In the hospital, post – operation recovery room, 3 am : my daughter, after her minor surgery had not been prepared for more needles, tears, stitches.
She finally fell asleep. I couldnot.
Out of the ten beds in that dimly lit room now, at least four were restless with pain. A woman next to us, had glazed eyes. “Not sleepy ?” I asked, sounding stupid but what else could I do, hold her hand ?
Something made me hold her hand, the skin was rough – like sandpaper, left too long in the sun. Her words were quiet. “I never sleep, ever.” She said she had a grandson, he would be here in the morning : she was a coolie. A brick carrier ? I couldn’t ask. The moment felt sacred.
There were whirrrrs and beeps from medical machinery , groans from far end of that long room. Night nurse was in a moments semi- sleep after a hectic evening, her young neck and cotton collar shone in the pale light.
This woman ( how old was she – 50, 60? 70?) was trying to smile – they had taken out an extra bone from her ankle, it hurt hurt hurt, she said before reaching for my hand, to kiss it! To my dying day, I will not forget how that felt.
“Thank you for talking to me,” she whispered, and her long black eyes shining, will stay with me forever.
As I write this, please know I’m not used to going out of my way much. Am no nurse , or doc, I’m a self centred momma, a Wanna-be VanGogh- Maya Angelou! I cook, paint, write but I do not easily visit. I do some blog, Fb, it’s rare I call someone to dinner. I try.
We get tired easy, we Mommas with home school kids, esp if one kid is a blind boy- I’ve felt the earth owed me ! And here this woman kissed my hand for just talking to her. How low have we fallen that a tiny human gesture is not just difficult to give, but can provoke a kiss, that too from a sick woman. It was like another universe had reached in and touched me.
“Sleep,” I tried to whisper back but my voice cracked.
After a moments’ hesitation I touched her hair, it was dank strands. Staring at me in the dark, what did she see? I saw in her my grandma Tara, and my Ma Grace who had just passed on. This one with the hair like straw was someone’s daughter, born to a soil and house I was privileged to even meet, like this;
the woman slept like a baby till dawn. There were three others that met me that night, each a reminder of the miracle of Human, not everyone just in need of money or niceties. What a terrible misunderstanding it is, to think the financially poor alone, are needy : I see how Loneliness has no decree. It is a quiet thing. Invisible. Even ageless as a little boy early dawn, with tubes in his tummy ; his young parents walked him up and down an outer corridor ( exercise?) their faces bold with hope.
In the morning it was busy again in the room, by that noon my daughter was ready to leave, but a piece of my heart will always stay with those moments in recovery. How deep in debt I am-
another time, years ago – as my son Johann* and I got off an auto rickshaw,
this child* of ours born blind, turned to the autodriver and said loud and clear, “I love you, uncle.” I tried to shush Joh but the man looking carefully at me, said, “..in my entire life no one has said those words to me, why are you stopping him?”
Our then 7 year old reached in the man’s beard, his sooty collar and pocket, his long hands and fingers.
“Why haven’t you cut your nails?” He asked the older man who replied after a silence. “……oh not since my 21 year old died last month, he killed himself.”
The auto rickshaw driver held my son’s face for one quick moment then pulled away, refusing to take the fare of Rupees 67/- “Buy him some chocolates,” his voice was rough.
I never asked his name, nor even thought to call him up for a cup of tea. Yes, he smelt of an earth without water, as if he hadn’t eaten or slept in a long time : Invisible, in a decade of indifference like never before:
Sections of us humans, immigrants from this or that situation, silken cheeked loners, or drivers, coolies, vendors, street sweepers, ‘classes’ of society – people born in soft beds or in places some of us will not even enter, thresholds we avoid like vermin, as if blood has caste.
Loneliness is easily the worst disease ever – it gets all of us. It tries to kill the sacred in us.
I have come away though, with a few questions –
‘Untouchable’, which kind of lonesome mouth coined that word to mean people who are ‘scheduled’ and undeserving of basic civilised lifestyle – oh wear coarse skins and build our homes, lay our brick and mortar, barefoot or in plastic bag wrap footwear across hot tar roads being built – their lime and white-washed hair with no shampoo –
their braids of human straw and eyes shining in a darkness I was privileged to even Touch, be touched by in that recovery room,
kissed even, in the palm of my spirit. How does one walk away from that ? And then who and what are the Touchable…
(p.s. there is more to this story than I can say just yet. Through a serial act of kindness and familial care, a world famed and much loved Surgeon gave our daughter a generous, beautiful experience in healing. It’s a whole different experience and too overwhelming to say in a little post, but this I’m reminded of : the Divine touches us through each other. Gratitude).