June 14, 2008


Her eyes blinked open. Resolutely, she shut them closed. Intuitively, even before her mind began thinking, she knew that she did not want to wake up. And then her brain caught up with her body's reflexes and she opened her eyes in horror. The stark reality of her sister's illness weighed on her, tying her to her bed. She had to make a super human effort to throw away the shroud of darkness and lift herself from bed. The want in her, to go back to bed, avoid reality, was so tempting. If only she could.

She went into Shloka's room. Her sister was sleeping on the bed, peacefully. Or so it seemed. The cancerous cells in her bones were furiously at work, chipping away. Arthi leaned against the door frame, and thought back to three days ago, when Shloka had called her at work.

"Will you go to the doctor's with me?" she had asked.

"Of course I will. Is it the dietitian again? How is your new diet working out for you?"

"I have lost a lot of weight akka" she said, in a quivering voice.

Arthi was surprised. Shloka hadn't called her 'akka' in years. Something was wrong, she was sure of that.

"What is it, Shloka? What aren't you telling me?" she said, her voice rising in fear. She saw Tina, her colleague making a shushing motion and lowered her voice. "What is wrong?" she whispered.

"Please come to Manipal Hospital at 1. Dr Rao's office" Shloka answered and hung up.

Arthi felt bewildered as she cradled the receiver back in its place. I should have visited her more often, she silently berated herself. Ever since she had gotten married, her life became a whirlwind of activity, revolving around Akash. She thought back to her single life, the way she cursed her friends for not being in touch after they had gotten married. And then she ended up doing the same thing!

Of course, she tried to meet Shloka at least once a week. But it was not the same as living in the same house with her little sister. She smiled at the thought of the monkeying around that Shloka was always upto, her raucous laughter, and the constant joy she was to be with. She could light up a room the instant she waltzed in. And now this, Arthi thought back to the visit to the doctor.

"We had a biopsy done on Shloka's thigh bone" Dr Rao had tried to bring her up to speed after she got over the shock of seeing Shloka. She, who always had had difficulty controlling her chubbiness, was looking so skinny she could have walked the ramp wearing a Parisian dress.

"When?" Arthi managed to blurt out. How long had it been since she last saw her sister, her mind counted back, furiously. It had been a month. How could so much have changed since then?

"Last week" Dr Rao replied. He was an oncologist, and a family friend. He had met Shloka at a party three weeks back and saw the tell tale signs and asked her to come in to his office. She had taken a week to muster up the courage while she saw her body fail her. And she had told no one.

Arthi was hurt by that. They were always so close, and could complete each other's sentences. And she hadn't told her!

She waited for Dr Rao to continue, waited for the walls to fall in on her, knowing she couldn't possibly do anything to change things.

"I am sorry princesses" he said, going back to their childhood nicknames. "Its malignant. We should start treatment right away...Do you want me to tell your parents?" he asked, beseechingly, asking them without saying so, to understand that this pained him too, and he was only the messenger.

"Thanks Uncle, please, will you tell them?" Arthi said, taking charge of the situation. She always did. Their parents were away, in Europe, visiting friends. She thought back to her parents, and how long it had been since they had taken time off, what was waiting for them when they returned, and changed her mind.

"No uncle, lets not tell them now. We will wait until they return. They are coming back next week, anyway."

She turned to look at Shloka. She looked so detached, and so alone, the disease already bringing up walls between her and the world, and she fought back a sob. She crushed her in a hug, letting her know that she was there. Shloka started crying "Why me?"

Why, indeed. You always think that bad things happen to other people. You read about them in newspapers, with mild disinterest, confident that it would never happen to you. Until lightning struck you instead.

Slowly, in just a few days, the hospital became the center of their life. Akash and Arthi took Shloka into their home. When she went out of her house, Arthi stared at everyone, envious of their normal lives, and their little worries. How could life go on? she wondered, as she grappled with the monumental axe dangling over their happiness, threatening to fall down any minute.

And they hoped, constantly, that Shloka would get better. Hoped everything would go back to being normal, Arthi thought, as she looked at her little sister.

"Are you hoping if you stare at me long enough, the cancer will go away?" Shloka muttered, from the bed.

Arthi laughed. And felt guilty for doing so. Every laugh, every smile was cut short by remembrance of the situation.

And they resumed their constant stance, of hoping.


Ramakrishnan R said...

oh dear ... too heavy. and shloka is such a nice name.
the "why me?" part is profound.

Rush said...

ha ha, thanks ramak! i have only been able to write light hearted stuff for d school mag each week..(no one will read heavy stuff) so now that school's on vacation, my morbid side is back!!!