The ambulance rushed through the empty lanes with the loud siren to keep signaling the emergency that its occupants were facing. Sanjay kept comforting his mother Renu, “You will be fine Mummy. Don’t worry. ” The unconscious frame of Renu in blood-soaked clothes was hardly in a condition to hear her son. His wife Gauri had been crying incessantly. Sitting beside the driver, Pema kept wondering about the fate of this family on vacation. She had been woken up by the call of a hotel staff Kodor who informed Pema about Renu’s fall.
The old lady had tumbled down the stairs and slipped into unconsciousness. Kodor had been manning the hotel reception at night though it was a rare occurrence at the hill station to see visitors check-in so late in the night. He immediately called Pema, the hotel manager who had brought the in-house doctor along. The doctor had suggested immediate admission to the nearby hospital though he had also expressed his doubts about the patients’ survival, considering the heavy blood loss and her age.
Pema was moved by the emotional state of Gauri. She must have loved Renu like her own mother, Pema thought. Rongapuri was a secluded hill station in North Bengal. The place ran on basic amenities. The Government hospital functioned despite minimum set-up and basic facilities. The nearest private hospital was a minimum of four hours journey in the hilly terrain and they had couldn’t afford to lose any more time.
As the ambulance entered the Government hospital, Sanjay realized that it was so poorly lit that even the name of the hospital was not visible. The only feature that shone through the darkness was a signage that had open 24 hours written on it. The word ’emergency’ above the signage had been damaged. A lone lizard crept down the wall. The driver and Sanjay rushed Renu within the premises on a stretcher. Gauri walked unsteadily with Pema. As the resident medical officer (RMO) attended to Renu, Sanjay finished the admission formalities. The hospital had a deserted look and most of the staffs looked annoyed at being woken up at such an unearthly hour. The RMO, realizing the gravity of the situation called his senior Dr. Thapa who assured him of arriving soon.
Sanjay noticed Gauri sitting at one corner and shedding tears. He was a little surprised at her outburst of emotion. He looked away. The senior doctor had arrived and Sanjay rushed to talk to him.
Pema decided to stay with Gauri who seemed to have turned into a bundle of nerves. She asked Gauri,
“Do you want me to get you some water? Were you extremely attached to your mother-in-law?”
“This vacation was my husband’s idea. He wanted my mother-in-law to relax and enjoy the tranquility” Gauri sobbed.
“It is really unfortunate that such an accident happened to your family on vacation,” Pema said.
“We just arrived the day before yesterday from Siliguri. It’s been a while that we had taken a vacation together. My father-in-law passed away two years back. The family had been distraught. It was only recently that my mother-in-law had started getting back to normal. If only we knew what fate had in store for us!” Gauri lamented
The doctors struggled to bring Renu to a stable condition but a cardiac arrest in the wee hours of the morning made their efforts futile. As Dr. Thapa informed Sanjay about Renu’s death, he could feel that Sanjay was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Despite tear-stained cheeks, his wife came across as comparatively steady to the experienced doctor.
After obtaining permission, Gauri and Sanjay left for Siliguri with Renu’s corpse for the last rites.
A week later, Pema received a call from Gauri. She thanked the manager for her support and requested her to attend the condolence meeting that was to be held at their residence after three days. Pema decided to accept the invite. This being the off-season for the hills, there were hardly any guests at the hotel.
As Pema reached the address mentioned in the message, she saw a gathering. They had come to pay their last respects to the deceased lady. Pema saw Gauri attending to the guests while Sanjay performed pooja as per instructions from the priest. She placed the rajanigandha (tuberose) flowers and lit the incense sticks in front of Renu Bakshi’s framed picture. Turning around, she saw Gauri waiting for her with a glass of lemon water.
“Thank you for coming. We will always be grateful to you for helping us that night. Please take a seat. You must stay back for the simple lunch that we have arranged for the guests after the ritual is completed” Gauri got Pema seated while she moved around attending to other guests.
As Pema sat alone in the second last row, she overheard the conversation between two ladies in the last row.
“Gauri is an amazing daughter-in-law. Renu had subjected Gauri to such inhuman torture. If I was in her place, I would be celebrating Renu’s death today.” One of the voices said.
“But Sushma, didn’t they all abuse her? The poor girl lost her father immediately after her wedding three years back. Renu and Mr. Bakshi kept pestering Gauri’s father for more dowry while behaving atrociously with Gauri. Do you know that they even stopped her meals? Her father died out of stress. They didn’t even let Gauri attend his funeral. Two years back when Gauri conceived, I really thought things will get better for her. But look at her bad luck, she had a miscarriage.”
“Did you just say miscarriage, Roshni? Renu had bribed one of the hospital nurses for prenatal sex determination. The moment Renu knew it was a girl, she forced Gauri to abort it. Sanjay kept hitting her till she agreed. He was so devoted to his mother that he could have killed Gauri for her. And then the abuse continued – verbal, emotional and physical. Last year, it stopped for a while when Mr. Bakshi died because of electrocution while taking bath. Apparently, there was a short-circuit in the bathroom geyser. He was declared dead at the hospital. That incident should have put an end to this cruel behavior. But Renu wasn’t the kind to stop. She continued punishing her for not being able to bear the family a son until now.” The lady named Sushma said.
Pema looked at Gauri with new-found empathy. She really hoped that Sanjay turned over a new leaf and together they find happiness. Pema smiled as she saw Gauri stealing glances at Sanjay. But she couldn’t hear the words that Gauri whispered while looking at him “Sanjay Bakshi, you are next.”
This post is the seventh and last entry to the Write Tribe festival of words (24-30 Jun 2018) #write bravely. You can read the first six posts here