Joined: 07 October 2005
Joined: 07 October 2005
Joined: 07 October 2005
So I decided to update today itself...my little itching fingers couldn't resist, what to do...lol...this is Part One, and it picks up where the Preview left off...hope you guys enjoy reading...here goes...
Nine figures stood frozen in the same position for what seemedlike forever. The old man, now a little less erect, holding the little black gun at arm's length, pointing straight at Armaan, who stood rooted to the spot, still taking in what was happening, and the six hostages huddled in one group in the corner, absolutely terrified. The world seemed to have been stunned into a silence broken only by the muffled ticking of the wall clock. Tick Tock Tick Tock. The old man blinked, the silence broke as he gave in to a dry, deep cough, followed by wheezing. He sagged a bit more, but not for a second did his hand, or the gun in it, waver from their target. So this is real, thought Armaan, as he watched the man take in short, troubled breaths, but stand resolute, looking him straight in the eye.
Old Man : "I'm sick. I'm tired all the time. All the time. I can't breathe. And I want an answer now. After nine years of knocking futile doors and hearing hollow promises of a wellness I've never reached, I want an answer. Dr. Shashank Gupta, he...he works here, right?"
Armaan stood absolutely still. He could barely believe what he was hearing. This was ridiculous.
Armaan : "Dekhiye, this is a hospital, and treating people is what we do.But our services are not offered at gunpoint. Aap Clinic mein gaye the na...well, that's the place you'll find all the answers you're looking for. I mean, this is hardly a way to-"
Old Man : (cutting him mid-sentence, in a low voice): "Did you hear what I just said? I'm sick. I've been sick for nine years. Nine years. I've been to sixteen doctors, they've all given me medication, and more medication. But not one of them gave me an answer. And I'm tired now. I'm tired, you hear? I just want an answer."
Armaan could barely contain his frustration. What was this man thinking? That he'd walk into a hospital with a gun and be treated magically of whatever was ailing him? In fact, why would he even consider doing it this way? Why the hostages? Maybe there was something wrong. More than the symptoms he was describing. Armaan softened his expression, and said gently,
Armaan : "Sir...Main samajh sakta hoon that life hasn't been easy for you. But this is really no way to get answers. Aap yeh gun mujhe de dijiye, and I promise I'll take you to people who can help you. People who'll listen to you, and help you heal, help you feel bet-"
But the Old man was past his patience now. Therebuke was so loud, and so hysterical, that it stunned Armaan into silence at once.
Old Man : "I AM NOT INSANE...!! If that's what you're thinking, then you're thoroughly mistaken...!! I'm sick, and I'm tired. And I just want an answer. (taking a step closer to Armaan, placing the gun in the middle of his forehead, and now speaking in a soft and threatening tone) You will do as you are told, do you understand me? I wanted Dr. Shashank Gupta here, but I know he isn't in the country right now. What I also know is that there are two renowned doctors here. And I'm here for the second one. I'm here for Dr. Armaan Mallik. And I want him in this room, right now. Is that understood? Right now, or the next bullet that comes out of this lodges in your head. Your cellphone is in your pocket. Reach for it, nice and slow, and call him here. Right now...right NOW!"
That last yell made each and every one in the room flinch. Armaan, on the other hand, was mulling over what he should do now. Mentally disturbed or not, this man meant business. Left with no choice, he stood quite erect, looked the man in the eye, and said steadily, "Well, you can't expect to be treated by a man if you're going to shoot him, can you?" An expression of surprise crossed the old man's face, and then a look of skepticism.
Old Man : "You're...?! ID...I need ID. QUICK!"
Armaan fished out his ID from his lab coat. Satisfied, the man lowered his gun. But just a little bit, and the next moment, just as Armaan was considering disarming him by surprise, he stood with it pointing at one of the hostages, a nurse from the clinic, who broke into a sweat when she saw where the gunpoint was directed. She couldn't bring herself to speak, so she just looked first at the man, then at the gun, and then at Armaan with a look of such desperate appeal that Armaan felt like snatching the weapon from the gunman's hand. He had never felt this helpless and this confounded in his entire life. But there was only one thing to do now. Give this man his answer.
* * *
Riddhima sat on the staircase, still smiling to herself, looking at the ring on her finger, and still basking in the beauty of a moment just passed, when Armaan had been sitting right next to her one arm circling her snugly, and the other holding her left hand up exactly like this. She could barely believe they were already engaged. It was like when you open your eyes early in the morning and are unsure whether you're awake or still dreaming. She sighed, smiling. He had taken her hand, with his finger just under her ring, and had said softly in her ear, "That's my heart, right there...alive and beating...that's where it'll be, always...right there on your finger...and no matter where I am, as long as it's there, I'm there with you...right by your side...never forget that...hm?" And she never would...never. Her pager jerked her out of her reverie. And with its frantic ringing came that sense of foreboding that hung over the entire hospital that day. Something was wrong. She could feel it too, now. As she made her way out of the Fire Escape and into the corridor, she suddenly realised that it was entirely deserted. Not a soul in sight. Where was everyone? She crossed over into the Cafe. Again, empty. What was happening? Then, all of a sudden, sharp footsteps could be heard in every direction. She arrived at the Nurse's Station to find the desk cleared of all files and papers, and having on it a telephone, attached to a large tape-recorder type instrument. Next to this equipment stood a man in uniform. Riddhima still barely understood what was happening. Were these police officers? There were even quite a few in semi-military uniform. SWAT, and in Sanjeevani...?? She was beginning to panic now. Armaan. Where was Armaan? He had left her just a few minutes ago to go to the Library. The Library. She turned her eyes to where the Library doors usually stood open with a clear view of the book-lined shelves. But the doors were closed today. They're never closed...then why today? Where was Armaan? Where was he?! The man in uniform saw her approach, and came forward. He introduced himself as Inspector Desai, Mumbai Police.
Desai : "Dr...Riddhima Gupta, right? Yes, I was the one who had you paged because the hospital was being evacuated and we couldn't find you. Your father, Dr.Shashank Gupta, he's the Dean here. But since he isn't here, we figured the next best people to consult would be the senior most doctors. Doctors Atul, Anjali, Muskaan and Rahul are all still on their way back from the village camp. That left us with you, since Dr.Armaan Mallik...well..."
And he glanced at the closed doors for a second, then looked back at her. Riddhima was terrified now. She didn't know what had happened, but she knew by now that Armaan was behind those closed doors. And something else was too. As though reading her mind, Desai went on,
Desai : "I won't beat about the bush, Dr.Riddhima. We have a situation here. And it isn't a pleasant one. There is a man with a gun in there, along with seven hostages: a nurse, a man with his pregnant wife, a teenage addict enrolled in rehab here, a young woman with a broken leg, and a middle aged man with a flu. The gunman picked the six of them up in the Clinic and ushered them into the Library, which is where Dr.Mallik already was. We don't know what he wants, or what his demands are, and he isn't picking up the phone on the main desk in the Library. Dr.Riddhima, we need to establish communication as soon as we possibly can. Could you help us out with that? Is there any other way we can reach them in there? Sending in the SWAT team is too dangerous right now, without first knowing where things stand inside. We can't afford anyone getting hurt out here. We have to be very, very careful, I hope you understand that. Dr. Riddhima...Dr. Riddhima...??"
Riddhima looked as though she was barely conscious of her surroundings. But she heard each word with heart-breaking clarity. She was quiet, because she didn't know how to respond. Just a moment ago, she had been dreaming about the new, beautiful world that life seemed to be offering her. Now, she stood here, watching it all collapse right before her eyes. "Dr. Riddhima...!!" Desai said again, louder this time. She looked up at him for a second, recovered herself, and reached for her cellphone.
Riddhima : "I have Armaan's...Dr.Mallik's number. He...he has his cellphone with him. I'll just see if he..."
She dialled his number, and they waited. No answer. She could hear his ringtone from behind the closed doors. Why wouldn't he pick up? Was he even in a condition to...?! No. NO, Riddhima said to herself, with one glance at her ring. He was okay. He had to be. But why wouldn't he pick up??
* * *
The old man was now sitting on a chair. The others stood with their backs against the shelves, and Armaan stood between the two. The gun was still pointed at the nurse. And if things weren't bad enough as they were, the telephone on the main desk had been ringing off and on for the last ten minutes, but the man just wouldn't let anyone near it, nor would he answer it himself. All of a sudden, Armaan felt a vibration in his pocket. His cellphone was ringing. The gunman heard it too, and pointed the gun at Armaan.
Armaan : "Just let me answer. (The man is still pointing his gun at him) At least let me take it out. Please! If you need me to treat you, you have to let me think clearly, and I can't do that with so much ringing in my ears all the time...!!"
The man considered this, and nodded his head slightly. Armaan fished out his cellphone. When he saw the name flashing on it, he felt a wrench in his heart. Riddhima. Right there, on the display of his phone. Riddhima. She must know what was happening by now. If only this man would let him...just once...but he knew it wasn't possible. And with a little move of his finger, an action that seemed to cost him more effort than having to face the gun pointed straight at him, he disconnected her call. He hoped she'd know he was okay, and not fear the worst. He glanced at his own ring. She'd know. He knew she would.
He now looked up at the old man sitting in the chair. It was time to do something now. The only thing that seemed likely to end this nightmare was the answer this man so desperately sought.
Armaan : "All right then. Let's do this your way."
The man looked at him, and nodded.
Armaan : "If you want me to treat you, you'll have to give me your case history. Your files from previous medical visits. All your records. Can you do that?"
The old man stretched out his left hand, and picked up a slim black bag he had slung on his shoulder. He threw it at Armaan, saying that it contained everything there was to show. But that it would hardly be of use. It hadn't been of any use for nine miserable years. What was the point now? Armaan took out the contents, and realised just how futile it all really was. There must have been a couple of hundreds of pages in there, each with the tag of a different medical practitioner, each with a differential diagnosis, and each half charred, as though someone had attempted to burn them, and then changed his mind halfway through. This wouldn't do.
Armaan : "So that's that plan scuppered. Since I don't have your medical records, my next best source of information is your own self. I'll need you to tell me the symptoms. All of them. As best as you can."
Old Man: "I told you, I can't breathe right, I feel exhausted all the time, even when I'm home in bed all day, and my head hurts constantly...constantly..."
He sagged for a moment, but just for a moment. His gun was back to its erect position almost immediately. Armaan was silent. He then turned to the hostages standing on his right.
Armaan : "Does anyone have a matchbox around here? Or a lighter? Anyone?" (The teenage boy hands him a lighter, which he then hands to the old man) Okay, now I need you to hold that at arm's length, light it, and try to blow it out. Go ahead."
The man took the lighter in his left hand, and did as directed. The moment he took the first deep breath and attempted the first blow, he gave in to a violent wheezing, and began to cough. The second attempt was much the same. He'd blow, retch, and give up, and the flame would remain right where it was. Armaan watched closely, and nodded.
Armaan : "This could be one of many breathing disorders, It isn't asthma, but there are at least three other conditions this could be. And to make out exactly what it is, I'll need some drugs and basic equipment in here. If you ask me, I'd say you start by letting someone answer the phone, so we can contact anyone who's outside, to help get us the drugs. But then again, I'm not the man with the gun here. So it's your call."
The old man seemed to be struggling with himself. He knew Armaan wasn't lying. The drugs had to be got. But how? Armaan's cellphone rang again. The same name, the same wrench of the heart, and the same gun still pointed at him. But the man holding it wore a different expression this time.
Old Man : "Answer it. Put it on loudspeaker. Answer it, and tell whoever is on the other side to arrange for the drugs you need. I'll tell you after that, how I want them brought in here, you understand?"
Armaan nodded, and pressed the Answer option, putting the call on loudspeaker.
Riddhima : "Armaan! Armaan...Hello? Hello?! Armaan, tum theek ho...?? Armaan...Say something, for heaven's sake...Armaan...!!"
Armaan stood transfixed for a moment. Hearing her voice like this, and not being able to reach out to her, to reassure her that things would be okay...it was killing him on the inside. But he had to do what he had to do. So he steeled his heart for the moment, and spoke up in an even tone.
Armaan : "Riddhima..."
Silence on the other side. Absolute silence. Riddhima could feel the tears running down her face. His voice was there. He was there.
Armaan : "Riddhima, meri baat dhyaan se suno. I'm absolutely fine. There are six other people in here with me, and no one is hurt yet. But if we want things to stay this way, tumhe meri madad karni hogi. Riddhima...? Are you still there...??"
Riddhima : "Haan...haan Armaan, I'm right here, tum bolo tumhe kya chahiye, I'll do whatever I can, I swear."
She could hear the urgency in his voice. And she knew this was no time to lose herself to hysteria. They had to stay calm and collected. And she was now absolutely determined to do whatever she could to help him and the others stuck inside. She wiped her tears away, and heard him out carefully.
Armaan : "Riddhima, this man is...is a patient. He's ill, and we have to treat him, okay? I've already gone over his symptoms with him, and with a very basic test, confirmed that it's a respiratory disorder, but we need to determine exactly what it is. So I'll need some drugs and some equipment..."
Riddhima's cellphone was on loudspeaker too, and Inspector Desai was listening to every word Armaan said. As soon as Armaan mentioned that he'd need drugs, Desai handed Riddhima a paper and a pen to note down their names. Once that was done, Armaan's voice was suddenly replaced by another voice on the phone.
Old Man : "I need these drugs brought to the door of the Library. Who is this I am speaking to?"
Riddhima : "This is Dr.Riddhima Gupta. I am also a senior resident here, and I've already sent a wardboy with the list to the hospital pharmacy supplies. He'll hand them to you the way you'd like the-"
Old Man : "Oh no, no, Dr.Gupta. I cannot have just anyone come by the door and knock his way into the room. No."
Riddhima : "Then who-" But the call was disconnected before she could even complete her question.
The old man sat with the cellphone in his hand, in deep thought. After a moment, he looked slowly up at Armaan.
Old Man : "Ask her to bring them herself."
Armaan : "What! No...! She's...I'm sure a wardboy would do just...I mean, you have a gun, what do you expect...?!"
But the old man shook his head. "It has to be her, I can tell she won't try anything smart."
Before Armaan could say anything else, the man had already called back, and said to Riddhima what he had just said to Armaan. Armaan could feel his insides clench. What if something happened when she was at the door? What if the old man lost his cool, or misunderstood something she said or did at the door? But it was too late to undo what the gunman had already initiated. Riddhima had agreed without a second thought. This was not an option for her. She would take the meds to the door, period. Maybe that would afford her a glimpse of Armaan...maybe...
She made her way slowly and cautiously towards the door with the cart laden with all the basic drugs and equipment the wardboy had just brought her. Once at the door, she knocked lightly, and prayed. Prayed that she would see the one face she yearned to see most in the world right now. The door creaked open from one side, widening a little less than halfway, and Riddhima found herself staring into the same pair of deep blue eyes she had been praying for. There he was, right in front of her. She wanted to drop everything and hug him tight, whisk him away to safety. But her hands were tied, and now, so was her tongue. She just couldn't think of the words that would convey to him what she was feeling inside. And she didn't need to. Because what was going through her head and heart, was also what was going through his head and heart. But he knew there was nothing to be said or done right now. He had to take the cart inside, and make sure she was out of harm's way as quick as possible. He looked straight into her eyes, and she understood. He opened the door a little wider, and placed his hands on the cart to pull it inside while Riddhima gave it a gentle push in the same direction. Armaan's fingers lightly brushed Riddhima's for a moment, and that one touch sent waves crashing inside him. If only...but this was no time for wishful thinking. He took in the cart, and watched her face disappear behind the door as it closed shut.
There...that's the first part done...I know it's long...but I hope it holds you guys enough to be able to read it through in one go...would love to know what you guys think...any comments, criticism, suggestions, or anything else you'd like to point out or say...feel free to write in with it...would be valuable input for me to improve, and grow as a writer in each part...
Take care everyone, and cheers!
Joined: 15 July 2009
Joined: 15 July 2009
Joined: 07 October 2005
Joined: 16 April 2008
Joined: 07 October 2005
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