It’s kinda funny right, how people take for granted the ‘forever afters’ and ‘for the rest of our lives’ clichéd dialogues? For most of them it’s just something light years away and they barely have to think about it. But for me, it’s borrowed time. The rest of my life could be just today or tomorrow. But whatever it may be, I wanna spend it with you.
For someone who had already given up, death never mattered to me. When it comes to that, actually, life didn’t matter anymore. Then you happened! Being with you just these past few days makes me wanna live again. You showed me what life could be, and that it didn’t have to be confined to the four walls of the hospital. You taught me to have hope and to be strong. You inspired me to fight the inevitable. You made me laugh, and you made me cry with more laughter. And most of all, you made me happy.
Everything happens for a reason, and you happened to me so that I could have one last shot at life. And I’ll be forever in your debt for barging in to my room, and with that, my life, however short my forever may be. My dearest, I feel like I have known you a lifetime. Every time I look at you, it feels like the universe has unleashed its entire beauty on one single soul. With every smile of yours, my heart skips a beat. Every single time that you are near me, I take slow breaths, in the hope that time will be slower.
How much ever hard it is for me to leave you, I know how much harder it will be for you to live on with my memories. When you read this letter, I know I will probably be there no more. But you have to grand me my final wish. And all I ask for is a promise from you. I want you to promise me that, when the tears are so much determined to flow, you will remain strong. Promise me that you will never lose your foothold on the high spirited person that you are and whatever you taught me, you will compel yourself to carry that forward….
“Ma’am, here’s the magazine”, my PA came inside and handed over a magazine. Quickly hiding my emotions, I said, “Thank You”
I carefully set aside the well-worn letter, and opened the magazine to the page that had published my article “Everybody knows Rhea Shekhar-the owner of 68 Abigail’s Heart Foundation,LGBT activist and the youngest person to win the Social Worker of the year award. But for the first time ever, here is Rhea recounting her inspiration behind ‘Abigail’s Heart Foundation’ in an exclusive tie-up to The Week in her own words:
“I still remember that day like it was yesterday. It was the 25th of April, 2005, which began as any other normal day, and little did I know that my entire life was about to change…
‘Are you sure, Rhea?’ asked my mother.
‘Of course I’m. Survival of the fittest, mother. I’m not going against Darwin. Also I don’t want unnecessary scars on my body.’
It’s a known fact that we are all born to die. And frankly, I don’t understand why it has to be made into such a big deal. If it were not for my mother I would have said that to the bunch of people outside my house, some of them with young kids, shouting slogans, waving placards, literally wanting me to cut one of my beating hearts out. “Save A Life. Donate!” they shouted.
For someone who is one in billions, 7.125 billion to be exact, I expect to be treated better. Scientists are still befuddled regarding my condition that gave me two hearts in my mother’s womb. But years of research and sticking needles into me have led them nowhere, and they have labelled me as a freak mutation. It’s so rare – literally one in all humankind – that they didn’t even name the anomaly (as they call it, I will it an awesomeness). I wanted to name the condition myself, something on the lines of Rhea’s Heartsawesome but the doctors aren’t thrilled with the suggestion. Instead they want to cut one of them out and save a life. Huh?
An IQ of 180, increased concentration, exceptional athleticism and a phenomenal metabolism rate – are just the few boring benefits of an increased blood circulation. Why would I ever give that up?
I was seriously done with lecturing these people who were after my heart. It’s not as if they would understand. Understanding the perks of being me was obviously beyond the prowess of their sole heart.
“Mom, am going to visit Sanjay, heard he will be brought out from the ICU today” and I dashed out through the backdoor.
I had reached the hospital in ten minutes. At the reception I inquired after his room and in my over excitement to see him, I ran, barely hearing the last digit. But of course I was sure it was 143. I dashed through the stairs to the third floor. I rushed through the corridor-141, 142, 143…“Here I am you son of a….”
As the door swung open, I was taken aback. It took me probably .5 nanoseconds to realize that I was in the wrong room; cause who stared at me from the hospital bed was a girl. I donno why, but her stare struck me as a thunderbolt.
“Am…am sorry….” I mumbled and started to leave.
“Excuse me? Could you help me a moment?” I haven’t the slightest clue as to why my hearts skipped a beat at the prospect of staying in that room.
“Could you please draw the curtains?” She looked at the breathing equipments that surrounded her and said, quite apologetically, “I can’t exactly move around and am not so content on calling the nurses every…”
Before she could finish, I had drawn the curtains, the slight darkness brought about a kind of intimacy to the room.
I stood there a moment, just staring at her. I couldn’t leave, yet. “Hai, I am Rhea” I greeted her.
“Abigail”, her fragile hands gripped mine, my hearts went haywire.
I sat on a chair beside her bed. “It’s a beautiful evening outside. Why would you wanna shut it out?”
“I have absolutely no interest in what’s happening outside. These four walls are my world”
“That’s the lamest thing I have ever heard” I rolled my eyes. “There are always new horizons to explore, how much ever a drab you are in.”
“Do you realize you are talking to this bed ridden human awaiting death, who cannot even make a washroom visit without another person’s help? And it’s not what I want; it’s only what I can have”
“Okay, first of all nobody awaits death. It comes, when it comes. Second, you can always have anything you want, if you will for it”
“Now you sound lame”
Me being someone who could never rest until my point was proven, I looked around and spotted a wheelchair not far from the bed. I surveyed her breathing equipments. They were designed to be carried around. Without saying a word I stood up and wheeled the chair to her bed. She stared at me wide eyed.
As I gently held her hand to help her up, she jerked her hand away and shouted, “What the hell are you doing?”
“Just shut up and do as I say”
I helped her move onto the wheelchair. I quickly studied the physics of her breathing equipments and arranged them with the wheelchair. With her bewilderment sealed to her face, I wheeled her to the door. I poked my head out to assess the mission impossible scenario I had thought up in my mind.
I sneaked my head back in and said, “All clear”
Abigail threw her hands in the air with a what-the-hell-expression and said, “Excuse me! Seriously…”
I quickly placed my finger on her lips and said, “Shush!” Am not sure what poked a nerve in me, and definitely one in her-the surprise at my gesture, or the intimacy of it.
I wheeled her out of the room and into the elevator and pressed the button to the terrace. In the 30 seconds that followed, neither of us spoke. There was a sanctity in the silence with her. As the elevator doors clicked open, I wheeled her to the end of the terrace, into the arms of the setting sun.
Am not sure if it was her presence that accentuated the beauty of the sunset, but I felt like the sun had a new radiance. We stood there, watching the sunset in oblivion. Somehow it felt as if my entire life’s purpose was here and now, this moment, with her. I slowly held her hand and said, “See, it’s not the end of the world. Life is always beautiful” And for the first time, she smiled. And good god! What that did to me, I will forever seek.
Neither of us knew how long we stood there. As we got back to her floor, I suddenly got an idea. I ascertained that no staffs where there in her corridor and looked at her with a wicked smile with an are-you-thinking-what-I-am-thinking sort of expression. Indeed she was, cause she said, “Oh NO! NO!”
I winked at her and gripped her wheelchair handles strongly and raced through the corridor as fast as I could. The wind that rushed at our faces, played with her hair. “OH shit!” Abigail said and started laughing. We barged in through the door, into her room, our laughter ringing in our ears. I tucked her back into her bed and I couldn’t help rejoice at the glow that emanated from her face.
The visiting hours had come to an end and it was time for my departure. She realized the same and said, “Rhea, I don’t remember the last time I looked at the sunset and hoped for the dawn. I honestly thought that I had forgotten how to laugh. You really made my day”
She left me speechless, and I didn’t want to say any goodbyes. So I just smiled and slowly left her room.
That night I couldn’t sleep. I have had my share of relationships with both guys and girls. But with Abigail, it was so different that it was entirely new. I wasn’t sure if it was love, but it definitely was breathtaking.
I visited her every single day. We talked and laughed. I played board games with her and took her on short trips. I read to her and brought her homemade treats. Every day with her felt like 24hours was just too short. It was at the end of the week that she told me about her disease.
“Am a GUCH. It resulted in a series of heart attacks that finally lead to acute heart failure”
It nearly broke my heart. It was really sad how fate unleashed itself differently among people. Cause I, myself a GUCH-Grown Ups with Congenital Heart defects, was blessed with two hearts, while she barely had one. How sparsely I needed two of them, I realized at that instant.
“Can’t surgery help?”
“Nah. Am too weak for cardiac surgery and the doctors say that transplantation is probably my last straw. But am like way down in the list and donors are rare. And I need it ASAP, cause one more cardiac arrest could result in death or permanent coma”
A pang of guilt stung me deeply. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her about my two-hearts condition. As I left her that day, I had already made my decision. I consulted with her doctors and did the checkups necessary to study my compatibility with her heart, and without a doubt, it was a perfect match.
The next morning, I brought a bunch of flowers, lily, her favorite. With the brightest smile possible, I went inside her room. But I was taken aback at the empty bed that greeted me. As I rushed out of the room, panic stricken, I banged into her doctor.
“Am sorry Rhea. She had a stroke yesterday night. She is no more. We tried everything, but couldn’t save her …”
I shut the book. I didn’t have it in me to finish the lie I had written. I left the office immediately. Back in the privacy of my home, I couldn’t help but recount that day in its entirety…
As I rushed out of the room, panic stricken I banged into her doctor.
“Am sorry Rhea. She had a stroke yesterday night. We tried our level best, but she has lapsed into permanent coma”
“But Doctor I can give her my heart. We can save her”
“Am sorry, but there is nothing more we can do. A transplant is impossible now. Her coma is irreversible, but she will live on with the support of her breathing apparatus”
He handed over a folder and said, “Abigail gave me this yesterday right after you left. She asked me to give you this in the event that she died or something worse”
It felt like my entire world had crashed down. It was maybe the presence of two hearts, that whatever hurt I felt had the highest magnitude ever. Finding a secluded area, in the privacy of my pain, I read her letter…
Wiping away my tears, I visited her at the ICU. I could not bear to look at her near-lifeless self. Making sure no one was there in the vicinity, I slightly kissed her on her cheek. Then I slowly lifted the pillow from under her head, and pressed it to her face. I held on with everything I had in me, until she breathed her last…
I gently wiped my tears away and carefully kept the letter back inside my diary. As I did so, I couldn’t help take a look at her last words…
Also, in the unfortunate event that a heart attack could result in me being in coma, I want you to do the right thing. I know I am asking much of you, but I want you to promise me that I won’t be a living dead for too long, that, when I breath my last, your memories will be afresh in what’s left of my brain.
Originally written for the TOI WriteIndia contest,on the prompt given by Durjoy Dutta.(the part in bold is the prompt)
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