‘I am sorry,’ he said, staring into her eyes. Alok said it for the second time in two years and Nia knew that he didn’t mean it. If he meant it then he would not have to say it again. She was too weak to move even her hand. The shape of her body covered in the quilt was not seen. She didn’t feel anything, not even the grey hospital gown. The numbness was something she could never describe. ‘You killed her, again,’ her heart was burning out, probably the only sensation she had. But she knew that her words would be wasted. The silence of her room was accompanied by cheers of families, churning of stretchers’ wheels, murmurs out of anxiety in the lobby or nearby rooms. It was the only place where mixed emotions could be seen. It was Bakshi’s gynaecologist hospital.
In two years, it was the second abortion Nia had survived due to her family’s longing for a male child. Her education, progressive mindset, and motherhood were totally useless in the eyes of her family. She hated them the most when her “the thing” was removed from her body. She had cried, screamed, but everything went unheard in the desire of a boy.
‘What did you think you were doing? Had you lost it?’ screamed Dr Bakshi. Aisha, the young and usually confident intern stood in front of him, scared. Dr Bakshi was the gynaecologist with the experience of more than 30 years. His soft appearance was often mistaken with his innocence. In fact, he was the strictest senior and used his intelligence to triumph. He had put his apron on his chair and with a report in his hand, he again burst out, ‘Answer me. How could you make such a silly mistake?’ Aisha kept her gaze glued to the floor. She was one of the most promising interns of her batch. But today, her act, not a mistake was not acceptable for him.
Roy was about to knock on the door when he heard his father’s voice. He stopped at the door, didn’t push it open but didn’t go away as well. He leaned his tall and semi muscular body on the wall next to the door. His angular jaw-line tightened and muscles on his temples became furiously visible when he heard some more words.
This time, Aisha replied with a scared tone, ‘I just wanted to get it to you before you start the surgery.’
‘On the operation table?’ demanded Bakshi.
She didn’t know what to say to justify her act, but she wanted to make her intention clear. So she gathered courage and spoke, ‘We were supposed to operate to remove the female foetus whereas as per the reports, it was a male foetus. So clearly, we misread the sonography reports and the procedure failed.’
Bakshi narrowed his eyes and said, ‘Failed? And who decides it? You? And what were you thinking what would we have told the family? We are sorry that we noticed a female foetus but in the reports, it was a male? Listen to me very carefully, these are just papers and you are just an intern. Nothing can ruin my and my hospital’s reputation. You better understand it.’
Aisha opened the door of her apartment, which was to her surprised, already unlocked. She knew who would be in there; her boyfriend, Roy.
‘I knew it would be you.’
Roy was sitting on the sofa and watching the TV. He was an investment banker. Despite his intelligence and good grades, he chose a banking career over medicine. He was supposed to be at the annual party of his bank. But he was in his pale white shirt and a pair of casual jeans instead. His body was literally slid on the sofa. His black hair was slightly messy. She liked it that way. She asked, ‘You missed the party?’
He changed the channel and didn’t answer. She went closer to him and crouched on the floor facing him. His downturned eyes were still glued to the TV screen. She touched his hand. He shifted his gaze to her. She smiled. The charm was missed there. She was tired and exhausted. Her long black hair was loosely tied in a messy bun. Her big eyes were not sparkling, they were sad. It irritated him more. He switched the TV off and leaned forward. His face was closer to hers now. His elbows rested on his knees.
He spoke with a voice deeper than usual, ‘I had come to see you today.’
Her smile remained unchanged. She said, ‘Then why didn’t you see me?’
‘You were busy. So I went to father’s office.’
She didn’t say anything. She tried to keep her smile remain unchanged.
He shook his head and said, ‘Look, I heard everything. I don’t want to drag it. But I know what happened today.’
Her smile faded away. She looked away. Pain shadowed her face; the pain which he had heard in her voice while talking to his father. She initiated to speak but pressed her lips instead. He could see tears forming in her eyes, which were being held back. She had become better at it ever since she was introduced to the field of medicine.
She got up and walked back. She put her bag on the chair and turned back. She said, ‘It is meaningless to talk about it.’
‘So you don’t want to talk about it?’ asked Roy standing up. He walked to her.
‘What should I say? All I know is I tried to save a child who was forming life but couldn’t.’ Now the tears were edging her eyes. After a point, they rolled down.
He hated her miserable side. He hated her helplessness. Any worst condition of patients at the hospital used to upset her. She had worked on herself and became stronger. But this time, it was about slipping a life out of hand. She could never handle it and he knew it. And that’s why he came to see her.
‘You tried but it was not enough. It never will be. I know that.’
The rage was not unusual. His concern was expected. But the aggression was more than expected. He held her shoulders and said, ‘I told you not to join this place.’
‘Roy, please. Not again.’
‘No. You have to listen. You should have listened to me, Aish. I wanted to keep you out of this mess. This place was never right for you. And this has not happened for the first time and it is not the last time as well. The reputation is just a fake curtain. I know what the reality is. And today, you saw it too. For him and his pawns, such illegal activities are the most regular tasks as far as they are getting paid for it.’
Her stare was demanding something; a clarification. Without her needing to ask anything, he said, ‘I was 7 when my mother conceived again. One evening, when my father was at home, drunk, I heard a cry from his room. I rushed toward his room when I heard my mother’s plea. She was begging for something to my father with her hands folded, literary. I could not understand much but I can still remember my father’s words, “She has to die”. My mother was broken down. That night I could not sleep. His words kept floating in my mind. I constantly heard them arguing, fighting and crying. It was a nightmare which I was living in even without sleeping.
‘The next day, when I woke up, my mother was not at home. On my insisting, my elder brother, Jai told me where she was. She was at the hospital where we were not allowed to see her. She didn’t come back. The news of her death came. The reason was declared; critical health due to anaemia during her pregnancy.
‘I was constantly kept distant from the reality. It started frustrating me. Till one day, she served me my favourite dish and the next day; she was gone, to never come back. I was shattered and miserable. I started losing myself. The agony had clutched me. It was too severe for a child of my age to grasp any of it. The pain of being taken away from the mother was unbearable.
‘I could not get my father’s words out of my mind. Who had to die? What had happened to her that killed her? Was something wrong with her that I was unaware of? Could I not see her pain when she was alive?
‘Jai witnessed everything; my pain, frustration, trauma, and frequent failures. I was demented. One day, I was sitting in my room, quiet and alone. I was not even with myself. Those days, I was living in some frightening vacuum where I would never want to go again. He came to me and embraced me. Only thing I could feel was warmth. My dried eyes again filled with tears. I cried like a kid. I cried like hell till my chest ached.
‘That day I came to know that my mother was killed during the procedure of abortion. She was too anaemic and weak to handle one more surgery. Yes, one more. After Jai’s birth, she had conceived. That time too, it was a girl child. And it was aborted. Then I was born. So after the total of three surgeries, her body was not compatible. And her heartbeats stopped during the procedure.’
Aisha’s eyes were moist but Roy had tears in his eyes as if he lived that time, his mother’s death again. No words could be enough for consolation. She wanted to take him in her arms. But she was afraid that he would break down even if she called his name. But to her surprise, she saw a planted smirk on his face when he looked at her. Hard time often changes you; either to be a better one or a bitter one.
She stared at him with her soft eyes. She walked to him and touched his face. He looked at her hand and sighed. She spoke, ‘I don’t know what to say. Things were terribly wrong then and they are now too. But I figured out that saying is not enough.’ He again looked at her. Her eyes surprisingly changed to a rage which asked for his support. She finished her sentence,
‘Time to act now.’
‘What do you want to do?’
‘A bit of confrontation,’ she raised an eyebrow, ‘with enforcement.’
‘You can’t fight him. He is too big.’
‘Not if I have you with me. We will be equal then.’
Her sudden decision frightened him. He never saw it coming. He sensed what would happen and if things worked out. He might lose her as well. It sent chills down his spine. He felt cold. He embraced her face in his palms and said, ‘I am afraid of losing you.’ Yes. He was right. His eyes proved it.
She murmured, ‘Please don’t. You had your reasons to hate him. Now I have mine.’
The doorbell rang and a woman opened the door. Aisha was embarrassed to face Nia but Nia was happy to see her again. At the hospital, Aisha was one of those people who had supported her very well. But her visit surprised Nia. She led her to the hall where Nia’s husband and parents-in-law were having evening tea.
‘I have come for a reason.’ Aisha had decided to go straight with facts, without sugar-coating them. It was the time of execution now.
Nia sat near her on the sofa and said, ‘Sure, tell me.’
Aisha glanced at her but looked away immediately. It was her cowardice, she knew it. But it would take a lot of courage to speak now. But she would. She initiated, ‘The reports were wrong.’
Alok spoke, ‘Reports?’
Sensing confusion in the room, Aisha clarified, ‘The team concluded from the reports that it was a female foetus. But there was a mistake. The actual reports said that it was a male foetus.’
Purna, Nia’s mother-in-law exploded, ‘How could you do it? I will sue you all.’
Aisha looked at her shockingly, ‘Ma’am, actually we all are supposed to get sued. Don’t you think so? Everything was wrong; right from gender diagnosis to the abortion. Nia never wanted to kill her baby. It was you and your son who insisted to remove “that thing” out.’ She looked at Nia and said, ‘As soon as I found out the actual reports in the laboratory, I rushed to the OT and tried to stop the doctor. But it was too late. They had declared it a female child and they could not be proven wrong now. So they performed the surgery. I tried to save your child. Trust me. I wish I’d been there earlier. It might have made all the difference. So all I can tell you is why he was murdered. We are responsible for this, including me.’
Everyone kept quiet for long few minutes then Nia spoke, ‘Mistake.
Everything was a mistake. My dream of having a child was a mistake, even after losing one child.’ She looked at her then at her husband, ‘Yes. I never wanted to kill my child no matter what the gender was. But I never had the right to decide whether I wanted to bring my child into the world or not. That’s the reality of our world. Many untold stories like this are buried in the graves unjustified.’ She stared at him; an impassive stare.
‘I am going to file a case against the hospital and our team.’ Aisha informed her. ‘No guilty will be spared. I promise you that. And yes, it is never a mother’s mistake. Lacking education, awareness and understanding result into such misfortunes.’
Aisha was sitting at the dining table staring into the distance. She felt a hand on her shoulder. She raised her eyes to see Roy. She felt calm. She lowered her eyes again and shrugged her shoulders. She asked slowly, ‘Would you ever forgive me?’
He took her hand in his and said, ‘I want you to forgive yourself.’ He squeezed her hand and spoke again, ‘I am proud of you my love. Not everyone is the same. People like you are the hope for those who see their god in the doctors.’ He came closer to her face and pressed his lips to her forehead. They stayed still for a few seconds. She needed this solace.
Her eyes flooded with tears. He pulled himself back and saw her. Cupping her face in his hands, he said, ‘There is one more thing I want; I want to marry you.’
Aisha filed the case against Bakshi and the team including her. Legal actions were taken against them and Nia’s family. And as per her promise to Nia, no guilty was spared. Roy helped them gathering all the shreds of evidence from every possible place where Bakshi had kept them hidden.
Her ethics won. They won.