The Volunteer

The Volunteer

9 mins 10.8K 9 mins 10.8K

‘One cappuccino and one of your special chocolate muffins please, Tara.’ Came a voice. She looked up and saw him smiling pleasantly at her but Tara wasn’t fooled. She immediately spotted the tiredness he was trying to hide so valiantly in his eyes as he slouched against the counter.

‘Rough night?’ she quipped.

He sighed and smiled wanly at the experienced cook for catching him so easily, ‘You can say that.’

‘You work too hard.’ She admonished him gently.

‘Just doing my job, Tara.’ He replied automatically and then wiggled his eyebrows mischievously, ‘besides a little tiredness is nothing that your delicious muffins can’t take care of.’

‘Cheeky rascal!’ the old cook laughed and slid his order towards him. He thanked her profusely and reached eagerly for the muffin. As soon as his hand touched the plate his cell phone buzzed.

He groaned audibly, ‘What is it now?’ he looked at his cell phone and wondered, ‘Maybe it’s not urgent.’ He read the message and groaned again.

‘Who is it?’ Tara asked him.

‘Disha.’ He sighed as he looked at his muffin gloomily for a moment but perked up slightly and said, ‘Thank God I hadn’t paid for this yet.’

Tara smiled at him in amusement. ‘That’s what tabs are for, boy. If you ordered it, you pay for it whether or not you eat it.’ He winched.

Tara patted his hand in sympathy, ‘Go. I’ll reheat them for you when you get back.’

‘Thanks Tara.’ He got up to leave finally. ‘Let’s see what Disha wants now.’

He navigated the corridor hurriedly till he reached her door. He paused for a moment to catch his breath and then knocked firmly.

‘Who is it?’ An irritated voice asked from the other side. ‘That’s a good question.’ He thought to himself ‘Who am I, Disha?’

‘It’s me.’ He answered gently, ‘You said you wanted to talk to me urgently.’

The door was immediately flung open. ‘What took you so long?’ asked Disha glaring at him fiercely.

‘I am sorry.’ He answered calmly. ‘I was a little busy. I came here as soon as I could.’ She glared at him suspiciously for some time and then turned around and walked inside. He followed her in, closing the door behind him. She stopped before the window facing a small garden and stood there staring at nothing. He allowed her a rare moment of quietness and stood by the door observing her.

Disha Serdesai had undoubtedly been once a very beautiful woman. Now in the third decade of her life she resembled a flower which got separated in full bloom and hurled in the cold winds of winter. Her loose clothes hung from her gaunt frame and her short sleeves failed to hide her thin emancipated hands. Her brown eyes that moments before were glaring at him with fire were sunken in the sockets and now devoid of any sheen as she looked at nothingness.

‘What’s wrong with me Rohan?’ She whispered low enough that he just caught it.

The newly christened Rohan replied with compassion, ‘There is nothing wrong with you Disha.’

She whirled around to face him. ‘Then why is Ram treating me like this?’ The fire was back.

‘What happened Disha?’ Rohan asked. When she remained silent he prodded her gently, ‘You know you can tell me.’

‘What’s there to tell?’ She snapped. ‘You were there at the party too last night. You saw everything.’

He remained silent, waiting for her to continue.

‘I knew something was wrong the moment I saw that... that tramp!’ She spat. ‘You noticed it too didn’t you? How she wouldn’t let go of my husband for one moment throughout the night. Now I know they work together and some familiarity is normal but there are some boundaries that should remain unbroken.’

‘Are you sure you are not misinterpreting the situation Disha?’ He asked.

‘Of course I am bloody sure.’ She hissed stubbornly. ‘I know what I saw. If it had been just that woman then I wouldn’t have thought much of it but it was how Ram was acting too. He was paying just as much attention towards her while he ignored me the whole night. And the way he smiled at her...’ she paused to seat down and then looked at her clasped hands forlornly ‘it’s been a long time since he smiled like that at me.’

She looked at him and scowled. ‘Tell me the truth, Rohan. What the hell is going on between them?' Disha heaved, her whole body shivering with suppressed rage.

Rohan knew that she was at the brink of loosing what semblance of control she still had. Suddenly she stopped, turned back, looked at Rohan and asked, 'Is my husband sleeping with her? You are his friend. Did he ever tell you anything about it?'

‘Infidelity.’ He thought. ‘So this is what has her so agitated. She thinks her husband is cheating on her.’

‘What do you think Disha?’ He asked ‘Do you think Ram can cheat on you?’

‘Don’t try to push it on me.’ she shook her head. ‘Just answer my question Rohan.’

‘Fine.’ He answered, ‘No. He hasn’t told me anything about this.’

‘How do I know you are not lying?’ she asked suspiciously, ‘You are a man too and his friend. Of course you’ll cover for him.’

‘’You have to trust someone Disha.’ He said exasperated. ‘If you can’t trust your husband then at least trust me. Besides you are as much of a friend to me as Ram is and I don’t want to see either of you unhappy.’

‘You are right. I am sorry.’ She mumbled in guilt. ‘But I can’t just forget this. I have to know, no I need to know.’ She looked at him pleadingly.

‘I understand. You deserve the answers to your questions.’ He assured her. ‘But you are asking the wrong person.’

‘Whom should I ask then? Ram?’ She snorted. ‘He will just lie to me.’

‘And what if he doesn’t?’ He asked. ‘It seems to me that you have already decided that he is guilty. Is that fair Disha? Doesn’t he deserve a chance to at least explain his side? Maybe it was nothing but just a strong camaraderie between two colleagues. Maybe she just went through a tragedy recently and he was trying to be supportive. Whatever it was you should make an effort to ask him rather than making assumptions. You guys deserve that.’

‘But what if I am right?’ she asked him. ‘What if he is really cheating on me?’

‘Then you will know.’ He answered firmly. ‘Now you are just tearing yourself apart thinking about it and as long as you keep it to yourself it will continue to hurt you. But if talk to him and he is cheating on you then you’ll know, whether he admits it or lies to you. You’ll know and it will definitely hurt you for a while but it will also set you free from the huge burden you are bearing now.’

Disha contemplated what he said for a long time in silence. She finally nodded, her decision made. ‘You are right. I’ll talk with him.’

‘I am glad.’ He smiled.

‘Thank you for listening to me Rohan.’ She glanced up at him and returned his smile, albeit a watery one. ‘I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t come today.’

‘Don’t worry about it.’ He waved her off. ‘You are a smart woman. You would have figured it out.’ He then glanced at his watch. ‘I have to go now. You look tired. Why don’t you take some rest?’

She suddenly realised how tired she was. The whole emotional exhaustion was finally getting to her. She nodded.

‘Did you take your medicine?’ he asked.

‘No, I forgot.’ She smiled sheepishly.

He chuckled and went to her bedside table to get her the medicines. When he was sure that she had taken her morning dose and was soundly asleep he finally departed her room and made his way back to the cafeteria.

‘Back so soon?’ Tara enquired as soon as she spotted him. ‘I take it things went well.’

‘Yup.’ He replied. ‘She took her morning meds and is back in bed.’

‘You are getting better at this very quickly, you know.’ She shook her head in amazement. ‘For a volunteer, you are already better at pacifying the patients than a few of the staff members here.’

He ducked his head in embarrassment.

‘So what was it this time?’ Tara asked.

‘She thought I was Rohan, a friend of her husband and she wanted to know if her husband was cheating on her.’ He informed her. When she quirked an eyebrow he waved his hand. ‘I know she is not married.’

‘What did you do then?’ She asked curiously.

‘What I would have done if she really was one of my friends,’ he shrugged ‘hear her out and then talk to her. That’s all she needed.’

Tara stared at him for a moment and then chuckled.

‘What?’ he asked in amusement.

‘Nothing boy, just an old lady tittering to herself.’ She said, still chuckling as she slid him his reheated cappuccino and muffin. Then she paused, thinking about what she had wanted to ask him a long time. ‘I heard about your sister.’ She said delicately.

‘Oh.’ His smile dimmed.

‘I am sorry; I shouldn’t have brought it up.’ She rushed to apologize.

‘Don’t worry about it.’ He assured her. ‘it was a long time ago anyway. Yes she was a patient in this facility too, suffering from something similar to what Miss Disha is going through. Those couple of years were a tough time for my family.’

‘Is that why you volunteer here?’ Tara asked. ‘You feel you have some kind of debt?’

‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘It’s because of a volunteer I met then.’

He elaborated, ‘when my sister was here I was just a kid, I didn’t understand much of what was going on but I saw that whenever my sister was especially agitated they used to call an old man. He used to go in there and within a few minutes calm her down enough that she would talk to us again or least sleep peacefully. When I came to know that he wasn’t even a staff here I asked him why he did it. Do you know what he said?’

‘Some mighty words of wisdom, I am sure.’ Tara said in amusement.

‘No.’ He grinned. ‘The old man just laughed, messed my hair and asked me not to worry about it. He said he just had a lot of free time and nothing better to do with it.’

Tara burst into loud laughter.

‘Just because an old man had a lot of free time, my sister was able to spend some more time with her family in comfort before she passed away.’ He said solemnly and then smiled. ‘You see Tara, now I too have some free time and nothing better to do with it.’


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