Hello… Ms Nayair…

It was Suma’s first time. She left her handbag with Rishi and gave him a long sad look before she entered the heavy door behind the nurse who opened the door for her. She knew the instant she turned, Rishi would have got back to his phone. It was not the time to think of Rishi’s phone addiction. She had to focus. She entered the hallway behind the door which had opened and closed with people walking in and out over the last twenty minutes while waiting for her turn. The nurse led her into a hallway flanked by changing rooms on either side. On one side of the wall was a locker-type cupboard. The nurse entered one of the changing rooms and instructed Suma to take off her clothes and jewelry and wear the gown with the opening in the front. ‘Undergarments also?’, asked Suma in a voice filled with doubt, shyness and fear. ‘Take your bra off and leave your panties on’, said the nurse matter-of-factly. Suma was shocked to hear the openness in the nurse’s tone. In America, all this is not taboo, if it was India, these words would have been uttered in hushed tones and whispers, she thought. Back in India, Ramu’s clinic around the corner of her street had all the medicines her family ever needed. Dr. Ramu knew everything about every part of the human body and could cure anything. This was her first time at a hospital, that too in Houston. She was there with her husband of six months. Suma had never travelled beyond her small town in Kerala. Taking a big airplane and moving to America had been a herculean task for small-town girl, Suma.

‘Once you are done, use any of the lockers outside to keep your valuables and walk down the hallway to the waiting area. A nurse should be with you shortly’, said the nurse and left the changing room. Suma closed the door and locked it. These doors didn’t have latches like in India, turning that small hinge on the handle did the job. She tried opening it after turning the small hinge, to make sure that she had locked the door. She set out to accomplish the task handed down to her by the nurse. When she got her bra off, she looked at her image in the mirror, at the sore nipple on her left breast that had turned red. It hurt to touch it. Wrestling through the night with Rishi’s maneuvers had become a painful ordeal, night after night, until she could bear it no more.

She tied the strings of the gown on her right side securely and double knotted it, just in case it came off as she walked into the hallway. She looked at herself in the mirror to make sure that everything was covered, she turned left and turned right, looked at herself up and down. She didn’t like the way her nipples showed through the gown. She folded her hands across her chest in an attempt to hide it. After wrestling through this for a few minutes, she gave up and got to the next task of putting away her jewelry in her purse, folding the clothes and put her shoes back on. She folded her bra and hid it between her jeans. That was not an object for public attention, so she was taught by her mother. She looked around to make sure that she had not left anything behind and opened the door. She walked towards the lockers and found one at the bottom with a key. It had a wrist coil roped in with the ring. She opened the locker, placed her stuff in there and locked it as instructed by the nurse. Suma wore the wrist coil around her wrist and walked down towards the end of the hallway. As she got to the end, she turned left and found a waiting area with a TV, chairs and magazines. There were three other women in similar white gowns with tiny prints sitting there flipping a magazine. Seeing them there Suma felt she was not alone in this. There were others. Her shyness vanished and she no longer tried to hide her nipples showing through her gown. She picked up a magazine and flipped through the pages, like her partners in the waiting area.

A nurse walked in and out and it was a good fifteen minutes before a different nurse came out and called out, ‘Suma’ which sounded more like ‘Syumah’ as in Tuna. Suma put her magazine down and got up. The nurse gave her a pleasant smile and said ‘Hello, follow me this way’. Suma obeyed and walked behind the nurse. They walked down another hallway and entered another room. This room had a white tall machine on one side, a chair and monitor on the other side. There were a couple of empty chairs against the wall where the door was. This nurse was probably in her fifties and reminded Suma of her mother. The nurse asked her to untie her gown and asked which nipple was sore. ‘Left’, said Suma. The nurse came to her side and asked her to place her left breast on the transparent plate attached to the white machine. Suma did as told. The nurse came around and while saying ‘my hands will be cold’, positioned the breast in a certain way. Another plate parallel to the one on which her breast was resting was brought down with the press of a button and clamped her breast. As it went lower, the pressure mounted and Suma bit her lip to restrict her loud cry. ‘It’s painful, huh? Just a few seconds’, said the nurse and went over to the monitor. She pressed some buttons there and came back to release the plates. Suma breathed a sigh of relief. This process went on a few more times in different positions. It was not until another thirty minutes after, that the nurse finally said, ‘tie your gown and wait outside’. Suma fled from the room, never wanting to come back or do this again. Her breast hurt, she massaged it over the gown and felt no shame. She was surprised that within that hour, she had gone from a shy nipple-hiding woman to a rub-my-breast in front of other women. It hurt, really bad. She sat down with a thump. The  elderly lady next to her in a similar white gown with prints looked at Suma and smiled, meaning to say, ‘yeah, it’s painful’. She leaned towards Suma and said, ‘putting a cold compress helps’. Suma smiled back and said a meek, ‘thanks’. 

The elderly nurse came out and told Suma that she was good to go. Suma asked, ‘What about the result? Is everything okay?’. ‘You will get a call’, was all she got. Suma retraced her steps to the locker, then to changing room, and out the heavy door. She found Rishi drowned in his cellphone. She walked upto him and he looked up. ‘All done?’, he asked. ‘Yes’, she said. ‘What happened? What did they say?’, inquired Rishi. ‘They said they will call’. They walked out of the hospital, Suma thinking about the result, Rishi about the email he had to stop half way, when Suma came out.

It was another three days that Suma passed in anticipation of the call from the nurse. Finally on the third day, the call came.

“Is this Suma Nair?”, asked the nurse on the other end. Syoomah Nayair, Suma was used to her name being pronounced this way.

“Yes, this is her. Who is this?”, she asked.

“This is from St David’s Hospital. I am calling with regards to your Mammogram report.”, said the nurse.

“Okay, please tell me.”, Suma said, her fingers and toes crossed. The pain had been awful, she had noticed a discharge from her left nipple that morning, which she had fretted about. She told Rishi over breakfast, who brushed it like she was telling him about the neighbour’s cat, ‘we have done the test, lets see what comes out of it’.

“We had the radiologist look at the results of your Mammogram. We believe there is a mass in your left breast, behind the nipple. At this point, we would like you to meet an Oncologist. If you have a pen and paper handy, I can give you the name and number of the Oncologist we refer our patients to”, said the nurse in one breath.

Suma didn’t quite understand what the nurse was telling her.

“Who is an Onnn-koo-lo-….?”, she asked.

The nurse cut her off and said, “Ms Nayair, an Oncologist is a doctor who treats cancer. We are not saying you have cancer, we see something which needs to be further investigated by an Oncologist. Do you have a pen and paper handy Ms Nayair?”.

Silence.

“Ms Nayair… “.

Silence.

“Hello… Hello… Ms. Nayair.. are you there? Ms Nayair…”.

Silence.

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A beginning..

It started with a message on Facebook. He had said ‘Hey’. She didn’t see the message until a couple of hours later. She responded with a ‘hey, whats up?’. With the time difference between the two countries, it was unlikely that he would see her message until the next day. She knew it, yet she checked her messages a couple of times during the day. Why would he message me, she thought. She had been introduced to him a few years ago while she was at Amazon India. There were no notable conversations after that. He smiled at her in hallways and she smiled back while she was there. He was very handsome. She remembered thinking what it would be like to spend an evening with him. Why would he message her after all these years? She checked his Facebook profile and like old wine, age had done wonders to him.

She checked her messages again and saw that he was active 15 minutes ago. But he hadn’t read her message. Why wouldn’t he? Maybe he didn’t open her chat? How did this Facebook Messenger work anyways? It is during these ‘urgent’ moments that you just cannot figure out how simple things work. These dumb apps, they probably change the rules with every update, she mumbled to herself. Why was she perturbed? Why did a message from him rev up her hopes? What hopes? It was just a message. Maybe all he wanted to say was ‘hello’.

She was in a frame of mind where she was open to a relationship. She was seeking one, a fling maybe? Not a fling, what she wanted was somebody to tell her that she was a good person. Someone to appreciate her. Someone to love her, even if it were for a short period of time. It was nothing more for her. She was in and out of relationships, they came and went at no particular interval. This is how she liked to live life, on her own terms, in her own space. She never dated anyone from work, it was almost always a friend’s friend. While it was fun, it lasted. Once the relationship.. acquaintance maybe a better word, got serious, she backed off. She did not want someone to tie her down, she wanted to fly, fly to distant lands, freeze the memories in her camera, and write.

Her tryst with marriage and commitment and relationship had died when she divorced her ex-husband a year after her marriage. It was an arranged marriage. Her ex-husband imagined her to be an obedient, dependent person whom he could keep a leash on. He had no idea what her spirit was like. She didn’t have a choice, her independent self was trapped inside during her growing years. She just dreamt of prince charming and thought she lived in a rosy world with happily ever afters. She grew up during the year of marriage, and slapped herself awake. Once awake, she ran as far as she could from him, from her parents and from everyone she knew, till she landed in the land of freedom.

That is where Anu flapped her wings and soared.

It was not until another two days that Jay sent another message.

 

 

At the coffeehouse…

“You really don’t share anything with me, do you?”, I asked.

After many years Akash and I went the coffeehouse we frequented before we got married. The cashier chuckled and winked as we walked hand in hand, eons ago. The place had changed significantly and so had the people…

Akash put down the cup on the table and stretched back in his chair. He folded his hands behind his head and looked out through the window. I sat looking at his face and thinking, this is the man I chose to marry twenty years ago. He looks the same, then what changed between us?

He leaned forward and took my hands in his. He fiddled with my bangles for a bit and looked into my eyes.

“Nandu, I am moving out. There is someone else…”, I sat in silence, my eyes were welling up, why do they do that? Why can’t they wait for the right moment, maybe when I am alone? I looked up, in an attempt to send the tears back to where they came from.

I withdrew my hand. Gathered my purse from the table, my phone and the keys. Why don’t I put everything in a bag instead of carrying fragments, why ain’t I whole? My sunglasses, where were they? Oh they were on my head, holding my hair in place. As I stood up, my saree got stuck under the chair. I chose to wear a saree he got me for my birthday, a beautiful pastel green and now it was stuck. Can I make a clean exit?

I finally walked out… of the coffeehouse…

It Goes On – In print

Hello readers,

 

My first book, ‘It Goes On’, a collection of short stories is in print again.

 

http://amzn.com/1533004226

 

Enjoy reading and post your review here or on the Amazon page.

 

Thank you 🙂