipes in the trachea very efficiently; it will come back to you with just a refresher course. You know it requires some real skill to do this job and I can trust you with my eyes closed. Please don’t say no!! We are really short on experienced nurses at this time.” Mr. Awasthi almost begged.
I know, one mistake and a big disaster can happen. Trachea is a delicate organ connecting the lungs in a human body. With COVID-19, lungs are the most affected organs. So when I got a call to join back in, I found a purpose in my life. I never wanted to retire in the first place, but my children insisted so much on taking a break to come and live with them in the USA that I thought, maybe this is the right time to spend some quality time together. I was satisfied with my life and the profession I chose. Even though I had a rough road all my life, I took it as a challenge for myself and never faltered at it.
“I will be happy to come back!” I accepted cheerfully.
It just feels like yesterday, when I joined the Nurse Training school fifty years ago. I was a small village girl. My parents were very impoverished and unable to even provide three straight meals a day. I was the eldest with 3 more siblings. I remember I always wanted to study but my father’s meager income didn’t allow any of us to do that. Out of nowhere one of our elderly, distant relatives, Animesh came to help. He showed me big dreams; how I can become a nurse and help people and have a good life; how I can help my parents and other siblings with the money I would make.
I readily agreed and tagged along with him upsetting my parents in this venture. I came to a big city, Mumbai. Within 4 months I found myself on the campus of a prestigious nursing school in Mumbai — staring at the building and other Nurse students. A sudden change in the direction of life changed my whole life. My life’s journey started. Everything that had happened so far was sidelined and I was focused on pursuing my career and dreams.
I was on cloud nine. My dream was about to come true. I felt my passion of helping people in my own way was about to come true. Animesh helped me throughout — financially and emotionally. I felt so indebted to him. Without his selfless act there was no way possible for me to pursue my dream. I had tremendous respect and faith for Animesh.
On graduation day; after completing our nurse residency training, that night in our Nurse quarter we had a small celebration with friends. Next week I was starting my job at a prestigious hospital. I had also invited Animesh to join the celebration. I was so full of gratitude, and I wanted to thank him for what he had done for me.
“Animesh has changed my life forever, in a good way! He deserves his share of acknowledgement,” I muttered to myself.
The party was over, we all went to our respective quarters. Animesh came back to my quarter to pick up his belongings.
“Asha, I have to say something.” He said apprehensively sitting next to me, almost squeezing himself with a choking voice.
“Are you kidding! You should not hesitate to ask for anything after all that you have done for me!” I asserted with a cheery face, holding his hand with respect and gratitude.
“Will you marry me?” He muttered, looking down at the floor. His voice was struggling to come out of his vocal cord.
“I stopped him short. “Will you what?”
“Wait!” I felt myself crying out, staggering to my feet.
Animesh dropped this bombshell on me. I could not believe my ears. I removed my hand from holding his hand and edged away from him as a reflex action.
I looked back at him as if it’s a silly question and I was not sure why he asked for such a thing.
“Why would you ask that? You are already married!” I said indignantly.
“I am 30 years younger than you, I have a whole career ahead of me! I am only 22.” I kept bombarding him with questions without waiting for answers while tears brimming in my eyes. I was struggling to choke back my tears. A lump in my throat.
His gauge moved up to the ceiling from the floor now and said, “my wife is severely sick, she needs a nurse aid; my twins need a mother. I can not continue my life with her anymore — my home is falling apart.” He said exasperatedly.
“She has an advanced stage of lung cancer.” He held his face in his hands and broke into tears crying uncontrollably.
“I can’t see anyone more efficient than you to ask for this delicate favor for my life and my wife’s … , please don’t say no! She needs nursing assistance round the clock and my twins need a mother.” He kept repeating himself looking into my eyes this time. His voice was still quivering from the crying and guilt.
I was completely shattered at his demands. At that moment I thought, I might as well have stayed in the village with no Nurse Training. The prospect of marrying this old man and becoming a nurse aid to his wife and mother to his twins felt suicidal to me.
In that moment of heat I felt obligated. I imperceptibly nodded to his proposal. I very well knew what I was doing. I also knew that I have just one life to live and this was not how I wanted to live. Perhaps my nurse’s training grew a very kind heart inside of me; perhaps I was so indebted to him for his good deeds, that I could not refuse. I kept my own desires and dreams aside and married this man.
I married Animesh and became his second wife, except that I didn’t have any legal status.
I moved to his house with a suitcase and the box-trunk. I took the responsibility of his wife as her nurse and Animesh’s mistress; excluding any intimacy with him. Society didn’t see this positively though. I continued my job in the hospital too. Very soon I became infamous for being his mistress. I lost respect as a nurse and as a woman. I was given the name — A HOMEWRECKER.
I did not fit in society’s paradigm of the ideal woman. The conjectures about my existence were many and varied. No one felt my despair which was deeper than any ocean that they might have crossed. I wished there was a machine that could accurately measure the sadness, and display it in numbers that people could record. But I knew what I was doing. All these things didn’t deter me from pursuing my career and taking care of his wife as my humanitarian ethics.
Unfortunately just after 3 months, Animesh died in a car accident making things worse. In the following month his sick wife also died, leaving the responsibility of their twins on me. I could have shrugged off my shoulders and moved on with my life. It felt like God was offering me the pathway to FREEDOM, to do whatever I wanted — to set myself free.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t do it. Perhaps I was already very attached to his children. I could not leave them to survive in this world as orphans. I took them in. They were a part of my life now. I embraced them even after considering all the sufferings and heartbreaks I have to go through. Raising two children as an infamous mistress, with a nurse’s job was not an easy road for me.
The first day when I legally adopted them, they broke into tears. They were only 10 years old and understood that they had lost everyone. However somewhere in their hearts they knew that they were not alone. I was there as their father and mother both.
“Aunty will you also leave us and go away?” I could feel the perceptible pain in their voices. They coiled me in their arms sobbing. With my arms outstretched and inviting, I embraced them.
“No dears! I would never leave you. We have one life now and we will live together, happily and get through this triumphantly, no matter what it takes.” I assured them.
I stayed stuck to my resolution and never left them, until one day both children passed the GRE test, and got admission in a medical school in the USA. We had the unusual ups-and-down of life, but we still shone through. Sasha and Vijay were good students and studied all the way through, finishing their residency with the help of scholarships. I kept working as hard as I could, providing them all the support they needed. It was a cohesive family effort.The day children got their degrees, I felt I paid off the debt to Animesh with 100 times more interest. I never had my personal life but I still enjoyed every bit of it. I devoted myself completely to helping sick people and my children. I had two lifelines — my job as a Nurse and my children.
“YES! I call them my children — my heart and my soul, inseparable; till death.”
The shake on my shoulder woke me up completely by now. I looked at the doctors waiting by the door — one more time tentatively.
“My Doctors are here!!!” I almost jumped out of the bed with a cheer, embracing them tightly.
“Hi Mom! How are you? You scared us; you scared us real bad Mom!!.” Squealed the twins giving me tight hugs and touching my feet consecutively.
“Don’t worry, I am fine now, I have tested negative three times now. Just feeling tired and weak from inside.” I said patting them and brimming with tears all over. Emotions are out of control, I can not contain the happiness and affection seeing them all matured and smart and healthy-looking DOCTORS … my children!
“Maa we asked you to take a break from going to the hospital at this time of pandemic — moreover you already retired two years ago.” Sasha said with a genuine complaint in her voice.
“Yes Maa, and you didn’t even tell us that you have accepted the special request at the nurse-duty line again.” Vijay looked angry and heartbroken looking at my fragile body.
“I couldn’t stop myself from staying away from all the suffering and pain people are going through at this time. There is a shortage of nurses at the hospital. I was needed and I felt the call. This was the least I could do to ease the pain of people who are going through in this crisis.” I stated with satisfaction, and no regrets.
Once a trained nurse will always be a trained nurse. I took this oath and I will always stick to it as long as there is blood flowing through my veins. While these thoughts are going inside my head, I kept marveling at my children who have turned to be two young smart, and capable doctors, trained in the USA
“And tell you something sweet girl! My sickness brought you two here after so much anticipation. This meeting was long due dears!, but I was holding my emotions as your important years of residency were going on. I didn’t want to disturb you guys in the middle.” I guffawed, lifting Sasha chin and wiping off her tears.
Sasha opened her mouth to say something, her lips quivering, but no word came out of her mouth. With blank eyes she kept staring at me. I could see her fear and anxiety of losing me to COVID-19.
Both children looked at my medical reports, my oxygen level report and my temperature recording chart and smiled at me with satisfaction.
My Twin doctors nodded their heads with a sigh of relief while I marvelled at the remarkably, immaculate looking Doctor twins, getting overjoyed about the decision I made years ago by adopting them as my children. I got one life and I lived it fully.
I was subsumed in the happiness surrounding me.
Connect with Penmancy:
Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!