Natasha's life changes when she receives the news of her best friend's accident.
| Flash Fiction 1
Numbness. A feeling of feeling nothing at all. All of us might have felt it at some point of time. But do you know when numbness is at it's worst?
When you're suppose to have a raging tornado of emotions swirling inside you, but there's only a void, a disconnect.
This is how I felt then, sitting in the waiting room of the 'Wellness Hospital'. Weird, pungent hospital smell assaulted my senses. I've not been to many hospitals before, never liked them. I wasn't sure if there was something ominous about the room I was nestled in or I just felt that way because it was a hospital. Tipping my head backwards, I stared at the hospital ceiling, which was whiter than the snow. The walls too were coated in the same colour. The ticking of the wall clock was magnified by silence. As each second passed, my stomach felt heavier. Serena was fighting for her life in another room of the same corridor where I sat.
Fighting for her life.
The thought made the hair on my nape shoot up. Shock of this incident was such that it had sapped me of all emotions. And all that was left was numbness. Spine chilling, terrifying numbness. Feeling restless, I shuffled in my seat. My skin felt cold against the metal chair, rows of them occupied the entire room. My right leg was shaking incessantly, it always did when I felt anxious.
She had been fine this morning on call, she had promised to catch up and have dinner with me, she had been healthy and alive. I sat upright.
She's still alive.
She's still alive, barely but alive.
I dug my nails into my palm. She couldn't die. She was just twenty three, people don't die so young. Especially when most of the items on your bucket list remained to be crossed out. She hadn't been to Prague, she hadn't learnt to swim, she wasn't married, she wasn't a mother to beautiful babies. I sighed deeply.
Please Serena, don't die, you have a long way to go.
I squeezed my eyes shut, only to see my happy friend waving back at me.
I may never see her like this again.
My eyes flew open.
She'll be fine, she is a fighter and she will make it.
My thoughts were interrupted by the sobs of the sniffling old, frail man who sat leaning against the opposite wall. I had seen him talking to the doctor, his only son was battling for his life following an unfortunate accident, just like Serena.
When I received a call from an unknown number in evening, I hadn't expected the sky to come crashing down. Serena had met with an accident on her way back home. She had lost the control of her car, because of being distracted by the phone, and rammed into a stationary heavy vehicle on the road side. She wasn't wearing the seatbelt, though I had asked her a thousand times to. So typical Serena, always did what she felt was right.
I looked down at my hand, little droplets of blood oozed out from the skin. I stopped pressing my nails against it and crossed my arms over the chest, my leg shaking all the while. The accident had drained her of blood, resulting in an urgent blood transfusion. The doctor had been straightforward, telling me she needed to undergo surgery without any further delay, the damage to her body was such that this was our last chance. Hardly given a choice, I agreed. Her family was phoned, but they would require 4 hours to reach the hospital even by the fastest means. The doctor shook his head. Though he didn't say it aloud, I knew what it meant. There was no guarantee Serena would be breathing then.
I hope she is breathing now.
I had taken a seat closest to the door of the waiting room, my ears alert for the slightest sound of the approaching footsteps, ready to confront the doctor when he emerges from the operation theatre. I had seen it countless times in shows and movies, yet waiting there myself for the news was horrible, especially when I know there were only two possible answers. If Serena didn't make it through the operation, we would lose her. Forever. Covering my face with my palms, I let out another exasperated sigh as my head spun with erratic thoughts.
She must have gone to bed exhausted last night like always, slogging through long hours of the work she didn't exactly love. I wonder if she had done that if she knew her life would be hanging by a thread the next day.
" Why don't you quit that job?" I had asked a million times.
" I can't, the pay is the best here" she would reply.
Look how well the money is paying you now.
I massaged my temple with fingertips, hoping it would curb the pounding headache. The old man continued to sob. What a terrible loss it must be to lose a child, the agony was unimaginable. Silently, I prayed for his son's better health. The walls of the waiting room seemed to be enclosing me. I rose up from my chair and walked out, feeling suffocated. Only people I saw were the two nurses chitchatting at the end of the corridor.
I whirled around to see Rohan standing on the top stair of the flight, flanking the other end of the corridor.
" Natasha, what happened?" he said breathlessly as he sprinted towards me.
The horror on his face caused me to squirm.
" She was driving back home like everyday and...."my voice trailed off. Rohan turned stark white, his eyes wide open.
" She'll...she'll be fine right?" he asked meekly, his lower lip trembling.
I wanted to reply with a yes, and desperately so, but whom was I fooling? Rohan staggered backwards as he read my face. Instinctively, I grabbed his arm in an attempt to steady him.
" No.."he said, leaning against the wall. " It can't...why did she..."
I struggled to understand the incoherent speech, it didn't matter. Taking his hand in mine, I gave it a rub. He stood limp, not holding my hand back. Tears cascaded down his cheeks, making me cry too. Unusual, but I hadn't cried until now. As I said, I was numb but slowly, the enormous pain was crawling up on me. Rohan looked at me, his eyes transfixed as he gnawed on his lower lip that was still trembling. Words evaded him.
Rohan was a wonderful man. Wrong, the most wonderful of all men she had been with. Why she would leave someone like him must be puzzling to many, but not to me, I knew her down to the bones.
" Serena, think again. Don't do this, please" I had pleaded, the memory was fresh despite of the days passed.
" I can't. He wants to get married and have children" she had replied.
" Don't you want that too?"
" Yes, but not now. In some years, I'll be at the top of the corporate ladder, I'll think about it then."
" So you'll sacrifice Rohan for that? Is it important enough to slaughter a wonderful relationship for? Talk to him, work it out, find a solution.."
" I've taken the decision already."
" Decisions can be changed, you always have a choice."
" Natasha please, talking with him has been draining enough, don't you start on me now. And I think the same about your life decisions too."
I glanced at my ring finger which was embellished by a solitaire engagement ring. She was right, who was I to preach about correct choices when I was unsure about mine? My phone had beeped many times in the last hour, I didn't have to check it to know who it was. When the millionth notification came in, I finally unlock the screen. Fifteen missed calls and forty eight messages, all from Veer.
Natasha, bloody answer my calls.
Where are you?
Stop messing around with my temper and pick up the phone.
I shudder. Rohan looked at me with his tearful, bloodshot eyes.
" All okay?" he asked with raised eyebrows.
I was accustomed to Veer's short temper and tantrum shows that came in every time he was angry or upset. But I didn't have to worry about it when my best friend was dying.
"I think we should sit" I said as I kept the phone back in my pocket.
He nodded meekly and followed me back to the waiting room. The old man had stopped crying, sitting quietly with his eyes closed. We settled down on adjacent chairs. Each minute, each second awaiting the surgery to get over was a nightmare. There's infinite pain in uncertainty, we humans can't deal with it. In that moment, all I wanted to do was to know the outcome and let the dreadful time of unknowingness pass. Rohan was silent beside me, his eyes staring into the oblivion, his breath heavy. Tears continued to trickle down his face, his lips slightly parted to showcase both terror and misery. It was then I realized he never stopped loving her, though it had been months since they parted ways. For good. This is what Serena said, I didn't tell her I saw nothing good in it. It wasn't any use anyways, she always did what she felt was right. Out of her adamance, she acted selfish at times, like she did with Rohan. But everyone knew Serena was a good person.
Was? Is a good person.
Clutching my head in my hands, I scolded myself for putting her in the past tense.
She's alive, she's breathing, she'll be fine.
The same thoughts kept replaying themselves in my mind. If anybody could overcome this, it would be her, my Serena. I reminisced how she had fainted during a marathon in college, because she didn't want to leave it midway, she was determined to run till the end. That was her willpower, that was her courage. But when that willpower would get transcended into stubbornness, nobody could tell.
" Natasha, what is this surgery for?" Rohan asked anxiously, his mouth slackened.
" She sustained heavy injuries on her head after the accident so..."
I stopped midway upon seeing his already stark white face turn paler, terror floating in his black eyes. Thick silence lingered between us, I swallowed a lump in my throat.
" She always wanted all of it, Natasha" Rohan said in a pained voice after few minutes passed.
He turned to meet my eyes, I stayed silent.
" She had this crazy belief that one can have every thing in life, every desire was in reach, if you worked hard enough, tried hard enough."
Fresh tears stung my eyes. He casted his gaze downwards, as if too helpless to keep speaking.
" She never listened, never understood, no matter how many times I told her. Life is about compromises, we all have limited time, it is our full right to do what makes us happy, even if the world tells us otherwise.."
Rohan's last words were barely a whisper, I stare at him dumbfounded as I shed hot tears.
" She didn't want me...if this made her happy I was happy too" he said between sobs. " I didn't know it will end like this."
He covered his face with his hands, his shoulders rising and falling with each sharp breath and his frame shaking uncontrollably. I didn't know what to say. The turn of situations had been unpredictable and sudden, I, too, was struggling to grasp it.
Afterall, who ever imagined a young woman lying on her deathbed?
Just then, my phone's screen sprung to life. Another text from Veer. Reluctantly, I stood up and walked out of the waiting room, too ashamed to answer it in front of Rohan and risk him reading it.
Veer : Where in the world are you Natasha??? I've been calling you since an eternity!!
I recoiled. Even through the message, I could feel his anger so well as if he was standing just a feet away from me. Immediately, I began typing.
Me : Veer...
Veer : Answer me. Where are you and what you're upto?"
I sigh. As usual, I wasn't given a chance to finish talking
Me : Veer..."
Veer : You don't give a damn about my feelings, do you??"
Anger rose in my chest like fire, I took a deep breath and started hitting the keyboard letters.
Me : Serena is critical, the doctor said it's difficult...difficult for her to...make through this."
After several seconds of typing, he doesn't send any message. A little later, I saw him typing again. A message appeared on my screen.
Veer : She will be fine, don't worry. Have you applied for tomorrow's leave?"
My jaw dropped, I hadn't. I was supposed to go shopping for our wedding with Veer's mother. But given the circumstances, I definitely couldn't leave the hospital.
Me : Umm....Veer...
Veer : Don't say you didn't.
Me : I didn't.
Veer : Natasha how can you? You knew this is important right?
Off course it was. Everything about him was more important.
Me : My best friend is dying Veer, I can't.
Shocked by my own reply, I purse my lips tightly, all the time taking deep breaths.
Veer : She'll be fine. And Mom has just a day, you can't miss it, make sure you inform her about the timing. Talk to you later, bye.
To my intense relief, the conversation ended before I sputtered something inappropriate. This was how our relationship was, me being constantly worried about saying the wrong words and doing the wrong things. I shut my eyes, inhaled till my lungs were filled and exhaled slowly. After doing it a few more times, my anger subsided. In such situations, it helped to avoid ugly, useless fights.
But this was different. Rage simmered under my skin, making me restless. Quietly, I ambled back to the waiting room and took my seat beside Rohan.
" I'm sorry, it was an important call" I said, a little nervously.
Rohan shook his head. After a few minutes, he turned towards me and said, " Serena never liked him."
His words pierced my skin, I felt my face getting hot with embarrassment. Tightening my grip around the phone, I remained quiet. Rohan stared without blinking, but I didn't meet his eyes. Thankfully, he didn't push me to speak and looked away. No matter what happened between us, I was absolutely convinced that Veer loved me. Even if he was a little mean, a little selfish at times. Don't we have to accept people with their scars and flaws?
The minutes seemed to be dragging by, I crossed and uncrossed my legs several times for the next half hour. Slightest noise from the corridor caused me and Rohan to jump in our seats. Veer doesn't call or text again. A part of me was happy he wasn't nagging, but it hurt when he didn't even bother to check what became of Serena.
I fidgeted with my ring, it must have costed him an arm and leg if I had to go by the size of the diamond. All my friends were thrilled when they saw it, except Serena.
The price you're paying is far higher than this solitaire, Natasha.
Was it? From that day onwards, I kept thinking over it, again and again. Moving to another city after marriage, accepting a totally different job and changing my lifestyle, were these all things more expensive than this diamond ring?
Rohan shifted in his seat. I looked at him, he can be easily mistaken for a homeless man. His curly hair were all over the place and his clothes crumpled with tear stains spotted all over. I stared at the ceiling, my head throbbing with pain, wishing Veer was here, with me, and I wasn't alone in this ordeal. Tears pricked my eyes. Like blood gushing out of the wound torn open, pain flowed through me. I couldn't lose Serena, couldn't let my best friend go, I wished I wasn't this helpless. Covering my mouth, I tried to suppress my sobs but couldn't. And then, surprisingly, Rohan put his arm around me.
" It's okay" he said, giving my shoulder a tight squeeze. Agony, frustration and hurt, everything traversed freely through my body as I cry. A lot. Too hard.
" She'll be okay" he comforted me.
I kept my head on his shoulder. The same shoulder Serena had leaned upon, in the same arms she had found her solace in. It didn't exactly feel right, but it felt good.
" Excuse me?"
We sat upright, startled.
" The doctor wants to see you" said the nurse, a little uncomfortable. " He..."
Not giving her a chance to complete her sentence, we bolted out of the waiting room. The doctor stood there, his shoulders drooped.
" What happened? How is Serena?" Rohan demanded urgently.
" I'm very sorry, we tried our best but..." he said in a grim but well rehearsed tone.
The rest of his words were drowned by Rohan's deafening cry, resembling a wounded animal.
" Please" the doctor kept his hand on Rohan's shoulder that was badly shaking.
I closed my eyes. More tears cascaded down. I froze, my mouth hanging open.
She's gone, she's dead.
Serena is dead.
The enormity of these three words could make the sky shatter. Rohan fell down on his knees, his shoulders slumped. The doctor's sympathetic gaze darted from me to Rohan, and then he walked away.
In less than three hours, my world had flipped one eighty degrees around. For the first time, fragility of lives dawned upon me. Rohan was right, we need to stop acting as if we've all the time in the world.
Serena, I'll miss you, where ever you are, rest in peace.
I wiped more tears with the sleeve of my shirt. And then, as if I was supposed to do it all along, I slid the diamond ring off my finger.