The Beginning Of The End
The Beginning Of The End11 mins 771 11 mins 771
She had gulped down her fourth coffee in the last two hours, waiting for him. Yet again. He hadn’t shown up. In the last four months, this was the sixth time he had decided to skip the date, without informing. And when she asked him later, it would always be some reason – minor or major. Work, home, mom, or some unconvincing reason. He had been talking lesser and lesser to her, always citing some work, or excuse of being tired or sleepy or of being around someone, where he could not talk to her.
Today Apoorva decided something was missing in her relationship with Keval. She had to find out what. She decided to drive straight to his workplace. So she did. At the workplace, she was shell shocked to hear Keval had quit job four months ago. She sat down at the office reception desk with a thud. What was happening, she could not figure out.
She dialed Keval’s number. He did not pick up. Finally, after 5 calls, she decided she would go to his house, unannounced. She would introduce herself as his friend. But she needed to meet him, or get to know something that she was unable to find out, at any cost.
She rang the doorbell and wondered what she was going to say and how. After a long wait, the door was opened by a middle-aged man. He was the help, Apoorva figured. She asked for Keval.
“Sa’ab andar hai, rest kar rahe hai”, (Sir is resting inside) he said. She asked to go inside. He showed her the way in.
Keval slept like a baby. Apoorva sat beside him and did not know if she was sad or angry looking at him sleep so peacefully when he was supposed to be meeting her. She nudged him slightly, “Keval!” No response. After three tries, he woke up with a start. “Ugh, huh!” He sat up with a jerk. “Umm, Apoorva… How come, tum yahan?” (How come you are here, Apoorva?)
“What's going on, Keval?” she asked simply.
Keval said, “I came early from work. I was feeling a little unwell…. I thought I’ll take some rest…”
Apoorva cut him short, “Which office?”
Keval looked at her with a raised eyebrow! “What do you mean which office Apoorva?”
“I am coming from your office, Keval!” Apoorva said, coldly.
Keval knew she was not in the mood for lies but he wasn’t yet prepared with the truth, himself. He just stared blankly…
After a long patch of silence, Apoorva said, “Doesn’t look like you want to make me a part of your truth! Something that seems to be going on, but I am not a part of it! No problem, Keval. When you are prepared, let’s talk! Bye!” With that, Apoorva was gone out of the room, and the house.
Keval sat with a tear rolling down his eye. His decline had begun! And the loss of Apoorva was his first step towards the ultimate decline! So, it had finally begun!
Apoorva could think of just one thing – there was something Keval was hiding, but she could not figure out what or why. She could not understand why he chose to hide something as big as quitting a job! Was he thrown out? Even if so, wouldn’t he search for another one?
Four months was a long time! Then she thought, perhaps, he was cheating on her. But she was herself not convinced about this. She decided to put it behind her and concentrate on her own work, but she was unable to. Restlessly, she tossed and turned on her bed, and finally fell asleep even before her dinner.
Keval had been crying all evening. When asked by his parents, the reason for the crying, all he said was, he wasn’t feeling good. He could say nothing more. They felt helpless but decided to leave him to himself for a while. Anyway, he seemed disturbed and with his depression, they were determined to never nag him.
In the morning, at 9 am, Keval dialed Apoorva’s number. Surprised as she was, she sounded stunned too. He said, “Can you come to meet me, at home? I need to talk to you!”
Apoorva called in late for the office and went and met Keval. Her parents were surprised to see Apoorva because they had not seen her in a long time. They had wondered what happened between her and Keval, but they never asked lest they disappoint him. They welcomed her warmly.
As she sat down in the hall, Keval asked his mother to send her in. They settled in his room. Without as much as a hello, Apoorva said, “What is it, Keval! Just say it, and sort me out. I have been a mess since yesterday!”
Keval nodded and said, “And I have been a mess for six months now, Apoorva!” Apoorva raised her eyebrow and said, “What do you mean?”
“Apoorva, I never thought I would have the courage to tell you… But here… I have decided to say it, and make peace with it. I have been struggling with … well… I am suffering from a terminal disease. I know you may feel cheated, that I did not tell you earlier. You will never forgive me, I know.”
“Stop beating around the bush, Keval! What is it?” demanded Apoorva.
Keval very slowly started to speak again. His voice was a whisper. “I have… I have developed AIDS!”
The world came crashing down for Apoorva. She could not believe what she was hearing. “What are you saying, Keval?” she screamed. Her voice was a shrill cry.
“I don’t know. Maybe the blood transfusions… Trust me Apoorva, I have never had relationships other than you. Trust me on that. But, well... the truth is I did not even realize when I contracted HIV. After that, you know how I was sick most of the time with fever, body aches, fatigue, and all of that.” Apoorva nodded because she remembered how she had been irritated with his ill health ever so often. But that was almost two years ago.
“I was fit and fine after that, so I never took any test. But the fever that refused to never leave my side, a few months ago, brought me this diagnosis, Apoorva! And now this is my truth!” Keval said as simply as he could.
Apoorva could not believe her ears. Everything that had happened in the last few months came rushing to her memories. Keval had been ill for a while. Whenever she called him, he was restless, under the weather, or sleeping. He had missed meeting her multiple times. He had avoided coming close to her, even when she initiated contact. Everything came back as a slap across her face. She let out a cry, shrill and sharp, “No!” She sat down for the fear that she would fall down if she stood any longer!
Apoorva and Keval hugged each other and cried for over an hour. Finally, gathering herself, Apoorva asked, “What now, Keval?”
Keval said, “I don’t know, nobody knows, Apoorva. I am fine now; I may not be in a while. Or in a few days. I don’t know. One thing is for sure.. I am not going to make it.” As he said this, Apoorva was sobbing hysterically.
Apoorva was inconsolable. Keval, his mother, and later even his father tried to pacify Apoorva, but she could not come to terms with the fact that Keval was going through something so devastating and that she could do nothing about it.
After almost three hours of fitful crying, Keval convinced Apoorva to go home, and get some rest. He said he needed some time by himself. Apoorva decided to respect that and drove home. At home, Apoorva started reading upon HIV and AIDS, because she hardly knew anything about it except the few TV commercials and ads related to it.
She skimmed through articles from various sources, and read a lot throughout the day. She called Keval later that evening. She spoke to him about all that she had read and was hopeful when she said, “Keval, AIDS cannot kill. It may lead to some health issues but you’d be able to sail through it. I was reading… And also, AIDS…” Keval cut her short. “Apoorva, I know it all. I have read, researched, and spoken to all possible doctors about this. AIDS will not kill me by itself. But surely it will compromise my inner immunity so much that something as silly as diarrhea will kill me. Or Pneumonia. Or…”
Apoorva said, “Why are you so negative?” Keval laughed cynically. “Really, Apoorva! You are asking me this question! A couple of blood transfusions during a not so uncommon procedure after a minor accident has brought me this close to death, and taken me this far from life… from mom…from dad…from you! And you are asking me why I am being so negative! Really?” The sarcasm reeked of pain and hurt, to be honest.
“Apoorva… Let’s face it. Sooner or later, this will be over! I will be gone. And I have taken at least four months to come to terms with this truth! Better do not try to nudge me into believing otherwise. And better you come to terms with it at the earliest too!”
Apoorva was disappointed that Keval was so pessimistic. She decided to meet doctors and experts, and do something about this and at least make it possible for Keval to live long and live healthy, because that was possible with medication, and she was sure.
Apoorva spoke to Keval over the phone and met him a few times, over the course of the next few days. She had to manage her office, her meetings with doctors and reading up on AIDS and related stuff. But she had a rediscovered enthusiasm because she had a mission on hand, which she was determined to accomplish.
Keval’s health was mostly good with minor infections and fevers that kept popping their heads every few days. Apart from that, he was quite fine, until one day when he ate a slightly spicy Dal for dinner, and had a bad bout of diarrhea. He had to be admitted to the hospital for three days.
Apoorva, on the other hand, was busy meeting people. She was happy because she had been lucky to get an appointment with one of the specialist doctors at a leading hospital. She got 20 minutes of his time. He was more than willing to answer her questions, and after the meeting with him, Apoorva had a newfound lease of life, and hope for Keval. She drove straight to Keval’s house to speak with him.
Keval was sneezing at every second breath. His nose was a shade of pink and eyes bloodshot. Apoorva knew he had a cold but was surprised at the extent. She said, “Don’t worry you’ll be okay. I have to share so much with you. I met Dr. Dharmadhikari. You know he is the best….” But Keval was not listening. He was pensive. “What happened, Keval, you aren’t listening…!” Apoorva asked.
Keval slowly took her hand in his, and said, “Apoorva.. Enough of the hide and seek. Time for some tough talks. Some promises!” He looked into her eyes. He continued. “Apoorva, my parents have no one after me… I am handing the responsibility of their wellbeing to you. And your own wellbeing is in your hands too. You must try and sort out your differences with your parents and brother! Get married. Have cute kids. Name your son Keval. Name your daughter Kiara. It kills me that you will be someone else’s wife but….”
Apoorva was sad but her humor was intact, as she said, “I can have kids without being someone’s wife! I can undergo IVF” and winked. Keval smiled despite himself and said, “You are Google Queen! You and your research!” He rolled his eye. Apoorva said, “I will do all what you asked me to… but I am happy being the daughter to your parents than go back to a place where I have no love or acceptance” Apoorva had no intention of mending ties with her estranged parents and brother.
The sneezes did not stop. Apoorva along with Keval’s parents admitted Keval to the hospital. The team of nurses and doctors attended to him on an emergency basis. Later that night, Keval’s condition worsened. He was diagnosed with Pneumonia. The team was doing everything they could, but Keval had stopped responding. Within hours, it felt like the 30-year-old looked like a 60-year-old, with eyes sunken deep inside his face and shoulders bending inwards towards his chest.
Much as they tried, it was getting increasingly difficult to bring his pressure levels up. It kept sinking lower and lower. Slowly, the breathing became erratic. Within a quarter of an hour, Keval was at peace, and the machine beeped aloud, announcing his death in the most deafening noise. At last, Keval’s pessimism won over Apoorva’s optimism. She would never be able to forgive him for his strong belief in his imminent death.
This was six years ago. Today, Apoorva is a manager with a leading advertising firm and runs an NGO working for the betterment of lives of HIV positive and AIDS affected people. She lives with Keval’s parents and her twin kids, Keval and Kiara, that she conceived by the way of IVF.
While making a documentary on AIDS, someone asked her, “Is it painful to die with AIDS?” She nodded in the negative and said, “No. It is NOT PAINFUL TO DIE WITH AIDS. It is painless to die, in AIDS. Because your decline is slow and just stops one fine day, and it’s all over in no time. But it is surely PAINFUL TO LIVE WITH AIDS because you know you are dying and you know you will never recover!” She now understood Keval better; that it must have been impossible to develop optimism knowing that death is around the corner.