Monday, October 10, 2005

Short Story - The Alibi (Part II)

Please read this for background on this series. Thanks.

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The Alibi...(contd.)

Every visit that Suman made to the doctor brought back memories of those few months spent at the Darjeeling General Hospital all those years ago. Memories of the doctor assuring her and her parents that following the procedure, she would be perfectly normal. Memories of the procedure going horribly wrong and a contrite doctor telling her that she might never be able to conceive again.

The pure terror she had felt when she had first found out she was pregnant had never abated. Suman could still feel the room spinning around her, her legs not able to support her any longer. She clutched the sink for support and raised one hand to her cheek. Ma had not said a word when Suman had told her. She had stared at Suman silently. Suman felt the stinging slap on her cheek before she realized Ma had even raised her hand.

Suman was sixteen at that time, brought up in a well-to-do family, respected in their community. Ma and Papa had panicked. They had pulled her out of high school and taken her away from Raghu, to far away Darjeeling. Nosy friends and relatives were told that Papa had a medical condition that required a long stay in the cool climate of Darjeeling. Suman’s lips quivered at the memory of the anguish. She and Raghu had been so happy, madly in love. They had wanted to get married.

Her feelings had not stood a chance. Papa had been ruthless and Mama had stuck by him. They had had dreams for her, they said. She would finish high school, go on to college, and become a doctor. They were ashamed and mortified that she would bring this upon their family, they said. Where had they gone wrong, Ma lamented. Which respectable family will want her as a daughter-in-law, she fretted. He will break that boy Raghu’s knees if he ever saw him on the street, Papa threatened.

By all accounts, the procedure was meant to be quick and uncomplicated. The doctor had even declared the procedure a success right after she was wheeled from the operating room into her recovery area. The next day, they had performed a routine ultrasound to confirm that there was no lingering pregnancy tissue in her uterus. The doctor had become agitated. He pointed to two tiny gray grainy circles – something about holes in the uterus. Ma seemed to understand immediately.

Suman’s vessel of life was a sieve.

Ma gasped, the color draining from her face. Suman’s uterus had been punctured as they cleaned it, the doctor continued. Papa seemed to wither and shrink right before her eyes, suddenly looking powerless and deflated. He never spoke to Suman again.

When the family returned home a few months later, Ma convinced Papa to let her go back to school, if only to preempt probing relatives. Papa did not protest; he did not seem to care.

Suman’s head was throbbing now. Suman shook her head to banish the images in her head and stared at her dripping face in the mirror. She reached for the towel and wiped her face. Where were those painkillers?

* * * * *

Ravi could remember it now, the time when Appa had seemed to have lost all his ability to reason; it was right after his 10th birthday. Amma had come back yet again from the hospital, but this time, after an unusually long stay. She was resting in her room. Ravi was not sure why she had gone to the hospital this time, but he wanted to find out. He crept into her room when he came back from school and snuggled up to her. She winced when his knee rested against her stomach and gently pushed his knee down and pulled him closer.

“Amma, what happened at the hospital?”

“My stomach hurts” she said, caressing her belly.

“Why?”

She looked at him. She was searching his face for something. After what appeared to be a long time to Ravi,

“Ravi, Appa and I haven’t told you something. I wanted to wait until you were a little older, but…”

“But, what?”

“In a few months, you were going to have a little brother or sister. But…”

“Amma, but what?”

Amma’s chin wobbled. “The baby died.”

Ravi couldn’t remember the details of what happened next. The next few images were always of Amma starting to sob uncontrollably, Appa striding into the room and yanking him out of Amma’s arms. That was the first and only time Ravi could remember his father spanking him. He was in a rage and was screaming something about leaving his mother alone and not bothering her.

After that day, Appa never seemed to be the same again. He never looked Ravi in the eye when he spoke to him. He never asked how he was doing in school. Amma tried to make up for it. She tried to console him and told him over and over again that it was nothing he did that made Appa behave this way. Appa took the miscarriage really hard, she said. The miscarriage came at the end of eight long years of wanting and waiting to have another child. Amma had always been too sick with something or the other. To make matters worse, the doctor had forbidden them from trying again for another child. It was too risky for Amma’s health.

There was something else about the way Appa behaved with him that bothered Ravi. He shifted his head slightly to the right, as he lay stretched out on the leather couch in the study, as if he could will the order in which the images streamed into his mind. For all his indifference, Appa was desperate to keep Ravi at his side and Ravi always felt he was being watched.

Like the time Ravi had insisted on going away to college in a different town and Appa had insisted he stay, his pleas bordering on desperation. Ravi was taken aback. Why, he wondered. He had not expected this resistance. But Ravi had gone anyway, not wanting to come back home for a long time. Or like the time Ravi had brought a friend – a girl – home. Appa had wanted to find out everything. Did Ravi want to marry her? How many children do her parents have? Are they all married? Do they have any children? Ravi brushed the questions aside. She was just a friend; he did not want to marry her.

Appa’s demeanor seemed to change when Ravi and Suman were married. He seemed a little more relaxed. He even smiled when Suman came into the room. The marriage was arranged through one of Appa’s colleagues. The colleague had known Suman’s family for a long time.

Ravi took a deep breath and let it out slowly. If only Appa’s happiness had come a little earlier. Maybe he would not have felt so wretched all his life. Maybe he would not have gone down this cursed path.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to live with a punctured uterus? Just curious.... It is very disturbing to think someone can possibly have a condition like that and go on.

Did this go undetected by other doctors who checked them(in the story, I mean)?
Lakshmi

Sujatha said...

Yes, in the story it goes undetected. Not difficult to imagine incompetent doctors, plus it would be one of the last things to investigate in an infertility case. About whether one can go on after having one, I don't know. I've heard gynecs mention it in relation to a DNC, but only in relation to being able to conceive again... so for the purposes of the story, i assume yes.

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