Faint Christmas carols intermingle with spiritual chanting, the religious room across turns a sanctum for anxious yet optimistic souls like me. I hold onto hope like the lingering of the jingling sound of bells……suspended in the cacophony of human voices. An air of positivity hangs, loosely. Mum and I have waited for today forever. The long surgery and the eternal wait in recuperation are finally over. Despite the chill December morning, we stand here looking through the oval, stained glass, for the nth time. The lull will be worth the yearning for one eye contact with the man inside. It is two years since I heard him say my name.
The automated wheel chair reveals a tired, lost face staring through the vacuum of the room. The once fiery eyes are now withdrawn, dejected. I wave in anticipation. The flicker of hope in my eyes refuses to dim. The wheel chair swivels and I feel the heart leap.
“Mum……Mum. Dad is looking at us. Do you think he is going to walk towards us?”
“Aarav!” she says fondly. “Let’s wait for the doctors to arrive.” The verbal assurances do not match what reflects on her face.
The vivid imagery is thanks to Harry Potter. But soon cut short by abrupt nudges as a bespectacled fleet of medicos swarms in. Mom gently glides in with them as a white façade now covers the oval, stained glass.
The chanting, the carols and the fragrance of incense takes over the corridor and I breathe in the positivity wafting around.
“I know he will not give up!” I mumble to myself.
Suddenly, the curtain of white lifts. I notice Mom sitting next to the wheel chair.
Wait…….did I just notice his lips moving. Is this good news? The senior doctor seems to smile as he continues an animated banter with Mom. Will Dad call out my name? My fists come down with a happy “Yes”. Unwilling to let go of the spark I feel now, I quietly slip into the prayer room. Closing my eyes like everybody else around I let the mellifluous hymns take over.
“Aarav…….hey Aarav. Come on. Daddy wants to meet you.”
The words are unbelievable. Miraculous.
Tears stream down, lips quiver and the palms are sweaty as Mom takes me into an embrace.
“Is it real this time?”
“Yes….my love it is.”
Together we walk towards the room with the oval, stained glass. Lifting my toes I peek in, hopefully for the last time. Mom opens the door and as I look up his eyes light up.
The wait is finally over. I run and melt into his embrace. I don’t think I have gripped anything so tight in my life so far. My heart giggles.
“Daddy! I missed you.” “So did I.” the words are faint yet affectionate. They aren’t mere sounds but WORDS. I look up through the curtain of tears as he kisses me, tenderly.
“It’s taken you long Daddy, from THAT day to THIS.”
Hail the young wizard………
Hail him loud for he is strong.
Look……There……he has cast a spell…….
And I know nothing can go wrong!
“Dad has to undergo a second surgery” Mom’s flat tone surprises as well as shocks me.
“What?” “Didn’t you tell me a few days ago that everything is on track?” I feel my voice tremble and a curtain of tears building up.
Mom pulls me closer, hugs me like wanting to squeeze out every iota of pain and tears. “I’m doing my best honey! To bring him back to you.” She is stoic yet emotional. “You are doing your best too……you stand with me each day through everything.”
Bending on her knees, her kohl lined eyes peer into mine. The motherly love pacifies my surging emotions and I retreat to the chair by the bedside. She sits opposite me leaning on the edge of the bed, stroking my hands gently. “Aarav, it’s just that God has put out this little test for us. We have to work really hard and make sure we all pass. You, me and Dad!” I look up through the falling mesh of hair on my forehead.
“Okay!” I mumble. But can you be honest with me and explain it all. I promise to be as brave as Harry Potter when he destroys the Horcruxes. I will not give up.”
I notice Mom wants to cry but she holds it all back. She drinks up the tears because she doesn’t want either me or dad to see her this way.
“Only if this surgery happens there is a chance of you hearing your Dad call your name or sing Happy Birthday for you. This is a very senior doctor. He has done various advanced tests and examinations on Dad. An immediate surgery is the only way to save the vocal chords. Since they are pressing down under a bone and they are delicate, the doctors have to act fast. So we only have enough time to collect some food for ourselves and few of your books to keep us company in the waiting lounge” She continues.
“Okay. But….. Mom will it not be painful for Dad.”
“Do not worry. The doctor says they will take extra care of him.” Once again I’m squished in an embrace. There’s something about the squishes……..like infusing a magical potion.
“Madam, he is ready to be wheeled in.” the assistant informs us as we alight from the lift. We rush to the room. Being allowed to hug him and kiss him before the surgery is satisfying. Rushing into the room, my 4 feet 6 inches frame almost topples over him. As I plant a kiss on his head and squeeze his hand firmly, he looks at me instantly. Putting in all his might, he smiles through the maze of tubes and monitors surrounding him. Balancing on the toes, I whisper, “Daddy, I love you!”
Soon, the ovoid red bulb flashes and steadies as the doors to the Operation Theatre close. I continue looking in the direction, crossing fingers once again.
Times are testing, they hit the soul
Tears stream down, nothing consoles
The brain gives logic, the heart implores
Hey! My friend, thinking of you sure does my courage restore
Eagerness and excitement form a jolly jig of emotions crossing my face as me and Mom wait.
“How long Mom? It’s almost noon.”
“C’mon rockstar! Don’t lose patience now. The doctors should be here any minute.”
I know I can really test Mom’s patience. The last year has been terrible. I’m sick of wearing a mask all the time. I’m tired of the counselling I’m going through. But like Mom says, sometimes there are things that aren’t in our control. We have just got to believe. That is exactly what my friend Harry Potter did too. He believed in the power and positivity of Magic and it changed everything for him. I feel a heavy rustling on my back as I sit lost in Harry Potter’s world.
It’s Mom. “Aarav, its time. Dad will be wheeled out any moment now.” I hug her tight. It has been a long wait and finally the moment is here. Ten long hours in surgery is no joke. Even though the counsellor explained to me what the surgery is going to be about, I am nervous.
“Dad touched death and returned.” I heard a nurse remark sometime back. The counsellor explained what this phrase means. I couldn’t eat that day.
The doctor will now make an incision to get to his vocal chords. Some difficult repair will be done so that Dad can speak again. This is a major surgery. A major surgery is one that can go upto twenty four hours. Gosh! But my Dad is a soldier. The olive green he wears infuses special courage. Soldiers face every enemy with courage. Much like Harry Potter. I love the look in his eyes when he spots his enemy and a fight has to follow. I have seen a similar look in Dad’s eyes many times. When I met him just before the surgery, I spotted the look of determination. This thought gives me confidence.
I’m still not sure….how and why Dad reached the hospital. There are flashes. More like distant memories. All I remember is Mom’s loud wails and then an abrupt silence.
Nightmares followed. I withdrew from friends and family. This is how the counsellor, Nina entered my world. She is a good friend now. Nina can simplify even the most complex problems. Each of my sketches brings alive a story for her and I love that. Mom wants me to talk about the night flashes to her, but I’m still gathering courage to do that. I told Mom that even thinking about them scares me…….talking may take time. Mom promised that she will wait for me to be comfortable and talk about them myself. Since I’m turning ten years old soon, I deserve the choice around such decisions.
Nina is here with us today. I squeeze her hand tightly as the huge hospital bed carrying Dad is moved out of the operation theatre and into a hi-tech room that resembles the cockpit of a spaceship. Nina takes my hand and urges me to move forward.
“C,mon Aarav. Come to me.” Mom calls out. I see her wide smile after months and it warms my heart. She always says, “I’m a soldier’s wife and I do not have the choice to give up.” I love the strength this sentence gives us both. “I’m a soldiers son and I will not give up too Mom.” We often say this to each other and hug tightly, readying ourselves for the rest of the battle that is as hazy as Harry Potter’s vision when he doesn’t have his glasses on.
Remembering the sentence, I leave Nina’s hand and walk ahead. Brave, dignified and smiling.
I take Mom’s hand at the door and then we approach the bed together. Once the doctor allows us to get near, we both caress his arms. Mom plants a gentle kiss on his forehead.
“He is still sedated. It will take a couple of hours for the sedation to wear off.” The doctor’s instructions are firm.
“You can stay in the room but away from the bed. Especially the young boy.” He smiles as he ruffles my hair.
“We don’t want to pass on any infection to Dad, young man”, he says looking at me.
“Yes doctor.” I respond.
Me and Mom retrace to the chairs on one side of the room.
I look at Mom, “Nina can go. I want to stay with you Mom.” Mom looks towards Nina who gets the message and waves a goodbye before gently closing the door with the oval glass.
“Will he call my name as soon as he opens his eyes?” I question earnestly.
“Of Course! He will.” Mom is confident.
We wait. Cuddled in the warmth of her lap, I doze off into the world of my dear friend Harry Potter and his infectious zest for winning.
“Dad is a soldier. He is a fighter. He doesn’t give up.” I mumble as Mom holds me tighter.
Dawn breaks, ending the tenebrosity of the night. My excitement gets the better of me and I tiptoe towards the bed, sleepily rubbing my eyes. He is wide awake. Do I notice a faint smile?
“Hey Dad! It’s me. Aarav. The smile reappears. I’m sure he wants to talk more but the breathing aid is an obstacle.
“Mom, Mom…..wake up…..c’mon here. Dad is awake. He wants to talk.” My incessant cajoling jerks her up from deep slumber.
“Yes! Of course! We are all waiting. Aren’t we?” She responds, still dazed.
“Aarav! just press that big red button adjacent to the bed railing. It will bring us the doctor.” I follow instructions without wasting time.
The nurse rushes in, panting. “Doctor is on his way. Meanwhile I have been instructed to begin recuperative procedure.”
“Yes. Please go ahead.” Mom steps back
I’m fidgety. Pacing up and down, twitching fingers and giving the nurse repeated side glances.
“He is ready to talk. Right Nurse?” I shoot abruptly.
She only smiles back.
“He will Aarav. We just have to give the nurse time. And of course wait for the doctor.” Mom quips. She is also by the bedside, stroking Dad’s hands and arms lovingly.
As soon as the breathing mask is removed, Dad opens his mouth looking at her.
“Aaaaaa. Ugggg…….Ummmm” are the weird sounds emanating.
I step back. Nervous and a bit scared.
Mom is taken aback. The nurse steps back as the doctor takes over.
“Doctor, is everything ok?” Mom’s question reflects worry.
“I was expecting words and NOT sounds.” She continues assertively.
“Keep calm Maam. Sometimes it takes time for the strained vocal chords to get back to action. Let’s wait for the physiotherapist to take over and give him twenty four hours.”
Realising we have no choice, Mom and Me leave the room as the weird sounds continue.
“Mom! Why are we rushing away? I think he wants us to stay.”
“Maybe he does. Let’s take a break and come back.” Her voice is heavy.
Most of the days she is very brave but today wasn’t one of them. As soon as she sits in the car, she breaks down. Tears race down her tired face. All I can do is cling on, waiting for her to gain composure.
It’s late afternoon by the time we return to the hospital. The rest of the evening passes in the usual anticipation of positive news. We are informed that the next twenty four hours are critical. And thus an implausible wait creeps up our backs like the dainty snowdrop waiting to emerge from the shroud of snow.
“Mom, what do you think?” I look at her dejected.
“I think my dear that we should not give up on being positive.” She smiles back. “So what does your Harry Potter say in these circumstances.”
I try to respond with my widest smile but inside there is a sinking feeling. A feeling that is a year old. From THAT day to this, it just creeps up my head leaving me feeling lost and weak. Nina is helping me cope with this. For how long, I don’t know.
The wait is long, I’m tired and forlorn
Is everything magic?
A question that haunts!
The year of The Unexpected
It’s been two months. Dad is about to be discharged. Covid squeezed the best of him as he battled for life. The scary new disease has swept across the population. People are falling sick in masses and dying too. We are not watching the news just to control the prevailing paranoia.
Most of the day, I sit lost in the conflicts of Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin.
I return as I hear Mom’s pulsating voice utter the words. “Dad is being discharged today.” I’m ecstatic. I hug her and she hugs back.
A heaviness lifts off the chest. I feel like everything is going to change. I sense smiles and mischief.
Mom interjects, “Sweetheart, he is very weak physically and fragile emotionally. He needs lot of care. Since you have vacations, I look forward to you helping me with the same.”
“Of course Ma! That goes without saying.” I smile back.
Soon he is home in the olive green ambulance. Despite Mom coaxing me to come out, I prefer to look through the window. It isn’t easy to see your hero down. I repeat to myself what Dad always says, “I’m a soldier and I don’t give up!”
By now he is inside, settled into the comfort of the home. I run towards him, hug him tight and say, “Welcome home Dad.” I can feel his bones as he hugs me feebly. But I know he won’t give up and so wont I.
As I retreat to the door, cautious words of the doctor hit my ears.
“The effect of the strong steroidal medication still lingers. Stay watchful. These medications tend to interfere with smooth bodily functions including cognitive ability.” Mom registers everything attentively.
What follows later are happy and not so happy days. Each one dawns with a new experience. Dad goes through severe mood swings. Mom always attributes them to the steroidal medication. Maybe it is true. He behaves very differently at times. Some days he doesn’t let me budge from near him and on other days he shoos me away. Though confused I abide by Mom’s lesson to be patient.
It is a morning like any other. Cool breeze wafts through the open windows as Mom hurriedly wraps up breakfast. Since we are almost ready to shift to Delhi, I am not going to school.
“Aarav! I have a couple of errands to run. Can you manage being alone with Dad? He is fed and changed. Now glued to the TV watching old matches.” She updates me.
“Yes Mom! I can. Don’t worry. I will sit next to him.”
“You are a darling.” She caresses my hair. Remind him to have his fruit after an hour. It’s lying on the bedside.”
“Ok Mom!” I revert back.
She leaves locking the door behind her. And as I turn towards the room where Dad lies, I see him sitting on the bed. I am happy to see the change of posture. “You know what Dad”……I am yet to complete the sentence when I see him take the knife from the fruit basket.
“Oh! Careful with that Dad.” I advise zestfully. He continues to stare at the shining metal. Theknot in my stomach returns. I hasten towards the room not lifting my gaze even for a second. The muscles in the leg turn taut as the feeling of heaviness returns. Within seconds……..right under my watchful gaze, the shimmering metal in his hands slides across his throat. Blood spurts out like a fountain, all over him and around him. As he recoils I want to run, to be able to hold him from falling down but it feels like I’m stuck in ounces of quicksand. Hands fluttering helplessly in the air I loose ground and gradually ……….. all goes silent.
I sit lost in magic,
Hoping for revival,
Hopes are crushed, heart breaks,
Happiness forsakes every bit of survival.
Harry Potter – a fictional character from a fantasy book series
Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin – elements from the fantasy series, Harry Potter
The story loosely draws inspiration from a real life incident in the author’s knowledge. The characters of the story however bear no resemblance to the incident. They are etched out completely by the author’s imagination.
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