My grandma’s death somehow became more memorable to me than her life.
I see her spewing out blood in the oxygen mask, every time I think of her. And I wonder how a fragile and decaying body like hers could produce blood so red and glistening, so much of it. That was the last time I saw her.
I don’t remember much of her besides that.
‘My water broke,’ I declared while coming out of my room. Irfan, ensconced on our rose-soft Turkish carpet with his legs folded, turned his face towards me with the look of someone seated on a mat of thorns. His eyes were wide open but there was no response otherwise.
I walked further and placed myself cautiously on the sofa besides him. I tried reaching for the remote in his hand to switch off the TV. Instead, he lay down the remote and offered me his hand. I clenched his fist in pain. If I were to trust my intuition I would have realized at that very moment—I was the only one clutching his hand.
After that fleeting moment he got up startled, like a wounded soldier back on guard. I must have squeezed some of his sensory nerves. He rang the driver to get the car with shaking hands, took several minutes to find my mom’s number on the list and dropped the phone thrice in the process. I was in pain that he very well understood.
He sat next to me in the car, maintaining a distance where our not-then-born could fit in if she were out already. It was the kind of distance we kept on our first date, the silence too felt a lot like that. ‘Don’t get chickened out doctor, keep up with your reputation of a goofy gynecologist.’ I said teasingly trying to cover the awkward sound of our heavy breathing. He turned his head further away. I tried to reach for his hand, shirt, anything at all, but even my slightest embrace gave him goose bumps.
The hospital welcomed me to my mum, his dad and a wheelchair at the entrance that took me straight to our private room, booked weeks in advance. Irfan had been working in the same place for more than three years by then. Even the staff was eagerly waiting for the first born of their liveliest doctor, who did more than fifty deliveries a week. Never before had they witnessed him hesitant to enter the delivery room.
He occupied one corner, nearest to the door, as my mother rubbed my lower waist to comfort the cramps. His eyes were low and I knew him too well to realize that he was scared, guilty and terrified, for something I always thought he would be immensely happy about.
‘You okay?’ I didn’t adorn it with any babys or huns.
He raised his head startled, ‘Who, me, of course,’ and carelessly pulled off a fake laugh adding, ‘I am not the one on the white bed’. His disgusting jokes and bad timing were much synchronized even then.
‘It will be okay.’ I said with a full-stop after my sentence. ‘Sure,’ he replied with a question mark or an exclamation, I could not discern, but both seemed inappropriate. He left my side several times. The sound of his heavy footsteps in the hallway outside kept tip-toeing in my head, as I waited for my cervix to dilate. His footsteps, that was all I had of him, I thought.
I (over) heard him talking to the doctor in charge. He also had a session with the nurses that went longer than usual, my doctor told me later. Right before the world was ready for my baby girl, he entered in a rush straight to me. Not caring that my mum sat right there, he hugged me pressing his head close to my neck and whispered, ‘Everything you have gone through lately and everything you’ll bear now is my fault, and I promise I’ll spend the rest of my life making up for this. Be my strong woman.’ I couldn’t hear his heartbeat but I could calculate its pace in my head, and that was more frightening than the physical pain I was hanging in. ‘Your making up could lead to other such mistakes,’ I almost yelled as an effect of the contractions, not caring about the flock of people surrounding me. I heard him slipping away soon after.
The first cry of my baby girl made me forget all the pain, his and mine. And I dozed away in my jubilation.
I woke up, only half, to his arm wrapped around my tummy. His head buried in the left of my waist, stuck to me like a wet autumn leaf. And his loud sobs. Even after the nurse entered with little Hayat, he didn’t offer to turn. He lay as lifeless as me.
I don’t know if it was the remnant of anaesthesia, the complete calm after the horrendous pain or his shivering body—I can recall the sound of his crying better than my own born. And I swear, it has been three years and I still get up agitated in the middle of the night, feeling him shaking in my nerves all over again.
On those nights, I don’t feel anger towards my grandpa anymore, I feel pity.
My grandpa offered medical treatment to everyone, but not my grand ma, never—as far as I can delve in my little pocket of memories and dig in the large mound of stories I have heard about them. Like my relationships are pillared at the courtesy of my pen. Writing emails, sometimes even love letters for friends. Editing and proofreading documents after documents for family, acquaintances and near-acquaintances. (Yes, I’m a writer.) Quite similarly, he was obliged to diagnose and provide medication for everyone, with all he knew. Even when he had to recommend some to other doctors, they insisted it should only be under his watch. (Yes, he is a doctor.)
As an eight year old, I used to see people visiting him for their health concerns than to confirm his well-being. And everyone, mind each one of them got better eventually; except her.
My grandma had severe arthritis, in a time when arthritis was fatal, married to various complications and drug related side-effects. It sucked out all her life, slowly and then all at once, straight out of the oxygen mask.
I always thought because my grandpa didn’t treat his wife, didn’t even try, my grandma lost her life–to his denial. A part of me was always angry with him; until that moment.
- SHRUTI SHUKLA