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Thursday, April 25, 2024

At The Crossroads

As Debabrata stepped out of the crowded hospital a soft breeze played with his sticky hair, and it came as bliss in the hot, humid August night. Several attendants were using the spacious patient waiting area near the OPD rooms as the sleeping floor under the noisy ceiling fans. The daylong mental stress and the physical labour had almost sucked the last drop of his youthful vigour

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By: Dr. Dhrubajyoti Bora

As Debabrata stepped out of the crowded hospital a soft breeze played with his sticky hair, and it came as bliss in the hot, humid August night. Several attendants were using the spacious patient waiting area near the OPD rooms as the sleeping floor under the noisy ceiling fans. The daylong mental stress and the physical labour had almost sucked the last drop of his youthful vigour. Now, standing all alone just outside the hospital building was like a surrealistic transition from a parched desert to an icy cold mountain. He unbuttoned his shirt, gently put it off from his upper torso, and synchronizing with the blowing breeze, fanned his face. Once, he wiped his face and looked up at the bright illumination radiating from the top of the electric poles. There, he could see a swarm of insects swirling around choosing their ultimate fate.

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He took a few steps away from the hospital building and scrutinized its surrounding with careful concentration. Amusingly, the premise which had been bustled with attendants up to the evening had now silenced down eerily. Wistfully, he looked up at the sky, wishing a patch of the dark cloud that might herald a no ceasing rain for the coming few days, bringing a much-needed respite to all, but there was none. It was starry and clear.

Only a few days back, he’d brought his grandmother to this village hospital. Now she was fine by the grace of God, as well as the relentless efforts by the doctors and the nurses. He was from a lower-middle-class family, and as they didn’t have the requisite monetary strength to provide her comfortable care in any private nursing home, they’d to come to this village hospital. And satisfactorily, this hospital had seen a sea change in last a few years. Now, the doctors were well skilled, and the nurses too were well dedicated. During his childhood, he’d seen how only one doctor had provided service to the needy people, and sometimes, due to lack of basic infrastructure, had to refer the village people to the town hospital. Now, time had changed everything.

Debabrata had sat a few hours beside his grandmom’s bed after dinner. For an hour he’d talked to her in almost a whispering voice so as not to disturb the nearby patients. Male attendants inside the female medicine ward were strictly banned, and the on-duty nurses who’d frequented the ward to push injections to the patients and take stock of their conditions had warned him to leave immediately. He’d just requested them a few minutes more each time, carefully ignoring their blazing eyes, and finally, when his grandmother had started snoring, he’d come out of the ward silently, leaving everything in God’s hand. At one corner of the ward were two aged women, struggling badly to survive. He’d overheard the doctors say in the morning how serious their condition was. Now, both were on continuous oxygen, loops of plastic tubes being tethered into their veins with lifesaving medicines. While coming out, he’d prayed for their early recovery too.

A small pebbled lane that entered the hospital campus took a sharp turn further inside were stood different Govt buildings with varied architecture for its employees on either side. And across that lane of the main building was a new part that’d not been inaugurated yet. Debabrata laboriously dragged his tired body to a bench lying at the verandah of that new construction, dropped himself onto it. His mind merged with the stillness of the night. Nothing but the occasional rustle of the leaves on both sides of the narrow lane could be heard. Barring the front of the main building, the surrounding of the hospital was like a collage of brightness and darkness under the shade of those trees. Though for a moment a thought had arisen in his mind to pay a brief visit to his grandmother, the next moment he abandoned that idea as tiredness took over him.

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When his tired body surrendered to an irresistible sleep, he soon lay flat on the bench.  Sometime after, suddenly, he was awakened by a conversation from somewhere nearby. He rubbed his eyes. And to his utmost disbelief, his eyes caught the sight of two aged women waddling on the narrow hospital lane towards the direction of the gate. A brief part of their conversation hit his ears too.

‘‘It was really painful to stay here. Better we leave this place.’’

‘‘You’re right. I didn’t think earlier that this place will be so suffocating! Otherwise, I would’ve never come to this place.’’

“Now we should feel lucky that we’re free to go.’’

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‘‘Yeah, you’re right.”

Debabrata’s eyes glued to them. He got inquisitive. He thought they must’ve emerged from one of the Govt quarters and now they were fleeing without the host’s knowledge. Before they were too far, he got to his feet and decided to follow them, careful enough not to make the slightest noise to catch their attention. Where were they going to at this dead of the night?

‘‘Are you sure the night super will go by this town at this time?’’

“I’m damn sure. Just follow me,”- said the other.

Debabrata knew several night supers were plying on this highway which usually touches this small town at around 3 am. That meant it was nearing 3 am. But he wasn’t sure whether those supers would stop to pick up these aged women completely in white attire. If the night supers ignored their waving hands what would be their fate? Would they come back again to this campus?

Juggling with numerous thoughts in mind he followed them like a robot.

‘‘I vow once I’m outside this gate I’ll never come again.”

‘‘Me too,’’ added the other.

They carefully crossed the cattle bridge and exited out of the gate. Just then, yes, Debabrata felt an overwhelming icy cold sensation down his spine. The two women, once outside the gate, vanished in seconds!

Debabrata somehow managed himself not to lose sense and tumble down on the lane. He felt his head was spinning and his eyes could see nothing as if he’d been dragged into a dark tunnel. He started running back like a madman, first on all fours then using his shaking legs. He ran straight into the hospital building. In the distance, near the nurses’ station, he saw hurried movements of the nurses and the ward boys. When he reached the female medicine ward, almost panting, he saw the night duty doctor near the beds of the two aged women. He walked up to his grandmother’s bed. She was fine. But her face was worried. When she saw him, she said, ‘‘ Just a few seconds ago, the two women were about to die. One nearby patient shouted aloud and the doctor rushed in and saved them both. I think they are alive now.”

Still not recovering from the mental shock, Debabrata stared in the direction of the aged women in bewilderment and his mind tried to find any connection with the incident that had happened just a while ago. His grandmother reverently raised her folded palms onto her chest and mumbled something. Perhaps a prayer!

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The Hills Times
The Hills Timeshttps://www.thehillstimes.in/
The Hills Times, a largely circulated English daily published from Diphu and printed in Guwahati, having vast readership in hills districts of Assam, and neighbouring Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.
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