Tranquility is the very essence of this place. The intensity of pain borne by this place has forged it into a raven for the enslaved and the hurt. You talk garrulously about the rush and helter-skelter going on about in a street in India! But this place is more severely stuffed with people, perspiration, salt- from all those sweat and weeps- and most of all, memories and hope. Here you can see an atheist bowing down on his knees before the God. Here you see people from ambiguous background, but all of them knitted together into one humongous web- the Web of Hope. Elite or pauper, black or white, entrepreneur or destitute – nothing matters here, all are here for a reason, a reason that interrogates their existence. When you lie on that deep green shaded blanket propping yourself up on two damp pillows and rendering a smile to your kith and kins’ visit, even when you are fighting with your inner demons and pushing yourself up and beyond the breaking point, you question yourself whether you would have enough life within you to thrust a breath from your lungs and take in a gush of disinfectant scented air back to your lungs.
I’m Steve Owens or rather Dr.Steve Owens of Merrywhether Hospital,Alabama. All these doesn’t really matter and my name is the least you have to memorize because this is not my story. This is the story of Jacob of Ward 203. Jacob was 10 year old when I first met him. Cherubic and jovial, Jacob always had that uncanny and crooked smile plastered all over his face. His face reflected joy which was rare to see when you are in a profession as this. He came over for frequent check-ups and most of the time when he had to be admitted, he fervently demanded Ward 203 whatsoever. I never understood why- maybe because the window outside overlooked hundreds of booming crabapples adjacent to a sparkling lake which accommodated millions of migratory birds to swim and perch, maybe because it is the last room in the floor which means you can openly don seclusion- yet I felt there was yet another reason which I was ignorant about.
You may be thinking, out of all these people why I noticed this lad in particular. The reason being his ward was directly in front of my cabin and I’ve been led to the discovery that a hazel grey eyes always glared at me from Ward 203. Eventually, to reasons unknown I was immediately drawn to this humor package. But it took me no longer to conclude that this boy, whom I affectionately called Jake, has been a victim of autism. He found it strange understanding things, yet he was just like you and me savoring every bit of his life. He was always accompanied by his caretaker and never his parents, which evoked doubt and grief in me. On consultation, I came to know that his mother is divorced and is working day and night without a minutes rest to make the ends meet and that she couldn’t afford to miss a day’s salary which was necessary to pay off the debt and hospital fee.
But when I was around Jake, I tend to forget the grief and pain that surrounds this place. He made me believe that life has a whole new meaning and nothing, not even a fatal disease, could pin you down to the Earth because we Homo sapiens are meant to soar into the blue skies. Everyday just as I reached the door he would prop himself up with all smiles and waves to call me ’Pa’. It seems to be the most divine word, coming from him. Every day I would bring him his favorite chocolate fudge shake from the nearby Baskin Robbins, and the way he drank it, with chocolate all over his face, never ceased to bring smile to my face.
It was like I was being a child again. I became oblivious of adulthood and its responsibilities. I started showing affinity towards that boy’s care-free life. No problem seemed complex nor complicated. Life seemed so simple, manageable. I could actually see my childhood through him.
One day I saw the care-taker along the aisle to my cabin. She said she was returning home.
“You are leaving Jake alone?” I spontaneously blabbered.
“No Doc. Today is Sunday, Jake’s mother got a day off today and she asked me to go home and get some rest”
A gush of relief spat me.
Instantaneously, out of curiosity I peeped through my cabin to see his mother. I didn’t want to disrupt their loving privacy. I saw a woman, her hair long and wavy precariously tied into a bun that affectionately hugged Jake and confessed for not being able to be there with him during his check-ups. But there was a familiarity about her voice, her poise, her posture. I saw her turn to close the door. And the familiarity became all the more striking. I felt as if a jolt hit me. Just like a rainy day, when the rain initiates itself by first letting out a few drops down, I could feel salty drops all over my lap. That’s when I realized something was rolling down my cheek. I didn’t want to know what it was; I connived it to be perspiration. I felt a lump in my throat probing me to realize. I couldn’t stand any more of this suffocation. And almost immediately I sunk my head into my palms.
I don’t remember how long I stayed there idle without a movement. But out of the blue:
“Doc, I came back to get a written prescription of medicines for Jacob”
I identified the care-takers voice.
But she was shocked to see my face all red with grief and fear.
“Doc, are you all right?”
Like a child, I wept and managed to utter these words:
“He is Jacob Steve Owens!”