Chennai, July 2020
Our eyes met. His shifted away. I forced him to look at me, and my persistence won. He did. They were blank. No answer to the dreaded question: am I about to depart?
I smiled. He didn’t. It aggravated me.
I looked around the place. The corridors were crowded with young doctors and nurses out of medical school, risking their lives to save us. Two young nurses were competing for my husband’s attention. I couldn’t help feeling jealous. I wanted to scream at the nurses: I’m not gone as yet. Leave my husband alone.
Frozen chocolate eyes kindled in humour as he caught my glance. He got the message: Don’t look at the pretty nurses. Focus on me.
‘I now pronounce you man and wife,’ the pastor said five years ago. My husband had taken me in his arms after we’d said our vows and his mouth touched mine and stayed. It was fastened so long that seconds turned into minutes until we heard a distracted cough, alerting us to the fact that we were in a packed church. We held hands and hurried down the aisle, happy to have put an end to the long courtship.
Who knew that I’d be attacked by a lethal virus after an innocent gathering and be taken to the hospital for an examination? That my condition would deteriorate and I’d be under observation in a glass room like a museum display?
I stared out of the sealed window from my hospital bed. The harsh rays had scorched the grass. The tropical climate of India left little to be desired, particularly in summer. I thought, ‘My poor husband, born and brought up in the north of Paris, he struggled to cope with Indian summer.’ And here he was, at my side—not really, as there was a glass partition between us—the only sign of anxiety on the lean, handsome face was the lines between his brows. He didn’t expect such disastrous news, nor did I. At my age, it was impossible to attract disease, and mine hadn’t found a cure. It only happened in the movies, not with couples who were getting along well.
‘How long?’ I whispered, looking at the middle-aged doctor who’d come into the ward, wrapped in protective gear. The sagging eyelids rose reluctantly from the chart he was examining. He checked the surrounding area. My husband had settled his long and sleek form on one of the chairs in the corridors, and nurse Preity seemed to have forgotten the warning glances I’d shot her earlier for she was now (no doubt, on the pretext of my illness) unnecessarily chatting him up. Ryan’s serious expression lightened when he found my eyes on them once again.
Ryan Hyder had befriended me one morning as I was hurrying to work. He caught me standing on a busy street begging the auto-rickshaw driver to be reasonable when he’d quoted an excessive amount. Ryan, who later confessed that he’d never got down his chauffeured car before, took the first step. I was in a highly volatile mood. ‘Go, jump!’ I’d told him when he’d suggested that he’d drop me off. When that didn’t work, and the stubborn man continued to wait, I became paranoid. What if he was going to abduct me in broad daylight?
‘My car is over there,’ he said in a strong Alsacian voice. ‘I have better things to do than befriend ungrateful girls.’
My attention shifted from the disrespectful auto rickshaw driver to the insulting man, who was still waiting to accompany me to his long plush BMW as if I’d agree to anything as silly as that.
‘Then don’t!’ I said in insulting tones. ‘And don’t linger,’ I said further, annoyed that he was waiting patiently. The eyes narrowed as if he wanted to frighten me with a cold stare now. Then he squared his shoulders and got into his car.
The doctor drew me back to the present. He didn’t need to spell out my end. It was written on his face. He gave my hand a tight squeeze telling me what I didn’t want to hear. It was time to get my will in order. Not that I had much to leave. Maybe a little jewelry, some fixed deposits, my house, but most of all, I was going to leave my husband, the one who’d invited me into his world and kept me safe in his arms—the one who showed me what true love was.
I made a sign. The dark, worried glance riveted on mine. He seemed to realize in that instant that something was wrong. I was brave until then. I never cried. I didn’t mourn my fate. I accepted it. I allowed myself to think of what I had compared with those who didn’t have. I tried to count my blessings, although there wasn’t much to count at that moment.
‘What did he say?’ He called through the glass partition. ‘Why are you crying?’
‘Did you tell him not to reveal the true state of my illness?’ I had to ask him that. There had to be an explanation for having been kept in the dark. I felt cheated. Had I known that my days were coming to an end, I’d have probably lived each day as if it were my last. I would have made peace with my enemies, with God.
‘I told him not to whisk away your hope with his scientific findings. Patients have been cured. There was no reason to add to your already frightened mind. Your belief in God would triumph.’
‘It’s over Ryan’, I lifted a slim hand and touched my lips with my fingers and sent him a kiss. I looked at his handsome face for the last time. The shock I’d received drew the strength out of me. Now I understood why Ryan didn’t want the doctors to reveal the real state of my health. He knew me too well. I had lukewarm faith. He couldn’t take that chance with me.
‘Do you like her?’ I asked, gesturing to nurse Preity hovering in the background. I managed to make him smile just before life seeped out of me.
Cécile Rischmann is a writer and a foreign linguist with two novels and five short stories to her credit. One of her short stories has won a nationwide romance writing competition as a part of which it was not only selected and edited by best-selling author, Anuja Chauhan but also released by Rupa Publications in an anthology, An Atlas of Love (2014).
She lives in Chennai and shuttles between France and India. She is presently working on her next novel, scheduled for a 2021 release, and a collection of short stories. She also freelances for a vanity press. Here’s a link to her work: https://www.amazon.com/author/cecilerischmann