The bed would creak in the middle of the night every time I got up to use the washroom. I am a self-confessed insomniac but I do not conspire to disturb another’s well deserved sleep. I would carefully tiptoe through the darkness on my way back to the bed but that was useless. With apologies in my heart and a deep sigh, I knew the squeak would again wake up many tired eyes. Soon, my ears became immune to the half-dead curses on their lips. And I did not know what this bed was made of after all.
33 days had passed since Ward no. 121 became my new address and strangers around me, a family. At this point, a visibly agitated Mouni interrupted to ask, “But grandma, you are drifting away from the story you’d started last night. Remember, you were telling me about the elderly couple next to you; what happened after the wife got discharged, did she ever come to meet you?”
After an exile of 48 days, 70-year-old Bina bid goodbye to her creaky bed in the hospital and returned to the familiarity of a bedstead fragile as her thin frame, cocooned in one corner of the room against the wall. Doctors were proud of Bina’s stoicism she’d survived a complex operation with.
Mouni loved listening to her grandmother’s real-life tales and declared her to be the most original storyteller ever born. Mouni couldn’t contain her happiness when she learnt her grandma is finally returning home from the hospital. As soon as she heard the car pull into the driveway, she dashed down the stairs to welcome her adorable ‘dida’ she had been missing all these days. But when Mouni saw her grandmother stepping out of the car, she found it rather tough to hold back her tears. Seeing Bina was like looking at a haggard banyan tree abandoned in the desert. “Had she aged fast in the last few days?” thought Mouni as she held Bina’s hand and felt its weight. “A feather weighed more”, she said to herself.
Upon losing her husband to a massive heart attack, Bina gathered herself in a way that she slowly started moving away from her family. This sudden disappearance of a person from a life she had spent fifty two years was not easy to reconcile with. She was too strong to go senile but her strange preoccupation with the inanimate articles once owned by her husband became a cause of concern.
One fateful night she cried out in pain so unbearable that she had to be rushed to the hospital that very hour. After rounds of tests, doctors diagnosed an invariably fatal abdominal tumour.
“Yes, yes I am coming to that couple. You’re such an impatient listener Mou,” Bina playfully chided her granddaughter. Mouni could not imagine her ‘dida’ back into the role of a storyteller. It was such a miracle.
From the young bride of eighteen with a curious condition of swollen stomach, the sixty-year-old woman who would stealthily sneak a handful of grapes from Bina’s fruit basket, the patient who bathed at 3 in the morning to the 90-year-old woman who just could not go to sleep without applying the vintage ‘Charmis’ cream on her hands; Bina saw many stories unfold sitting on her incorrigible bed.
But there was one couple that had left an indelible print on Bina’s consciousness. And it was the story of this couple that Mouni had been restless to hear about.
“She was 62 and he 70. Adjusting her pillow one day she said, ‘What will I tell my God that I made a governess out of my husband? Why did I have to be cursed with this handicap,’ she complained”.
“Do you know what the husband replied?” asked Bina with a twinkle in her eye, “‘When you meet the Almighty, thank him for making a man out of me in my last years. ‘Man’ proclaims to be a master but he’s unaware that it is the woman who lets him believe that way’. It seemed I had heard these lines before but I could not remember the speaker,” said Bina, her voice choking at this point.
“Both of them would walk down the corridor holding hands, smiling to each other and sharing anecdotes they had not revisited for long. And I would just gaze at them,” she continued.
Mouni was engrossed. It was a story being retold.
“The patience with which he dressed and cleansed her infected leg was endearing. Oh! And how could you overlook the way he peeled fresh fruits for her with wrinkled, trembling hands. At times when I saw him miss the knife’s grip, my heart would skip a beat. And then, it was time to go,” Bina’s voice grew feeble.
“On her last evening in the hospital, he sat beside his wife and crooned a Ghazal:
‘Shaam se aankh mein nami si hai
Aaj phir aapki kami si hai’
A little shaky though, his voice was mixed with romance, pathos and maybe bitterness that had settled in one corner of his heart over the years.
I watched them go. It was not their usual evening stroll. They walked, their shadows marched along and a past walked out on me…again”.
Mouni hugged her grandmother and whispered into her ears, “Dadu did not leave you, he is here and his song is here too.”
The story went till past midnight. She felt thirsty and got up to fetch a glass of water.
The bed creaked…