Published in Ripples by APK Publishers, an anthology of short stories by Indian women writers.
I stand as Shivani pulls out her luggage and looks at her home for one long moment before shutting the door. She turns the key and pulls it out as the lock clicks in place. Then she places the keys in my hand, saying, “Anju aunty, Rohit will take it from you after work.”
I nod and notice that she’s pulled out the letter ‘S’ from the key ring and the keys now dangle from a lone wooden ‘R’. I want to hold her hand and ask her to stay. But I am an old woman and she is young – too young and too heartbroken. Before getting into the taxi she bends to touch my feet. I pull her into a tight hug.
“Aunty, take care of your health. Take your medicines in time. ”
“Beta, call me once you reach. And come back to your home soon.”
“My home is not here anymore.” She turns away, pulling a corner of her dupatta to her eyes. The pain in her eyes is so deep I feel helpless. As the taxi leaves, I feel a pang as deep as parting from one’s own child.
I slowly climb back the stairs of our building and come home. I look at this picture on my fridge - Rohit and Shivani look radiant together as Sameer clings to Shivani’s knees showing his tongue, eyes twinkling, perfectly gleeful. I’d taken this picture 3 years back on Sameer’s first day of school, almost a month before he’d had a fall so nasty, he needed to be hospitalized and given blood. This picture always made me smile till Sameer left us. Today it reminds me of terrible losses.
Sameer had always been a handful – as a baby, as a toddler, as a neighbor. Precocious and sensitive, he was a brave little child.
He would say to Shivani, “Mommy, don’t run down the stairs, you’ll fall.”
He would say to me, “Nanu aunty, I’ll put balm and your headache will go.”
He would say to Rohit, “Pappa, I’ll grow as tall as you and then we can share our clothes.”
That day in the hospital, with blood dripping into his veins, he had lain in the white bed, tiny, pale and quiet but not scared. I missed Sameer. Now I miss Shivani too.
Rohit doesn’t speak when he comes to take his keys. His eyes are empty. I ask him to come in for dinner or maybe a cup of tea. He silently shakes his head and leaves. Sometimes we don’t trust our voice when it is on the verge of trembling because we fear that we too might tremble with it and break. I want to talk to him, ask him to get Shivani back – for his sake more than her own. So I go after him and see him unlock his door. The first key doesn’t fit; he struggles with the second till finds the third that fits. Clearly a man used to coming home to a wife who opened the door for him after a long day. I feel a lump rise in my throat. This time I don’t trust my voice. I walk back.
I enter my house, fling the keys onto the sofa and switch on the lights. A yellow post-it in Shivani’s familiar hand on the refrigerator tells me that my dinner is in the microwave. In the room I find the bed turned down, ready to be slept in. My head hurts and I massage my temples; I would have liked that cup of tea that Anju aunty was offering. But I want to be alone.
I am not hungry. I don’t want to change either. I open the microwave to find a bowl of biriyani. I heat it anyway and put a spoonful in my mouth. I close my eyes. Sameer loved this biriyani too. I open my eyes to the empty house yawning back at me.
Anger grips my heart vice-like and hatred bubbles in the pit of my stomach like acid. I throw my plate. Brown white rice and pieces of meat soil Sameer’s crayon drawing named ‘My happy family’ on the white wall.
I think about the dream I had last night. It was a brilliant yellow dream. I’d seen Sameer and held him. I’d breathed his baby smell and touched the softness of his skin.
He’d asked, “Mommy, why does pappa call you Shivi but Anju nanu calls you Shivani?
“Just like I call you Chhotu, pappa calls you Sam but your teacher calls you Sameer.” I’d replied.
The dream had been so real I’d woken up half expecting to find Sameer curled on my stomach, sleeping. But Sameer is not here. He is not in my world anymore. Neither is Rohit. It is all black where I live now – soundless, lightless; soundless except for a buzzing in my ears that doesn’t go.
I’d first seen this blackness in the Pediatric AIDS Ward. I’d seen it as Sameer lay in his hospital bed day in and day out, the light in his eyes slowly extinguishing. The blackness had seeped out of his veins, shifting shapes. It had risen like a wall, holding Sameer, Rohit, Anju aunty and me in and holding everyone else out. No one had seemed to mind. All our friends and family had stayed out, offering help over phone calls and emails. They’d known this virus could not infect via electronic media.
Needles would go in and out of Sameer, drawing blood, injecting drugs. Red blood would remind me of another day – of a blood bottle dripping into a tiny wrist. Blackness would engulf me at the memory and I would pass out. Black-red pain danced destruction in Sameer. The little boy kept fighting a virus, incomprehensible and invincible, holding my fingers bravely with ever diminishing strength.
One day the blackness entered Rohit’s eyes. It took the shape of a wounded animal, angry, mistrustful. It licked out of his eyes like flames. Blackness took shape of questions demanding to know how many men I’d slept with, questions that made my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth. Blackness took shape of purple bruises on my body.
Rohit had said it was my blood that was black. Red blood tests had not answered black questions. Purple bruises had kept coming. I’d wept, begged, gotten my blood tested multiple times then surrendered to unanswered questions and purple bruises. It had been a black world.
It is when Rohit had asked for a divorce my whole world (black though it was) had been swallowed by a black hole. I found myself in a limbo, hearing a never ending white noise. I’d to run away from that limbo so I’d to leave. But the white noise hasn’t gone. I want the white noise to go so I swallow white pills. I see red at first but white calm surrounds me and I float into the colored world of my dreams.
My dreams are not black. There I can still touch Sameer and love Rohit.
News in a national daily:
Blood bank’s license cancelled for giving HIV+ blood
Hyderabad, April 28 (IANS) The licence of a blood bank in Andhra Pradesh was cancelled Wednesday after it gave HIV positive blood to a police constable injured in a road accident.Jagruti Blood Bank in Rajahmundry town in coastal Andhra would be derecognised, R.V. Chandravadan, project director of Andhra Pradesh AIDS Control Society, told reporters after a high-level meeting here.
Taking a serious note of the incident, the government also asked the health department to submit within 15 days a report on the functioning of all blood banks in the state.
The blood bank was Tuesday sealed and the owner was arrested after it was proved that the blood bought from there and injected to the injured constable was HIV positive.
The police constable contracted the deadly virus after the blood was injected to him at a private hospital. The constable met with a road accident April 25 and was shifted to Abhaya Hospital, where he slipped into coma.
On the advice of doctors, relatives of the constable bought two sachets of blood from the blood bank. One of the sachets was injected into the policeman. As his condition worsened, he was shifted to Swatantra Institute of Medical Sciences. The doctors there tested the other blood sachet and to their shock found it infected with HIV.
Subsequent tests conducted on the constable confirmed that infected blood was given to him. Enraged over this, his relatives Tuesday ransacked the blood bank.
Police booked a case against the blood bank owner G. Nageswara Rao and arrested him.
A probe by local health officials revealed that the blood bank had collected the blood from a HIV positive patient April 18.
Following the incident, the health department is considering series of measures to ensure safety of blood by tightening the regulations.