The difference between a planned journey and one undertaken at the spur of the moment is that the former involves meticulous planning; each and everything is packed with due concern, extra portions of food prepared, and then a road map carried along with, to guide you through the journey. The latter is unbridled and does not fall into the trappings of cumbersome packing. It often does not even stick to a stipulated route, possibly because the destination is unspecified.
I had embarked upon one such journey today without a bona fide plan. It was destined to happen. The strangest thing about this strange journey is that it began with a word—that word being REVENGE.
A sketch of the journey, remotely rational at best, was conceived at five the day before when Dr. Lobo confirmed that I should shoulder the responsibility of Joseph’s intricate brain surgery.
I was aware that someone had to represent our hospital at a medical conference the following day in the city, but I was not sure if Dr. Lobo would prefer to go himself or choose to substitute me as a representative. If he were to attend the conference, then the responsibility of Joseph’s surgery would be entrusted to me.
Dr. Lobo called for me and gave me instructions. “Dr. Evan, I hope you know that Joseph’s surgery has been fixed for 9.30 am tomorrow. My presence at the medical conference in the capital city is indispensable. I have to leave tonight, but I am confident that I can entrust the responsibility of carrying out his major surgery to you. Dr. Martin will be assisting you.”
He pushed a file towards me. “These are Joseph’s case papers and the list of medicines since his admission at the ICU. The last intravenous dose will be administered by the sister on duty by 6.30 in the morning tomorrow. That should get him ready for surgery three hours later. Having handled many such cases, you need no prodding regarding the inevitable fact that delay beyond three hours after the last intravenous dose may either push the patient to coma or prove fatal.”
I nodded my acquiescence.
I had already kept myself abreast with Joseph’s ailment, staying well behind the curtain. Joseph, my schoolmate and staff with the hospital’s administrative department was admitted to the neurology ward last Wednesday after he suddenly collapsed while on duty. Dr. Lobo had attended to him upon being admitted, and from then on, he had taken the reigns of treating Joseph. An MRI scan report revealed a clot in his brain, and that was to be surgically removed.
I feigned genuine interest in the papers that Dr. Lobo was showing, but my mind was mechanically working in the background on this journey.
“I generally get back from my morning drive by 9 am. Tomorrow I will leave early so that I can return earlier and get to the hospital on time for the surgery.” I concocted a tale on the spot, deliberately mentioning the drive because I needed that to make my fabricated story look real.
Given to know my sluggish nature, Dr. Lobo raised his brows in surprise. “Oh, do you go on a drive every morning?” he asked with a tinge of sarcasm. “You should run instead,” he laughed, giving a mild nudge to my tummy.
“It is my routine to go for an hour’s drive and take a quick run along the seashore.” I lied blatantly. Neither the drive part was genuine nor the running part. Everything contrived instantly.
I must admit I was lazy with no ethical timetable to follow. Probably all bachelors are like that. I loved binge-watching TV until late at night and always ended up very late in bed. I was lackadaisical every morning and trekked my way to the hospital by 10; that was my duty time, until and unless some emergency needed my presence earlier.
My sole intention of undertaking this journey impulsively was not to reach the hospital on time. Joseph does not deserve to live. I passed my judgment with a death sentence to the accused.
Nearly 62 miles had been traversed by me when the needles of my watch revealed my driving duration so far, as one hour. The vast extent of cornfields on either side of the road resembling yellow canopies; seemed to welcome me. They superfluously beautified the road I had selected to drive or instead had taken to, by default.
If it hadn’t been for the GPS in my handset, I might have been mislaid in the unfamiliar path. Signal was, however, getting weaker at times but would plunge back again, giving me a slight respite. Anyway, who was in a hurry to return? I could track down my way back leisurely.
The sun had commenced its day’s journey. The sky on the horizon was turning scarlet, heralding the arrival of yet another morning and a day to follow. It was nearing 7 am, which means I had started my journey at 6. I felt a tinge of self-remorse for having delayed. I intended to begin much earlier, but fatigue had overpowered me, firstly due to heavy work in the hospital the previous evening and secondly due to sleep having eluded me in anticipation of this journey. I was unable to stick to the earlier schedule of leaving at5 am.
My eyelids had drooped only in the wee hours of the morning, but then I could not afford to laze around in bed. ‘I must start now, or it will be late,’ I got up with determination and then embarked upon the journey by 6. I intended to move as far as possible, away from the hospital.
As the clock kept ticking, a strange sense of joy began arising in me. It would be 8.30 soon, and then everyone would frantically start searching for Dr. Evan, who was generally known to be present an hour before any surgery. No one would even make a wild guess that the doctor they were waiting for in desperate stupor; was miles away, driving aimlessly through the wilderness.
Dr. Martin had yet to handle a surgery alone. Noticing my absence, even if the staff plans to get an expert doctor from the nearest hospital, it will take a good couple of hours more. It also depended on the availability of an expert doctor.
The hospital I worked in was not extraordinarily equipped to treat multiple patients with similar ailments. We had limited staff. Three of us were enough to cater to the needs of patients coming to the neurology department. Other departments, too, had few duty doctors. We were in the process of expanding the hospital.
If ever cases beyond our capacity to handle came in, we immediately referred them to the city hospital, an hour drive away.
I drove humming a vague tune. The surroundings were enchanting.
An evil smirk passed my lips as I envisaged the fiasco that would ensue in the hospital. Everyone would make frantic calls to my mobile. Answering them was solely my discretion. If I chose not to, no one could pronounce a death sentence on me. Sophia would be crying till her tears would dry. I rubbed my hands in glee.
The human mind can sometimes behave weirdly. It could easily tuck under a heavy quilt of the subconscious mind, virtues like honesty, goodwill, if it desired to.
I felt a sense of ignominy pass through every vein of mine for a few seconds when I realized that I had planned to damn the Hippocratic Oath.
However, I shook my head to get out of these thoughts that posed a severe deterrent to my resolution of not going to the hospital till noon today. I should keep driving until the scheduled operation and then turn around and embark on the return trip.
My throat felt parched suddenly, and I looked around to see if I could find some water. In my hurry to leave, I had forgotten my flask.
The place looked more like a desert with no oasis in sight. There were only expansive spread farms to be seen on both sides of the road. A signboard showed that the nearest town was 9 miles away.
As luck would have it, after driving a little ahead, I spotted a house in the middle of a paddy field. Leaving my car by the side of the road, I dragged myself. I knocked at the door desperately, being on tenterhooks to get some water to drink, if not any other refreshment.
A pretty young lady opened the door. “Sorry to trouble you. Can I get some water?” I asked, genuinely apologizing for having troubled the female, who seemed to be in the middle of doing some household chores.
However, far from showing any form of irritation, she flashed a refreshing smile and went in to fetch some water. I looked around, appreciating the neatly maintained small house with a cloth hanging as a partition to form a room.
Some agonizing sounds from inside aroused my curiosity. Behind the semitransparent cloth curtain, I could spot a man lying motionless on a wobbly cot and moaning at intervals, staring at nothing in particular.
“What is troubling him?” I asked with the integrity of a medical professional when the lady came out with a mud pot of water.
“I am a doctor, by the way,” I quickly added, and she looked askance at me. Probably she thought I was throwing some words in the air to impress her. I convinced her that I practiced in the town hospital and had come driving on some work but had forgotten to carry any water on me.
“Is he your husband?” I intervened as she began explaining his predicament.
She shook her head. “He is my sister’s husband. My sister died six months ago during an epidemic of malaria. Both of them used to work in construction sites in the town. He fell from a makeshift ladder nearly a year ago, damaging his spinal cord, and has since then been bedridden.”
“Do you get someone to come to nurse him here?” I asked, being well aware of the intricacies of nursing a bedridden patient. I was somewhat taken aback when she informed me that she alone was tending to his needs after her sister’s death and that they could not afford to borrow help. A young woman like her, attending to a bedridden brother in law, could be embarrassing, until and unless she was a nurse by profession.
Without giving a second thought to her rejoinder, I voiced my opinion, and she looked down, making articulate designs with her toes on the floor.
“He was my fiancé,” She said with a smile still on her lips. The kind of smile and calm countenance one could linger on to, even during trying times.
Not seemingly worried that the man sitting in front of her was a total stranger, she unraveled her story without a bit of apprehension. “My sister was widowed soon after I was engaged. One fine day I realized that my fiancé had been attracted towards my sister, who was more beautiful than me. They eventually got married and had a son. However, tragedy struck the family, and though many said that God had chastised them for having deceived me, I could not stay a mute spectator and watch him suffer thus. His needs and the child’s wants are being taken care of by me after my sister passed away.” She had a mind as clean as a whistle, and everything she uttered was candid.
I realized that her sister must have been charming, for this cute lady herself claimed that her elder sibling was more beautiful than her. However, that did not give this bloody rogue any liberty to deceive her. Even her sister had acted selfishly. While my mind was busy cursing the couple and at the same time feeling pity for the unsuspecting young lady, a kid around two years came rubbing his sleepy eyes and clung to the woman, whom he addressed as mother.
On impulse, I glanced at my watch. It was nearing 7.30 am. If I start my onward journey and drive at the maximum speed, I will reach the hospital minutes before 9.30. That would not be too late to save Joseph.
“Do you know of any short route to reach the town highway?” I blurted out to the lady. She got a bit perplexed at the sudden change of topic. She nodded and showed me the path that could take me to the highway sooner.
I yearned to reach the hospital soon. My vengeance to see Joseph on his death bed seemed diluting and complicated feelings were thawing like ice melting on sunrise. The umbra that had been clogging my mind with darkness had moved away. The eclipse was over.
This pretty woman, an unlikely stranger in my life, had brought this transformation in me. She inadvertently reminded me of my Hippocratic Oath upon being conferred with a medical degree that I took. The nobility of my profession flashed in my subconscious due to her benevolent gesture towards the man who had broken her heart.
What a dirty fickle-minded fool I had been! Yes, I wouldn’t say I suddenly liked Joseph. He had whisked my love right under my nose. How could I forget it? When I returned from my six months internship, I saw them as husband and wife. Sophia and Joseph were a much-married couple.
Joseph being my best buddy, I had taken him into confidence regarding my decision to propose to Sophia, a nurse in the orthopedic department, no sooner I returned from my internship. I would then have been absorbed as a full-time doctor in the hospital. With a steady job and a good income, I could marry and settle.
Then he tells me all these fairy tales that Sophia had taken the initial step and proposed to him. Though he claimed that he had tried briefing her about my feelings for her, she had brushed it aside, saying that we were good friends, nothing more than that. Apparently, Sophia was not even aware that I had been secretly admiring her.
Deep hatred was all that I nurtured for the couple. However, not wanting to be labeled a jilted lover, I carefully masked my revulsion behind a fictitious smile that I generally wore on my countenance whenever I was with them around.
However, when Dr. Lobo had called for me last evening, I sincerely had no intentions to shun away from my responsibility if I was to be handed over the task of performing Joseph’s surgery.
Just as I was about to enter Dr. Lobo’s cabin, I spotted Sophia outside the ICU. She had come to see Joseph. The very sight of the female in tears suddenly aroused my pent-up hatred for the couple for no rhyme or reason.
Then as Dr.Lobo entrusted me with the surgery, I began chalking out a plan.
That was the moment the devil got into me. ‘Evan, a golden opportunity has fallen on your lap. Perform a wrong operation and declare that the patient died on the table. It happens, and there is no legal case until and unless a near kith or kin of the deceased decides to drag you to the court. In the case of both Joseph and Sophia, being nurtured in an orphanage, no one will come forth to pursue a long-drawn court case. Eventually, you can make her yours. She will need support.’
The devil seemed to have given me the right advice. The devil can trigger the evil intents of men’s hearts to harm one another. There was no room for contemplation. I had made up my mind. However, on further deliberation, I realized that killing the patient on the table would not be simple. Even if I succeeded in my malicious attempt, it would add a black mark to my career. I had to think of some other way to end Joseph’s life.
Then it struck me that I could pretend to have met with an accident. This theory could be further accentuated by not picking the calls.
It wouldn’t be much of an exercise for a doctor to put fake bandages and even fake a fractured limb. I didn’t mind damaging my car for this purpose to make the accident look genuine. I could then go on an extended leave under the pretext of recuperating and put up somewhere away from the hospital to avoid interaction with the doctors or staff. I could thus prevent the apprehension of being caught red-handed for faking a fracture.
Everything sounded perfect. I could feign desperation and even weep to consolidate my stance. What a master plan I had made to evict Joseph from Sophia’s life. How ruthless of me!!!
‘I can then slowly win over her lonely heart.’ Was the plan that I made.
I loved Sophia, that was true, but no hard-and-fast rule demands her favorable reciprocation. I realized now that I had never openly spoken to Sophia about my love for her. Then how could I make biased assumptions that she too loved me? It was unwarranted to brand my friend as the culprit and accuse him of backstabbing me.
My status as a doctor compared to a simple office administrator like Joseph; probably made my head reel with pride. Vanity got the better of me, and I assumed that a girl would fall for a more affluent man, but Sophia was in love with Joseph. One cannot infuse love; it has to bloom naturally.
This upright girl struggling in poverty with a bedridden patient to nurse taught me that true love is not taking pleasure in seeing your loved ones in distress, but it lies in giving them solace. She was serving the man who had cheated on her.
“Please keep this,” I said, giving her some money. She refused to accept it, thereby rising to a high adoration in my eyes.
I left, taking the route she had shown.
I trusted my credentials and was sure that I would bring back Joseph from his death bed, hale and hearty.
A successful operation later, I realized that I had brought cheer in the life of not just two but three people. Sophia was four months pregnant with Joseph’s kid.
I decided to do something favorable for the lady, who had brought this drastic change in me. I would send a full-time male nurse to take care of the ailing man and probably coax her to accept some money for other expenditures.
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