“I’m sorry, Mr. Manthena. You need to make a decision. Your wife... or your child?”
A somber looking doctor stood outside the operating room.
“My wife,” Ajay immediately replied. “Save my wife at any cost.”
“But Mr. Manthena, your wife has already lost a lot of blood. Also based on her injuries, chances of her being brain dead are quite high. She might never gain conscious again. So, under these circumstances... usually the hospital’s policy is to…”
“I don’t care about the hospital’s policy. SAVE MY WIFE’S LIFE!”
Despite the loud and clear decision, the doctor waited with an uncertain look on his face.
Ajay clenched his fists. “I already told you my decision. Stop wasting your time arguing with me. Save my wife! Even if there is less than one percent chance for her to live, save her!”
The doctor nodded and went back hurriedly into the operating room.
Ajay wasn’t allowed inside. In fact, they told him he shouldn’t even be waiting outside in his state as they felt he needed medical attention himself.
He had already made a ruckus about that a few minutes ago. But when one of the nurses calmly pointed at his shirt, he finally looked down and understood why.
He still couldn’t get his eyes off his shirt.
It was covered in blood. So much blood. Only this time... it was his wife’s blood. Last time, fifteen years ago, it had been his mother’s.
He had found his mother lying on the ground, outside the three-storied building of his school. She had jumped off the tallest building in the village on a Sunday morning.
To this day, he feared heights, and seeing a lot of blood.
His body trembled. It had been shaking since the last hour of hell. Right from the time when Sia had revealed the identity of her abuser and stormed out.
He had been searching for her frantically with a sick feeling churning inside his gut. When he couldn’t find her, he knew something must have happened to her.
He had torn apart the entire party hall, where they had been attending a charity event hosted by a friend. He even commanded the other guests to help find his wife.
A few minutes later, one of the guests did. Sia was found on the stairs.
Everyone had thought that she was already dead, especially the way she lay so still, bleeding a river of blood around her. But he refused to believe that Sia was gone or would ever leave him.
Ajay shuddered recalling those moments.
He began pacing the hospital corridor.
Thoughts flew inside his head.
Was it an accident that she had slipped on the stairs?
It was my bloody fault that I told her the truth so soon. I should have taken her home after she found out about me.
I cannot lose her. I know I won’t lose her like this.
He didn’t know how much time had passed until he was interrupted.
“Jay.” A woman’s gentle voice called from behind.
He swung around to see Jo and Harsha standing right behind him, looking at him with pity and worry on their faces. He responded to them with only a nod. He wasn’t ready to speak to anyone yet.
Some of his friends and well-wishers from the party had stuck along until a while ago. But they left when he had ignored them completely and asked them to leave him alone.
Until he knew for sure that Sia would be safe, he wasn’t interested to listen to anyone’s platitudes, however well intentioned they were.
“I’ll get him clothes to change into. I’ll be right back.” He heard Harsha tell Jo.
After Harsha left, Jo came closer and laid a hand on his arm.
“How is she doing?” she asked softly.
He heard Jo suck in a breath.”What did the doctors say?” she asked.
“That it’s going to be hard to save her.”
There was silence.
“What about the baby?” she asked.
“I told them to save Sia first.”
Jo nodded, not saying anything. She knew him well. She knew that he hated pity or any kind of condolences. Especially when people said stupid things like ‘It’s going to be okay’ when it was obvious that things were not going to be okay.
He had been hearing such platitudes since he was twelve. Right after his mother had killed herself. Because she felt her honor was more important than him.
He still recalled how people had pitied that newly orphaned twelve-year-old boy.
“I know your mother is gone. But don’t worry; someone will take care of you. You will be okay soon.”
“You are not the only one. There are lots of children in the world who have lost their mothers. They are all doing okay. So you’ll be fine too.”
He didn’t care about such platitudes then and neither did he do so now.
Harsha returned with a shopping bag in his hands. “Change into these, Jay. Or the doctors won’t allow you inside later.”
Without putting up an argument, Ajay took the bag handed to him and went inside a men’s restroom to change.
His movements were hurried. He began shedding his bloodied clothes, and then threw them in a trash can. Ripping a paper towel, he wet it and cleaned away as much blood from his body as possible, before wearing the clean clothes.
Once he was done, he washed his hands vigorously with soap to get rid of the dried blood. When he was satisfied, he splashed water on his face to stay alert and awake through the night.
He caught his reflection in the mirror for a brief second while wiping away the excess water from his face,
He looked like shit.
He even felt like shit.
Maybe because he ached like hell.
His head. His heart. He ached everywhere. He ached with emptiness and helplessness of the current situation.
Before he could drown in self-pity, he shook his head and walked out of the bathroom.
Harsha and Jo were waiting outside.
“Did anyone come out of the operating room looking for me?” he asked.
“Not yet,” Harsha replied, handing him a steaming cup. “Have some coffee, Jay. It’s close to midnight. It’ll help you stay awake when the doctor calls you inside.”
Nodding briefly, Ajay took the cup from Harsha’s hands and gulped a few sips, not caring that it burned his tongue or throat. His hands were still shaking.
Harsha nudged him towards the empty chairs, and gently pushed him down into one.
Ajay just sat there quietly, staring blankly into the cup.
“I met you because I hated you. I’ve hated you most of my life. My hate for you was what drove me forward, and made me achieve things that a normal child wouldn’t even think of doing. I hated you so much that it became my very reason for living. My only ambition, even as an adolescent was to find you and destroy you.”
The last conversation he had with Sia repeated inside his head, further intensifying the ache, until he felt like he would burst if he didn’t get the words out.
“The last time I spoke to her, I told her I hated her,” he said in a gravelly voice, as regret crushed him.
Harsha and Jo didn’t respond. They sat on either side of him, placing a comforting hand on each of his arms while listening to him calmly.
“If I could, I would take back those words,” he rasped out. “Even though they were true...”