Short stories

praveen dev

It was a warm, windless early afternoon. Sudhir stood in front of the stage leaning on a pillar. His eyes were fixed on the sky. Like a big white sheet of paper against the sun, the sky was covered by white clouds. A solitary falcon was circling high above. Whether the clouds were moving or still, he was not sure. Sudhir, a terminal cancer patient was admitted only two weeks ago to the Care Centre. The painkillers which he had taken made his vision blurred. He was in his early forties. A lean figure with average height and small face, with weeks old stubble. He was dressed in a white full sleeve shirt and grey pants. He was a journalist before cancer laid claims on him.

‘LIFE’ is a care center for terminally ill cancer patients situated in the eastern part of Bangalore city. The buildings had walls of grey stones and flat concrete roofs. The open courtyard in the middle was adorned with few trees and plants. The stage was at the front of the rear end building with two pools nearby: a large one at one side and a small one right in front. A couple of stone steps led to the pools which held yellow-green opaque water three feet below. The pools and the surrounding structures seemed to be inspired by Hindu temple architecture. While the centre largely resembled a resort, the odor of disinfectants smelled like a hospital.The dark corridors between the Blocks echoed the groans and cries of patients in agony.

A group of philanthropic artists were visiting the Care Centre. The stage was now fully set for music and dance performances. Support staff and a few patients gathered around the stage. Some patients came in their wheelchair. The first item was a devotional flute recital. Instrumental music slowly drowned the loud chatter in the hall. Cinematic group dance followed. Sudhir was watching the performances with a detached mind. He heard someone whispering behind about a patient who had just passed away. He listened carefully. A nurse was informing her colleague about the death of a patient in D Block. Sudhir felt a shudder. The dead patient was his only friend in the Care Center. Only half an hour back he had been with him. He was expecting this all the time and yet… When he turned around in shock, the nurses had walked past him. He cast a casual glance around, except for him, everyone seem to be absorbed by the performances. Behind him he saw a middle aged man with a large bandage across his right temple, seated on a wheelchair. Right above him there was an ‘Exit’ board with arrow pointing towards his left. He quickly remembered that the ‘Exit’ board was pointing towards the mortuary. Beginning to feel dizzy, he started to sweat all over. Leaning on the pillar beside him he closed his eyes.

The microphone on the stage gave a loud shriek which brought him back to his senses. He turned around and looked at the stage. The cinematic group dance was still going on. Some movement made him look above the flat roof of the stage. Right behind the stage four construction workers were holding a heavy steel frame on the first floor of an under construction building. While they were struggling to move the frame it suddenly fell down, almost injuring the workers. The workers stood in panic for a moment. Sudhir kept staring at them for a while. When he switched back his view to the stage, a solo classical dance was going on.

Sudhir managed to find an empty chair. He slumped in to it and soon fell asleep. And he dreamt. He was standing at the beginning of the dark corridor leading to the mortuary. Close to the mortuary door on the right side lay an empty stretcher. Beyond the stretcher at the end of the corridor beams of white light were pouring in from outside through the cold iron grills. The light slowly became subdued and then he saw bougainvilleas with purple flowers in full bloom. He could hear his heart beat at uneven rhythm. A strong wind blew across and the purple flowers started to fall down. Then he slipped into dreamless sleep.

A few hours later when Sudhir woke up, the stage activities were over. Suddenly as if he had remembered something, he got up and stumbled across his Block towards the Internet Center. There was no one in the center. He sat up at a computer and then he wondered why he had come there at all. He started searching for random videos on YouTube. His eyes fell on the last scene of ‘Gladiator’, his favorite film. He clicked at it. Though the hero had beaten the haughty Roman Emperor in the duel, he was now slipping into death due to bleeding from the wound of the stab by the Emperor while in his cell.

Eyes gradually closing, the hero slowly raises his right arm dripping with blood. In the background is heard a woman’s low-pitched singing of a sorrowful song. The next shot focuses on a closed wooden door in the middle of a mud wall grown pale with the ravages of time. As the hero’s palm reaches to touch the door, the two panes of the door start to open slowly by itself. His hand gives it a gentle push, opening the door fully wide. The inside view presents itself like a surreal black and white painting. A mud path leading to a two-storied old building in Italian style is seen in the distance. On both sides of the path are the flag posts standing in neat rows and moving in the gentle breeze. The bright light illumines the path, the trees and the two-storied house. This sight spreads a gentle smile on the hero’s lips.

Hands shivering almost uncontrollably Sudhir wrote the following comment under the YouTube video: ‘I am a cancer patient waiting for death. I treasure this film, particularly this scene. This gives me hope and courage. I know this is a romantic view of life. But it makes the idea of death bearable. I want to see this video before death closes my eyes forever’.

A viewer who read this comment replied: ‘An unknown friend remembers you a great art lover. You will live forever in my memory. Peace.

After four months another viewer wrote: ‘My friend, don’t give up hope. There are several treatments available for cancer now. Keep fighting courageously. Good luck’.

One person who read the above comment responded: ‘May be he is no more!

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