“Earth to Raina! Earth to Raina!” Nikhil’s pathetic attempt at a robotic voice, roused her from her reverie. Raina was hunched over the breakfast table, absently doodling “Nikhil + Raina” on her notepad with little, pink hearts all around it. She smiled at him like a cheshire cat and pulled him down for a loud, sloppy kiss.
“I’m just so happy Nikhil! Its the day we have been anxiously waiting for.” Raina was on cloud nine. Her smile lit up everything around her. Nikhil grinned lovingly, straightened his tie and kissed his wife goodbye. “I’ll meet you in the evening, directly at the clinic.”
Unable to control her excitement, Raina reached the clinic well before time. The clinic was bustling with patients as she looked for two empty seats. Looking at the long queue, she knew it was going to be a while, before they were called in. She snapped a selfie against a backdrop of a sea of people and uploaded it with a caption “Feeling hopeful with 49 others.”
After several unsuccessful attempts of striking a conversation with others, Raina slumped back in her seat and pulled out her mobile. She had one new message –
Nikhil : Sorry love, I’m stuck in traffic. Is it our turn yet?
Me : Nope.. Long queue. It might be an hour or so. Come soon though. I’m bored.
Nikhil : On it babe. See you soon. Love.
With nothing much to do, her eyes slowly clouded over as she glided into a day dream.
Nikhil had bought his first bike and was bubbling with excitement. Raina, in her over-sized hoodie and blue streaked hair, thundered down the porch steps and hugged him tight. She squealed enthusiastically and swung a leg to take the pillion seat. They zoomed past the evening traffic and headed towards the highway, screaming their exhilaration over the howling wind.
With their fingers entwined, leaning languidly on the bike and into each other, they deeply inhaled the fresh, night air and a lungful of freedom.
Nikhil drew her hand close to his heart. “Raina, will you marry me?”
She stared at him dumbstruck for all of two seconds and burst out laughing.
“Nikhil, dude you are my best friend. How can I marry you?”
He was dead serious. “What’s wrong in marrying your best friend?”
“Firstly, we are just 18. Too early to think about marriage. And secondly, I don’t want to be called a loser, who didn’t find anyone else and so, married her best friend.” Raina rolled her eyes.
She knew that was mean remark, but she felt jittery around him. He just smiled sanguinely and held her close. After a moment, he placed a soft, lingering kiss on her cheek. Raina brushed it off and punched his arm playfully. She didn’t tell him until the day they married eight years later, that his innocent kiss was heart melting, toe-curling, Mills and Booney and she fell a little more in love with him that day.
She was dozing comfortably on his shoulder, when a high-pitched, nasal voice pierced through their magical moment. “Number 42? Mrs Singh? Mrs Raina Singh?”
Raina woke with a start and scrambled out of her seat. It was their turn and Nikhil had not arrived yet. Before she could explain, she was unceremoniously ushered inside the doctor’s cabin and was asked to take a seat, alone. She took a bolstering breath and waited for the verdict.
The doctor looked up with a straight face. Why isn’t she smiling? Or are all doctors trained to hide emotions well? Raina’s thoughts tumbled over one another. She surreptitiously wiped her sweaty palms on her trousers and tried to conjure a smile.
“Mrs Singh, the reports are not good. The IVF did not succeed this time. You have not conceived. Take an appointment again for next month and we can start the procedure again.”
She was spewing out facts and figures, success rates but Raina couldn’t hear anything beyond the intense buzzing in her ears. The kind of noise that old televisions made, when the transmission was disrupted, with black and white spots all over the screen. She blinked back the tears and the gray spots blurring her vision. She nodded numbly, took her reports and left the clinic in a daze. “You have not conceived”….again.
Nikhil parked his car haphazardly and rushed towards the clinic. He was about to take the stairs when he saw a familiar figure, standing forlorn. One look at her and he knew what had transpired in the doctor’s cabin. Raina had the look of someone who was at ‘the end of the rope’. He approached her cautiously and pulled her up into his arms. She stood limply with unblinking, dry eyes. He wanted to comfort her, say something to lift her drooping shoulders. But what could he say that he hadn’t said so many times before? His tongue felt heavier than his heart. Somewhere, inside him a sob reverberated, looking for an escape. But he shoved it down deep and kept a neutral face. They dragged their shaky legs towards the parked car. A funereal silence enveloped them as they made a mindless journey back home. Hope is a fickle emotion. It gives you strength to move on but often cripples and confines you in a labyrinth of despair. One, you have to traverse alone. Nikhil and Raina were lost in their thoughts, shuffling through pages of old memories.
“Nikhil? Wake up honey. You are snoring in the pool.” Raina chimed in a sing-song voice just before splashing him with chlorine water. Nikhil spluttered and coughed as he tumbled over his hotdog shaped inflated pool-bed. They were on their honeymoon at a resort in Bali. He mock-glared at her before lunging at her and dunking her head under water. While other couples canoodled by the pool side, sipping cocktails, Nikhil and Raina created a ruckus in the pool that drew stares. Someone even commented that they should use the baby pool instead. They were living a dream – lazing around the pool or the sandy seashore, hiking through the forest trails in search of hidden waterfalls, snorkeling in crystal clear and azure sea. On their last day, they stretched under the twilight sky, watching the moon rise over a purple sky. They kissed and rolled in the white sand, with stars reflecting in their eyes. Raina whispered, “Nikhil, no matter what happens in our life, I want to see the sparkle in your eyes.”
A rude honk, startled Nikhil, bringing him back to reality. Raina sat gazing into nothingness, with dimmed, vacant eyes. He unbuckled their seatbelts and helped her out of the car, taking her hand as they walked back home. She went straight to bed that night. Nikhil struggled to find the right words to say, to fill in the silence looming between them. In the middle of the night, he found her in the bathroom, curled up in a foetal position, her body trembling with uncontrollable sobs. Nikhil lifted her on his lap, and they sat there for hours, pouring out their grief, together. Raina needed her best friend right then, and Nikhil would have done anything to bring her out of the shell she had retreated into.
Sometime, during the emotional deluge, Nikhil had put her back to bed. Raina woke up to cold sheets, swollen eyes and an empty heart. She flung the sheets and went to kitchen. Nikhil was preparing her favourite breakfast to lift her spirits. But not even the tantalizing smell of her comfort food could provide her any comfort now. Venom churned in her stomach and she wanted to get it all out. He turned around with a smile.
“Where were you yesterday when I needed you the most? I was all alone, picking up the pieces of my heart in a room full of people. I needed you to lean on, to take the pain away. But you weren’t there.” Raina squeezed the words out of her punctured heart.
Nikhil desperately tried to console her. “Calm down Rain, sit down and we can talk.”
This angered her more. “How could you be so calm about this Nikhil? Do you even know what I am going through? For ten years we have been trying for a baby. Two miscarriages, countless checkups, medicines, six IUIs and our final hope was an IVF. Nothing worked! Nothing! Am I alone in wanting this? Sometimes I feel you aren’t as invested in this as I am. Of course, nobody is pointing fingers at you. It is me, who is the subject of pity, sympathy in all our family events. How much more do I need to take?”
She collapsed on the ground in a heap, hugging herself tightly. He knelt beside her, gently pushing her hair off her face. “Rain? I..”
“No! Don’t say a word. Just leave me alone.”
Raina packed a small bag and went to stay with her parents that evening.
Raina closed the door softly behind her without a backward glance. Somehow, that hurt more than words. She had left home many a times before, usually to come back in a few hours. A lot of a screaming, shouting, banging the door close with a death glare was usually her style. She was a sucker for over-the-top melodrama. But this time, the silence stretched forever. It felt final. Nikhil panicked inside. He wanted to explain, cry, beseech her. But she was not in a state of mind to listen. He sat heavily on the dining chair resting his head on the cool, glass surface. He ached for her, missed her million-watts smile, her snorts, her high-pitched singing and crazy dancing. They used to be so happy together. Ever since the first day he saw her, when she had stood up to the bullies that tormented him in the 4th grade, they had shared an amazing camaraderie. Learning to ride bicycles, climbing trees, bunking classes to watch movies, consoling each other over unrequited loves, break-ups, being each other’s wingman, early morning bike rides to Lonavala and watching the sunrise with a cup of chai, falling in love with each other time and again, awkward proposals, even more awkward first kiss and countless more, their wedding day full of goof-ups, exploring different countries on anniversaries, accidents, illnesses, getting over a series of single pink lines and celebrating two pink ones, holding each other up after the miscarriages and keeping the hope afloat for years. She was his rock, anchoring him strong and he was the shore to her ebullient waves. No matter what happened in their lives, they always found a way back to each other. Nikhil hoped they did again.
“Mrs Sharma was saying, ‘Is your daughter getting divorced?’. Her nerve to say that to my face.” Raina’s mother was chattering thousand words per minute. She seemed worked up since the day her only daughter had suddenly turned up at their door. Raina was stirring her cup of milk listlessly, when her mother dumped a gray, gooey powder in it.
“Drink that with your milk. I specially got this prasad from Matkadhar Baba. It will help you conceive.” Raina was flabbergasted by her blunt remark. She pushed away the sludge with a grimace.
“What is the use of moping around now? It is all because of your unhealthy lifestyle. In our days……” her mother droned on and Raina tuned out of the conversation. There was nothing new to hear. She had the script memorized, being subjected to it for years.
“Raina, are you even listening? Did you hear, how viciously the Vermas were dumped in the old-age home by their kids? Oh God! It’s better to not have kids.” She bit her tongue at that and rushed back into the kitchen.
That was the proverbial last nail in the coffin. A moment of clarity suddenly dawned upon her. Raina pushed her chair back with a screech and ran to the bathroom. Yes, the most underrated place in a house, but for her it was a safe haven. She had nursed heartbreaks, celebrated award-winning speeches, succumbed to grief and rekindled hope all in this, one place. She peered at her gaunt, hollowed face and splashed it with some water. Next, she turned the lid down and sat on her porcelain throne to have an intelligent monologue with herself. She felt stupid to have let others control her idea of happiness all these years. Archaic benchmarks of degree, marriage, kids that all adhere to mutely. Why do I need to be married to be happy? Why do I need to have a house full of kids to feel blessed, fulfilled? Shouldn’t I get a say in what makes me happy? If and when to have kids should be decided by us and not by nosy relatives and neighbours. What if I choose to have 10 kids? What if I choose to have none? Regardless of my fertility, I deserve respect, love and happiness.
There was only one person who offered her all this and more, unconditionally, relentlessly.
Nikhil opened the door, looking haggard and unkempt. Raina took a deep breath to apologise, but before she could say a word he pulled her into a bone-crushing hug. They collapsed on the floor, bawling like babies. It hit her like a tonne of bricks- he was as lost as her. She had been blind to his grief, his struggle over losing a child and losing the hope of having anymore.
“I’m so sorry, I wasn’t there for you. We will try again, find a new doctor, whatever you want. I just want to see you happy. Your smile means the world to me” he smattered her face with soft, little kisses.
“I’m sorry too, Nikhil. I was so focussed on my pain that I completely overlooked yours. Yes, I’ve always wanted a baby. A little piece of us, to hold, to cuddle, to nurture. But that’s not the sole purpose of my existence. I exist to love you, to cherish our life together.”
They made love that night, with only love on their mind.
One month later
Raina uploaded her new Insta story – a montage of pictures with a background score of Lovin’ You by Minnie Riperton.
Pic 1: Of them in the rear-view mirror of their bike
(No one else can make me feel..)
Pic 2: Kissing against a evening sky on a seashore
(The colors that you bring….)
Pic 3: Two cups of steaming hot coffee and an open book
(Stay with me while we grow old…)
Pic 4: Bringing home their fur-baby, a Labradoodle named “Marley”
(And we will live each day in springtime…)
Pic 5: Of leaning against each other, with eyes full of love
(‘Cause lovin’ you has made my life so beautiful
And every day of my life is filled with lovin’ you!)
IUI, IVF : Assisted methods of conception
Lonavala : A hill-station near Mumbai, Pune
Prasad: An offering made to god
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