Joined: 25 May 2010
Joined: 26 August 2009
Joined: 25 May 2010
Chapter 3: Experiences in an Dystopian world
The sound was deafening; the cries, shouts and the sound of tattling of bullets all around them. It wasn't the sound that scared him. It was the inability of the troops to get to injured people who were smack in the middle of it all. They weren't mere casualties; they were collateral damage. There wasn't much time for him or anyone to do much speculation. He had carried one quarter of his body weight which consisted of water, energy food and medical supplies. There were no luxuries during their trip to the war scene either. He was sweating profusely thanks to the mid day heat in rural Sudan and the fear that a stray bullet might hit him anytime was constantly looming over the head. Armed men were covering for them when they tended to the wounded. It was then he heard it ' a wild cry from a woman asking for help in local dialect. He picked up his back pack and rushed towards the direction of the cry. It was coming from a small cottage about ten meters from where he was standing. When he neared the cottage, he could see the woman from the window behind the bars which meshed the window in a crisscross shape. A hand stopped him from taking further step.
"The cottage you are about to enter is not yet cleared as safe sir. You cannot enter." An armed uniformed man informed him.
"But there is a survivor of this massacre. Look, she is staring at us from that window", he pointed at the direction where he had seen the woman's face. The woman seemed to be in a lot of pain, her face covered in blood and soot and hands holding the iron rods stiffly. She maintained an eye contact with him which simply begged for mercy.
"I am sorry sir, but you know the protocol", the man flatly refused.
"But'" Yes, he knew all about protocols, but there was still time to drag that woman out and treat her in time. A sudden yell of "Move back, move back, hurry! Hurry! Hurry!" was heard. The armed uniform dragged him away from the cottage and they broke into a run after couple of moments. He turned just once to see the woman still standing by the window and her bloodied hand waving at him when the whole cottage burst into flames with a thunderous sound.
"You didn't save me", he heard the woman say. "You could have saved me", she said again. The image of the woman was now clearer and more horrific as her bloodied hands begged him to save him.
"I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry'" He repeated closing his eyes, his head in his hands and kneeling on the ground.
"Armaan? Armaan? Are you alright?" He heard a voice.
"I am so sorry I could not save you", he repeated.
"Armaan wake up", the voice now shouted. He was still gasping for forgiveness when he opened his eyes to see concerned face of Riddhima few inches from his face.
"Armaan, are you okay? You were gasping and mumbling something incoherently." Riddhima took out tissue from its container and wiped beads of sweat from his forehead. For few minutes he allowed her to show her concern and accepted it gratefully. Once she was finished, she sat down opposite to him and waited for him to speak. He was suddenly glad that she had found him in the condition that he was in.
"Care to go for a walk Riddhima?" He asked her not looking her in the eye. He needed some sort of human company at that moment.
"Sure. It's a slow night. Let's get something to drink while we are at it, okay?" He simply nodded.
Few hours earlier:
As Armaan had promised, they had gone to a bar nearby for drinks and Armaan had met Nikki and Atul then. He had instantly liked Atul and his bumbling ways around Anjali and had merely raised eyebrows when Nikki hugged and sat next to Abhi. Abhi had simply smiled and raised his beer glass in acceptance. Armaan was sincerely happy for his senior. Riddhima had just ordered cola given the fact that she was working that night and Armaan decided to give her company as the other sober one in the group. As the evening had given way to night, he had managed to assess the group of people in late twenties he would be working with.
Abhi, the administrator and doctor was respected and loved by everyone and also held a hint of fear among the younger staff. Nikki, the one who had caught eye of Abhi was the sassy and gorgeous one in the group. She was someone who can be extremely vicious if anyone threatened her or her friends. Rahul was still the same all around good guy and the ideal best friend candidate. The girl next to him, Muskaan, how was constantly smiling was of the cute and sweet variety. Anyone could see the chemistry between Rahul and Muskaan and wondered if they had noticed that themselves. Anjali, the protecting sister, the attractive, caustic and intelligent girl was plainly ignoring Atul and his antics while Atul tried his level best to catch her attention. Watching the two of them reminded him of seeing a mating ritual between two insects on discovery channel. Riddhima who sat at the head of the table was oblivious to all the ruckus around her was tracing pattern on the condensation of her glass of cola. She was mesmerized by something and it was showing obviously on her face. She lacked the cuteness of Muskaan or the attractiveness of Anjali and was definitely plainer than Nikki. It wasn't a face that turned many heads when she walked on streets. But he had seen the same face bring comfort to those in pain in the few hours he had spent in the afternoon. He had also seen the same face deluged in sorrow.
"Yoohoo! Armaan!!" Muskaan waved her petite hands in front of his face.
"Sorry, I was thinking something. You asked me something?" He apologized eying everyone apologetically.
"I was asking if it's possible for you to drop Riddhima back to hospital since she has to work tonight."
"Sure. Abhi, is it okay if I work tonight for few more hours?" Armaan asked Abhi. Abhi looked at him in surprise and Rahul looked at Armaan wearily. Armaan looked relieved. The city was still new to him and an empty apartment and insomnia wasn't exactly helping him to settle down.
"It's not a problem Armaan, but may I know why?" Abhi questioned. He wasn't prying unnecessarily. He was concerned for Armaan as a friend and as an authoritative figure of hospital he had to be well aware of the intentions of the staff.
"I am still an insomniac Abhi. I need few hours of sleep to relax and feel fresh. I might as well get myself familiarized with the hospital when there aren't many people buzzing around", Armaan responded wryly. Abhi merely nodded in acknowledgment.
Armaan and Riddhima drove back to hospital and the drive was a silent and uneventful one. Riddhima introduced him to the joy of paperwork and had smirked at his horror stricken face. He had given her a resigned smile and had got down to work. He hadn't realized when he had fallen asleep.
Back to present:
She had not offered him any words of sympathy or even pity which had mildly surprised him. She had silently led him all around the hospital and he had faithfully followed her. They took stairs instead of elevators and avoided any dim lit corridors. If he found it odd, he didn't voice it.
She stopped in front of vending machine and looked at him questioningly.
"Anything is fine", he answered. She put money in the slot and got two cans of cola and handed one to him.
She led him to a fairly lit corridor which looked like it was ignored by most of the staff. The rooms in that corridor had faulty lines so they had to close those five rooms. There were few chairs, a broken table, a dust bin and couple of emergency cots. She simply sat on a broken and discarded emergency cot and patted the space next to her.
"When we were interns here, we used to hang around this place a lot. It was much better than cafeteria where most of current interns go. We had our privacy here and the vending machine supplied us all the junk food we needed."
"How did this cot end up in this corridor?" Armaan was surprised to see it in the first place.
"It was Nikki who got them here. According to one version of her story, she seduced the guy from procurement who dumped the furniture here."
"There are other versions?" He asked her.
"Oh yes. Another variant has Nikki blackmailing another guy in procurement for sexual harassment which made him write the furniture off the records", Riddhima replied with a smile in her voice. It was evident that the group he had met in the evening was a tight knit group who had known each other since they entered the profession. He wondered how that kind of kinship would feel. Back at the UN, he met new people almost every few months and though they kept in touch, they never really spent enough time to dwell on that affiliation.
"You had good time during internship then?" He wanted to know something innocent and pure and even happy to wipe out the memories of his nightmare. It wasn't as if he was afraid of facing them. Maybe he was, but listening to something else was always welcoming.
"Internship was hell. Abhi wasn't here yet and the six of us were brutally grilled every day. Outwardly all of us are different but in the end we were a bunch of competitive people who wanted to be the best in whatever task was assigned. We came here as an escape from the grind where we could laugh, cry, bitch about work, moan about senior doctors and sometimes even fight with each other. We even slept here ' on these smelly and broken cots, chairs and sometimes even on floor with books placed below our head." Her face had a faraway look as if she was spiritually connecting with the past and was seeing glimpses of history play in front of her. He stared at her intently. Her voice had a calming effect on his psyche. She turned her head to face him and gave him a watery smile.
"You miss those old days", he concluded for her.
"I do. Not only I but all of us do miss our intern days. It wasn't intentional on our part to drift but life, hectic schedule forced us to lose that connection we used to have. We still are the best friends, a group which hangs out regularly. But it's not the same as what it was during our internship days. I accept it because I believe that it's natural in evolution." She finished her monologue in a semi-pessimistic way. He didn't like the way she said it but accepted it because in the end it was reality.
"Tell me a good memory from your days at UN", she dived right into the topic that he was planning to avoid. But her request was not out of the ordinary. He nodded and collected his thoughts for few moments.
"It was one of my earlier assignments in East Africa. There was a famine which was rampant that summer all over eastern and central parts of Africa and our team was assigned along with rescue operators who provided the locals of the villages with food and water. One of the villages we were working was in a severe condition and people were literally in the verge of dying of hunger and thirst. Once we arrived, we started distributing food, water and other supplies. As it was a small village of about five hundred in population, in few hours we had finished our work. As I was packing my medical tent I saw a small girl who was all of six year old watching me. She spoke to me in her local dialect and I didn't understand a word. I got one of the UN workers to translate it for me. She was very thankful for the work I was doing and that morning I had saved her elder sister by treating her so her family would be ever grateful for me for the rest of their lives. She also said that she would be like me someday ' helping people in distress. I was happy with her words and on a whim I gave my business card and asked her to contact me. In that moment I completely forgot that none of the villagers were literate. But the girl took my card in sheer happiness and clutched to her heart as if I had shared a treasure with her. She waved a goodbye which literally brought tears to my eyes. A few weeks later I received an email from fellow UN volunteer saying that a girl from a remote east African village said hello to me. That little girl had caught hold of a volunteer who was visiting her village again and had begged him to contact me. The volunteer had faithfully done so. I never really thought that I would ever hear from the girl again, but she had somehow done it. It is something I would never forget Riddhima. The hope, happiness and the grandness of being alive was shown by that little girl." He paused after finishing the story. Her expression was soft and distant. He smiled at her and wondered what she was pondering on.
"I am glad that you now have a memory which is much pleasant to dream about rather than the one before", she told him. His expression changed to one that of surprise.
"Thank you", he simply said. They both knew why but neither elaborated.
"I think now you can go home and get much needed sleep? I will get back to work", Riddhima said after hopping off the bed.
"Yes." Armaan replied.
They bid each other good night and walked in opposite direction.
To be continued.
Joined: 25 May 2010
Joined: 26 August 2009
Joined: 25 May 2010
Joined: 06 January 2009
Joined: 25 June 2009
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