Ghosts of the past visit me all the time, bringing flowers and pictures in frames. The nurses say they are family. They have tales to tell - about me, about themselves, about our happy times together. My head starts pounding after a while l. But I continue to sit there with a smile, not wanting to disappoint them. They are here because they care for me and I must have cared for them too...in my other life- the life before my accident. I want to tell them that their tales don’t ignite anything in me. I want to tell them that I am in a foggy place where my yesterdays don’t exist and my tomorrows are full of uncertainty. I want to tell them that my mind is like the dull wall of my hospital room at the moment- devoid of photographs, bereft of color. In the end, I just close my eyes and wait for them to leave.
The nurses say I was in a coma on and off after the accident. How long ago was that?
I vaguely remember falling in and out of consciousness, through the fussy details. There was one time when I opened my eyes and saw flashes of light in front of me blurring my vision. Panicked and confused, I tried to rise to my feet, failing miserably there, pulling some tubes along in the process. An alarm went off somewhere, followed by a flurry of footsteps. Firm, but comforting hands brought me back to the bed. Anxious eyes stared down at me. As my vision started to clear, I took a quick sweep of the room and my gaze landed on the silhouette of a man standing far away from the bed, watching me with the same anxiety as the others. A prickly sensation and then I was back to nothingness.
Another time I opened my eyes, there was a man sitting beside me. He looked like he was waiting for me to wake up. Where do I know him from? Oh! He was the man I saw when I woke up last time. His eyes widened seeing that I was awake. Before I could ask him something, he ran off, to get the doctor maybe.
Some days I lay here on the hard bed- stiff cotton sheets underneath me, in a room that smelled of disinfectant- staring at the ceiling trying to figure out my name. It bothered me a lot that I couldn’t remember my name. I am sure the nurses must have told it to me whenever I asked. But it doesn’t stay in my mind. I try to play with the alphabets and come up with different names. Alia, Bessy, Clara… I go deep into my non-existent memory then, for something- a spark of recognition, a hint of familiarity. None. Like a magic eraser, the accident wiped out my mind clean...
The cute girls who came with the young woman the other day called me “Aunt Nai.’’ Nai...is that my name? What does the short form stand for? Naila? Naira? Naima?
Seeing the girls’ shiny, perfect hair, I gingerly touched the rough ends of my short mane. It looks more like a hasty chop rather than a professional cut. The hospital must have done it when I was brought in. What was my hair like before? How did I like it? Ponytails? Braids?
One of the nurses gave me a notepad and a pen with a name on it. Naina! One mystery solved finally! It’s a beautiful name. It kind of rolls off my tongue, like marbles on a smooth granite floor. She said I can write anything on that notepad - my confusions, my worries, the visitors I have, what I remember from their conversations- anything at all. My handwriting is still a bit loopy, but surely improving. The doctors said I don’t have any brain damage and what I am going through is just a trauma phase. They sounded hopeful and for my sake I hope they are right too.
It is February 14 according to the calendar in my room and I had just received three red roses from the boys in the room next to me. I was busy admiring them, and wondering at the same time if I had a real someone in my life who gave me roses for Valentine’s Day; when I heard the soft knock on the door. I sat up straight, adjusting my gown, expecting another one of those visitors who try too hard to make me feel normal. Instead, came in someone unexpected. The stranger from before! Now that my vision isn’t blurred anymore, I am able to do a bold assessment of him. He is quite tall, with a face hard as stone. He wore scrubby jeans and a loose graphic t-shirt. His grey eyes behind the spectacles shone with kindness, maybe the only soft feature about him. I was surprised that I could analyze his features very well in such a short time. Without waiting for an invitation, he pulled a chair and sat beside my bed. His gaze was sharp, probing deep into me, seeking answers.
The way he said my name in his rich, baritone voice was like a whisper… and it melted something in me, spreading warmth all over.
He sat there for some more time, talking about things that didn’t have any connections to me ,which was a pleasant change. I even managed to surprise both of us by asking ‘how are you’. These days I don’t get to ask that question, instead I get asked. He talked about the Magnolia tree in the hospital compound. He talked about the horrible burger he had from the canteen. He talked about the movie he saw last night and then asked me what my favorite movie is. I didn’t have an answer, but his question didn’t make me restless like usual. I was disappointed when he said he was going home. I could have asked him the one question that my mind kept pushing forward. Who is he to me? But I chose not to. I am worried about his answers- the various possibilities it could have. So at least for awhile, let him be just that…’a stranger.’
After he left, I noticed the small box on the table next to my bed. I didn’t remember seeing it in his hands. I opened the box to find two donuts that looked and smelled divine. I took a small bite from one and let the flavor explode in my mouth. I waited for it to trigger the memory of something- a date night, a family picnic, a high school party. Nothing at all, leaving me deep in disappointment. These days I try to link each and every activity of mine with a memory, desperate for a connection. I have been warned that I shouldn’t try too hard as I am still recovering from the trauma. But I can’t help it. I am tired of waking up everyday feeling like a blank slate.
The stranger didn’t come the next day. Or the day after that. It was a week later when I saw him again. I almost asked why he hadn’t come to see me, but stopped myself at the risk of sounding like a jealous lover. He looked tired, with sleep bags under his eyes. He said he had been working the night shift and the sleep wasn’t good at all.
Fast forward to April 3rd. I am getting discharged today. My parents came to take me home. I haven’t fully gotten my memory back, but I do remember the important details about me now. My name is Naina. I am a 19-year-old student. I was brought to the hospital because I tripped down the stairs and hit my head. I have three sisters and four nieces. I used to live in the hostel with my friends, but I am going to live with my parents indefinitely, taking a break from everything- my studies, my social life until I am back to standing on steady feet.
As I was waiting for my parents to bring the car, I saw him- the stranger from my vague world. He was walking towards me, waving his hand. In the past months I thought of him as a fragment of my imagination because he wasn’t anyway connected to my previous life. Now that the fog has mostly cleared off my mind, I know who he is to me.
“Hello Naina.” He greeted me with a wide smile.
Instead of his usual t-shirt and jeans, he was in scrubs today.
“Hello Doctor James.” I said, smiling back at him.