She was a painfully thin girl.
That’s the first thing I remember about her. The rest of the things I remember have mashed together into one huge ball of raw pain. I never wanted to remember any of them, but I do.
Oh, but I am telling you the story from the wrong end! Let me begin at the beginning.
One day, out of the blue, an old colleague called me at my institute. He hardly ever called so I was surprised. He kept beating about the bush, trying to make small talk. The more he rambled on, the more convinced I was that something was seriously amiss. Fed up of waiting for him to make a clean breast of it, I asked him point blank what was biting him. After a bit more of shuffling his blessed feet he let loose a cannon ball.
Extremely embarrassed, he asked me if there were pills that could be taken instead of going for an abortion. I was staggered. “What?!”, a part of me bellowed silently. I didn’t let on anything though. It might have made him clam up and I want to know the whole story. No, it wasn’t vulgar curiosity. He really sounded as if he had drifted up the creek without a paddle. And the Niagara was close.
I knew he and his wife were praying passionately for a child, so I was sure there was something fishy was afoot. I vaguely remembered someone mentioning some such preparation, so told him that I was sure there was such a pill. But, I told him, I’d have to ask my gynecologist for the name. He didn’t fool around with small talk this time and summarily rang off.
I called him back in ten minutes and gave him the name but i didn’t ring off. He didn’t either. I breathed into the instrument, waiting.
“I know this must seem fishy to you”, he said at last.
“Uh-huh”, I said reservedly. “Naturally, I am wondering. Is Meera (his wife) alright?”
“Yes, yes… she is fine. But… err… if you speak to her, don’t tell her this.”
Duh! I put two and two together and made them about 297. Eyes still rolling around in their sockets, I breathed some more.
“You know I won’t do that Raj. But I am worried about you. Is everything okay with you? I hope you are not in some mess”, said I. Handsome, you will agree.
“No no… this pill is not for anything or anyone connected with me”, he assured me hastily. I could sense that he was rattled. “Do you believe me..?”
“Of course I believe you Raj. I know you don’t lie. Let me know if there is anything else you need help with”, I said my brain in an overdrive.
“I am sure everything will be all right. But if there is something, I will tell you.” And he rang off.
There was nothing much I could do about it, so I put it out of my mind. But the memory of it kept popping up over the next few days. No matter how often I chew the cud though, I remained as clueless as I began with. It was very irksome.
He called me again nearly five months later. It was end of April. I was about to wind up work and go home.
“Are you in your office still..?”, he asked. No hello, no nothing. He sounded desperate.
“Yes, but I was just leaving…” I left it hanging.
“Stay there. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
“But it’s after nine already! Can’t we do this tomorrow…?” I asked.
“Stay there..!” he said imperiously- and rang off.
“Well, that’s dandy”, I muttered into the dead connection.
I told Johnny we couldn’t wind up the day yet because Raj insisted on coming over. We sat together in my office wondering what the emergency could be. Both of us agreed that it had to be connected to the pill.
A fine glass vase goes from treasure to trash, the moment it is broken. Fortunately, something else happens to you and me. Pick up your pieces. Then, help me gather mine.
~ Vera Nazarian
Fifteen minutes later Raj arrived, a girl in tow- hardly more than a child. She was thinner than thin. He introduced her as Malti. She didn’t look at me but kept her arms crossed over herself protectively. She seemed to be hugging herself, holding one of her elbows with the other hand. She was shivering- and this was April-end. Very uneasy, I asked them both to sit down and glanced at Johnny. He nodded and left to make some tea for us all.
Raj ignored my questioning glance. He just told me he had nowhere else to take the girl so he had to bring her to me. I was sure this was the girl from whom the pill was bought. Raj fell silent waiting for Johnny to join us. Meanwhile, the girl sat huddled in the chair, shrinking more and more into herself with each passing minute. She wouldn’t raise her eyes or speak a word.
I studied the girl silently. Her skin was rough. There were dark circles under her eyes. Her fingernails were broken and bitten to the quick. Her hair was like jute. It was obvious she was from the lower-middle class. Her clothes were shabby… she wore a faded cotton salwar-kameez. Her slippers were worn and had been oft repaired. All in all, she was a decrepit wreck of a human being, broken in a million pieces.
Broken glass. It’s just like glitter, isn’t it?
I wanted to hug the child… to just hold her close until she stopped shivering. But she had locked herself into her own fortress. I had to wait until she was willing to lower the draw-bridge and let me in. I wished Johnny would hurry up with the tea.
When the tea had been brought Johnny and I looked at Raj asking him silently to begin. As his tale progressed, the walls of my world crumbled with a silent devastation leaving me screaming soundlessly.
That night I learned the meaning of pain.
To be continued…
Note: This is a true story, no embellishments, no exaggerations. Some names have been changed to protect privacy.
Written on: 21st March 2010