In Another Lifetime
In Another Lifetime11 mins 672 11 mins 672
"Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart and it cannot touch my soul."
There were so many of such cancer quotes written on the walls of this ward. I am pretty sure each and every patient here had memorised them. After all, they are what we got to see everyday. They were supposed to give us hope, help us fight this battle. The oncology ward, in every hospital, was the saddest ward. It got to witness so much pain and sadness.
It was a bright Monday morning. The curtains were drawn to let the sunlight in. But no amount of sunlight could brighten up my dark life. It is easy for everyone to say be optimistic, be happy. But they are not in my condition, they don't have Stage IV cancer.
Here, you could find people from different age groups, different religions, different strata of society. Cancer was not partial. It spared no one. There was a little 8 year old girl, Kiara. She had brain tumour. She was fair, thin and had the most beautiful curls. She was the life of the ward. In this ward full of dull and melancholic people, she was the ray of hope, shining the brightest.
The others varied from ages 16-70. Samarth was the 16 year old boy. He had a bad temper. There were days he would be screaming so loudly, disturbing the other patients. And there were days he would be crying his heart out, making the other patients cry too. Rohini and Maya were two middle aged women. Both had breast cancer. There was Commander Rathore, the eldest of the lot. He was a retired army man, suffering from skin cancer.
I saw the nurse bringing in another patient. He looked almost my age. Tall and lean. He looked so healthy that it was tough to believe he would have cancer. The bed next to me was empty and the nurse brought him to that bed.
"Hi. I am Sarah. Stage IV, lung cancer. Almost incurable." I introduced myself to him.
"Is that how the introduction goes around here?"
"Well, yes. It is how we have learnt to identify ourselves, and each other," I replied.
"I beg to differ. I am Ruhaan. I am a writer. I have parents, two sisters. I have friends. I love to travel to new places, meet new people. That is my identity Sarah. Not the cancer. I have cancer, but the cancer doesn't have me. It is up to you how you see yourself- as a victim of it or as a survivor. I intend to be a survivor Sarah. What are you?"
1 month later-
"Okay so, Never have I ever cried while watching Titanic," Ruhaan said.
"What? You haven't? Everyone cries when they watch titanic," saying that I took a sip of my carrot juice.
The nurses had taken the other patients for a walk, but Ruhaan and I skipped it. Rather, we were here, playing Never have I ever. It was a good decision to skip the walk. I got to know so many things about Ruhaan which he would have never told me otherwise.
It was my turn to speak.
"Never have I ever sang songs in the bathroom."
"Are you kidding me? I do that all the time. That is where my real talent is displayed," saying that he took a sip.
Our game went on for quite long. I really liked spending time with Ruhaan. It was as if he made me forget about my cancer, made me happy. I genuinely felt good about myself after so long. Talking to him, provided me a reprieve from my dull life.
"Never have I ever been kissed," I said.
A look of pure shock and disbelief came over him. When he looked at me like that, I just shook my head, reaffirming my truth.
"Well, that can be changed."
I hadn't even processed his statement when I felt his lips on mine. He held my face in his hands, and kissed me so gently, as if I was a porcelain doll. As if even the slightest pressure would break me. My hands were in his hair, feeling the silkiness of it. My first kiss, I always wanted to save it for someone special. And yes, he was special for me.
We were both so engrossed in each other that we did not realise Dr. Behl entering. It was only when we heard the loud "uh uh" of his cough that we finally broke apart. My face had embarrassment written all over and it and it was tough making eye contact with him. Ruhaan on the other hand was cool as a cucumber.
"Good afternoon, Dr. Behl," he said.
"Good afternoon Ruhaan. And you too, Ms. Sarah. I was wondering why you both didn't go for the walk. But now I understood why you both skipped it. It's okay, if I would have been in your place, I would have also probably done the same," saying that, he winked in our direction and walked away.
"You sure know how to kiss for a rookie. Don't worry, with my help and support, you will become a pro. And I am going to make you practice. A lot." Saying that he also winked at me. My face was burning, the blush not leaving my face. He quickly pecked my cheeks and went to talk to the doctor.
2 more months passed. Ruhaan and I became very close. We were almost inseparable. Wherever Ruhaan went, I would also go. And wherever the doctors would take me, Ruhaan came with me. Be it radiotherapy sessions, chemotherapy sessions, or a routine checkup. We were always there for each other. Our bond was going stronger day by day.
Today Ruhaan's parents were coming to meet him. My parents had already visited and I had introduced them to Ruhaan as my friend. But they, being parents, understood that there was more to our relationship than friendship. But they welcomed him with open arms. In fact, they were happy and grateful that their daughter had found someone who would love and support her.
I was really nervous. What would his parents say to Ruhaan having a girlfriend? Will they like me? What if they reject me? All these thoughts were eating my head. I was sitting on my bed when I saw Ruhaan entering with his parents and his sisters. I stood up instantly.
"Mom, dad, she is Sarah. The girl I told you about."
His mom came and hugged me.
"It's a pleasure meeting you Sarah. Ruhaan talks a lot about you. But I must say, his description of yours doesn't do you justice. You are more beautiful than I had imagined you to be".
"Isn't she, mom? She makes my heart race every time she smiles. And my heart skips a beat when she looks at me," Ruhaan said dreamily and kissed my hands.
"Ruhaan stop it. Your parents are here," I scolded him lightly.
"Don't you worry sweetie. We don't mind it at all. In fact, we are happy that he has found someone to love him as much as we do," his mother said.
They sat down and we talked throughout the evening. His parents were so warm and loving. And his sisters, they were the sweetest creatures. When they saw Kiara sitting alone on her bed, they went and started playing with her. Kiara was so happy that she had finally found company.
Ruhaan's parents were already treating me like their daughter, as if I was always a part of their family. His mother fed me food with her own hands, just like she was feeding Ruhaan. Though Ruhaan made faces and said that he could eat on his own, I gladly accepted his mother feeding me.
This feeling was beautiful. I knew this would be my future if I lived. And it was definitely worth fighting for. I had always considered cancer to be my death sentence. But in this moment I realised that it is actually my life sentence, pushing me to live.
After 4 more months-
My condition was deteriorating. I had been coughing up blood regularly for the past week, and it was becoming very tough for me to breath. I always had the oxygen mask on. The doctors told me that it was just a matter of time before the inevitable happened. I felt horrible, but surprisingly not for myself. But for Ruhaan. He was convinced that we both will make it alive out of this, and we will be together forever. I felt bad that all his hopes and prayers went to waste.
But on the positive side, Ruhaan was doing well. He had been cancer free for the past 2 months, and was getting discharged today. At least one of us survived this. I was really happy for him. He would get to live the life he always wanted, he would write many books, be recognised by everyone. Alas, I would not get that chance. I would be forgotten, like a word dropped from a long sentence.
He came to me. I could see that he had packed his bags and was ready to leave.
"Have faith Sarah. You will beat this, I am sure you will. You will have to, for me. Remember this Sarah, you want to cry, cry. You want to scream, scream. But do not give up. Promise me. Promise me you won't give up."
"I promise I won't give up."
He came close to my face. He kissed my forehead first, then my eyes, my cheeks, and my small nose. Lastly, he looked lovingly at me and said-
"I love you Sarah, always and forever. I won't say till death do us part, because my love will last even after our bodies have given up."
Saying that he kissed me. I wanted this kiss to last forever. Who knows, when will I get the chance to kiss him again? I tried to prolong it as long as I could, but finally, he had to go.
1 year later-
I was getting discharged today. The doctors had finally announced that I was free from cancer. They said it was nothing less than a miracle, that I survived. They had given up on me long back and they were really happy that they were proven wrong. Ruhaan was coming to pick me up. The past year, he had been there for me whenever I wanted him. He would come visit at least once a week, and get me flowers or chocolates. He would always read out what he had written, and ask for my opinion.
I hadn't met him for the past two months. He had told me that he needed to go to London. His book was being awarded and he had multiple public reading sessions scheduled. He had to travel to many different cities. But he would always write me letters. His mom would could and see me and pass on our letters to each other. She had told me that Ruhaan would be here today, to pick me up.
I was so excited. We could finally live normal lives, and be with each other forever. I wanted to get married to him as soon as possible. After being away from him for so long, now I did not want to waste another minute being apart. Life is short, and there are too many memories to make.
I had been waiting for more than 2 hours. Ruhaan was supposed to be here long back. I tried not to worry, but I knew that something wasn't right. Suddenly I saw Ruhaan's mother coming towards me. Surely Ruhaan must be playing some tricks, sending his mother instead of coming himself. He had always loved teasing me.
"Aunty, where is Ruhaan? I want to talk to him. Enough of his games now. I am dying to see him."
When I looked closely at her, I realised that she looked old and tired. It seemed as if she had aged drastically. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said-
"He passed away Sarah. Ruhaan is no more."
I couldn't believe my ears. Did I hear correctly? That can't be possible. I am sure this is a joke. Ruhaan is going to far with his joke now.
"Aunty stop joking. Are you in his plan too?"
I refused to believe her. When she shook her head and continued crying, I realised that this is the reality. No jokes. No tricks. Ruhaan is not alive.
"How did it happen so suddenly Aunty? He was supposed to be here with me right now."
"I am sorry sweetie, but it wasn't sudden. 6 months after getting discharged, he had a relapse. His cancer was back. Doctors said that this time, he wouldn't be able to make it. He was shattered. But he didn't want you to know. He said if you would get to know, you would stop fighting. You would lose hope. And he didn't want to push you into that darkness again. And today, when he came back from New York, he seemed very tired and weak. He said he would become better on seeing you. But as soon as he was about to get into the car, he fell. We tried looking for a pulse but there was none."
I could feel my world come crashing down. I didn't know how to react. It wasn't fair that the reason I had fought to live for, was snatched away from me. Maybe in an alternate universe, in some other time, Sarah and Ruhaan will be together, and happy.
5 years later-
The ward is the same. The same quotes written on the walls, beds placed in the same way. I think I even recognised someone. I saw a woman crying in one corner of the ward. I could see myself in her. And that is why I am here. To bring the change that Ruhaan brought in my life, in the lives of these patients. So that, just like me, they learn to live again. I am sure if Ruhaan would have been alive, he would have done the same. So I'll be living one life for the two of us.