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Romance

It was the beginning of year 2020 that I landed my dream job in one of the premier institutions in Mumbai. I loved my career and this was what I had set-upon to achieve twelve years ago. Brought up in a small town in God's own country – Kerala, I was yet to adjust to the hustle-bustle of the busiest Metro in India.


I looked forward to each new day at work. Those soft, spongy, twin-bums in all shapes and sizes lured me to work each morning. Knowing me to be an emotional guy, many well-wishers had advised me that I wouldn’t be successful in my profession if I failed to keep my emotions under check. Even though I achieved success, I still failed to keep emotions out of the ambit of my work.


Each time I wiped those bums disinfecting them with the cool and comforting touch of an alcohol swab, only to prick them a moment later with an injection that was followed by the ear-piercing bawl of an infant, my heart went crashing to the floor. But it was glued to its place moments later being greeted by the innocent and toothless smile of the next infant.


I was a successful pediatrician and my work was demanding and tiring. I largely dealt with mass inoculation drives for babies from poor families, but besides that, I also treated sick babies. Treating babies wasn’t as easy as treating adults. Unlike adults who could talk and express their issues precisely, everything that troubled infants were to be understood only through symptoms, examinations and tests; for the only way they could communicate was through their loud bawls.


I was a devout Christian and trusted the Almighty to guide me in my calculated judgments while attempting to heal his cherished gifts to this world.


Life was progressing smoothly till late March when tragedy struck. Though China was on the path to recovery from the disaster it had started, the rest of the world was still reeling under its death-grip with mortality rates hitting unimaginable and staggering proportions.


A pandemic that had begun like an earthquake with its epicenter in China, had spread with its shock-waves hitting the rest of the world. India had witnessed its first few Corona cases with the deadly virus targeting mankind with its vicious venom. Little was known about this deadly microscopic being and treatments were experimental with no vaccines in sight in the near future.


Though the country had gone into the lock-down phase early, the numbers soon increased to alarming levels. I was assigned like every other doctor to one such earmarked hospital for treating Covid patients.


I braced myself for my first day at work at the new place. I had barely entered and marked my presence that I ran into her.


'Is that really her?’


The cloud of doubts that hung over my head were blown away as soon as I read the name tag pinned to her dress.


'Omana Thankachan. Unmistakably, it’s her. Is this what people call destiny? Or fate? Or is it just that when a soul with all the right intentions is in love, the universe conspires to fulfil it?’


Nevertheless, I was delighted to meet her. We exchanged pleasantries once again after six years as she helped me with my protective PPE kit.


*************


I was in the eighth grade when Omana had joined the same school I attended. Unlike me, belonging to a fairly well-to-do family, she belonged to a family that barely managed to make ends meet. Even though we originated from the most progressive state of India, the roots of divide still ran deep. I was a Christian while Omana was a Hindu. Yet, I was drawn towards her in mysterious ways. I shooed away my thoughts, assuming them to be puppy-love and hormones playing havoc with my adolescent emotions.


*************


I was scheduled to begin a long and arduous eight-hour shift with no bathroom, tea, coffee, snacks or meal breaks. I gulped a mouthful of water before Omana helped me with the gloves and the protective plastic shield that covered my face.


I entered the quarantined ICU. I felt nauseous overcome with emotions. I walked to the first bed and studied the case history. Heart patient with diabetes and high cholesterol. Chances of him recovering seemed bleak, yet I said a silent prayer as I noted his vital statistics and wrote a prescription.


I was relieved when I saw Omana enter a few minutes later. The jitters I had experienced few moments earlier, faded away with her presence. Though she was shrouded in the PPE kit, I could still see her well-defined and distinctive doe-shaped eyes bordered by extra-long lashes that gently curled.


'What a beauty!’ I sighed.


***********


By the time I was in tenth grade, my feelings for Omana had intensified. However, I was too shy to even strike friendship with her. But I never failed to bask in the presence of her beauty. The girl that she was two years ago was slowly transforming into a mature woman. She was more rounded with her hair having grown longer hanging a few inches below her waist, and I could feel her presence from the earthy smells of coconut oil emanating from her springy curls and turmeric from her dark, caramel skin.


They touched places in my being that I never knew existed until then. They evoked strange and new emotions in me.


I watched her long and loosely tied twin-braids swing side-to-side matching her gait, and at times when they were left loose, I counted the droplets of water dripping from her still wet, stray curls.


I wished I was the lone water droplet that clung to the tip of her springy tress, defying the pull of gravity and refusing to let go of its grip over her tress.


I was drawn deeper into the love-web that I had woven for myself.


*********


The sunlight streaming through the hospital window caught Omana's face as she adjusted the oxygen mask of a patient.

I could see her flawless caramel skin surrounding her eyes, the little that the PPE kit had left visible. She seemed to be wearing a veil of gold, which was the effect of the thin layer of turmeric paste that had failed to wash-off from her morning bath glowing in the sunlight.


‘Omana! Do you know how much my fingers long to caress your caramel skin? Will my fingers ever be blessed to apply turmeric paste on your wet glistening skin?’


My right hand involuntary thumped my left chest in an attempt to subdue my accelerating heartbeat.


*************


I was elated to learn through my friends in the twelfth grade that Omana too aimed to pursue Medicine. What bothered her though was the cost of the course. She was hardworking and intelligent; one of the top students of the school. But even if she managed to get into a Government-aided medical college that would take care of the cost of the course, it would still be impossible for her family to meet the ancillary expenses associated with the course.


I still prayed that Omana would join the same medical college as me, so that we could be together.


Even though my prayers were not fulfilled in entirety, I was still happy. Due to financial constraints, Omana couldn’t pursue Medicine, but she joined the Nursing course in the same medical college where I pursued medicine.


*************


Time seemed to fly with Omana in the ward and the eight-hour shift came to an end. And yet, it seemed like the shift had begun just minutes ago. I wished the shifts were longer.


We got rid of our PPE kits letting out huge sighs of relief, welcoming the feel of fresh air on our skin as we walked into the fumigation chamber to get disinfected. As I stood close to her in the tiny chamber, the earthy smell of coconut oil from her hair and the turmeric from her skin filled my senses, which the powerful and bleached odor of the disinfectant failed to camouflage.


I felt as if I was in heaven amidst the clouds romancing the love of my life.


************


During the three years of our college life, I ran into Omana quite often. These were in fact deliberately planned and orchestrated events to make sure I was present in the canteen and library whenever she visited these places.


I had shed my shy nature and struck friendship with Omana and indulged in casual banter as we shared food over conversations about human anatomy.


Those three years were the best years of my life. Alas! Three years ended too soon and Omana left the college after her graduation, while I took another two years to graduate and a further two years to complete my master’s. I tried to catch up with her whenever I was home during vacations. But it was difficult to meet her as she was busy, most times working double shifts trying her best to give her parents a better and comfortable life.


************


It was my second day at the new Covid-care hospital and while most rued the tough working conditions as well as the risk of contracting the disease, I, on the other hand looked forward to work, the only reason being 'Omana.'


She greeted me with her dimpled smile.


'How deep are your dimples Omana? Will you let me play with them? Will you allow me to push a pea in those mesmerizing pits? Will you hold your smile long enough for me to fall into a deep trance?’


She applied lip-gloss to protect her lips from dryness and chapping. Going long hours without water as well as perspiring in those PPE suits, not to mention the cruel and sweltering summer months of Mumbai when humidity hit the roof adding to our woes; it was pure luck that we survived dehydration.


I looked at her luscious lips. Her upper lip was slightly thicker than her lower lip giving them a natural pouted look. They were mild-rosy in color.


Her glistening skin with a tinge of golden-yellow and pouted lips reminded me of the Pearl-spot fish. It was her favorite and she preferred them well-marinated, wrapped in banana leaf and fried in coconut oil.


She gathered her long and thick unruly tresses and tamed them into a bun, securing them with u-pins.


She helped me into my PPE kit as I breathed in her earthy scent once more. We spent our shift working and tending to sick patients while stealing glances once in a while.


I purchased Pearl-spot fish on my way home with a plan in mind. I had sourced the fresh water fish that was hard to find in Mumbai through sheer determination.


*************


I remembered the occasion when I was home during vacation that I had met her. Being the only daughter to her parents, she was their only hope. Omana too was a dedicated daughter who cared for her parents. Her parents were kind and soft by nature. Unable to leave without seeing Omana, I had gone to her home with hopes of catching a glimpse of her. It was truly an unforgettable moment when she was not only home, but had also insisted that I stay back for dinner. She purchased Pearl-spot fish and prepared the spices in which she marinated them while talking continuously about her work as a nurse and how much she enjoyed it. She allowed me to wrap the fishes in banana leaf and fry them. Her hands accidentally and involuntarily brushed against mine sending ecstasy rushing through me multiple times.


That was the closest I had been to Omana.


*************


I poured the coconut oil into the shallow wok to fry the Pearl-spot fish I had purchased and marinated last night. I had got them out of the refrigerator sometime back so that they would be perfectly thawed and ready to be fried.


‘She can’t resist fried Pearl-spot fish’


I breathed in the intoxicating fumes that wafted from the sizzling fish in the wok. I imagined my evening with Omana enjoying a meal of fried fish.


I carefully packed the fish and left for work all enthusiastic to spend the day with Omana.


Omana was not her usual self that day. She seemed troubled. Her eyes did not carry their usual charm and she looked dull and lethargic. Her smile was missing and so was her bubbly demeanor. She went about her work mechanically, sniffling often. Used to being on her feet for long hours, I was troubled to see her sit every now and then trying to catch her breath.


‘Has she contracted the virus?’


My doubts were confirmed when by the end of the shift and to my horror, Omana collapsed.


She was immediately put on IV medication and oxygen support.


My castle of dreams had collapsed and I handed over the tiffin-box to the night watchman who was delighted by the aroma of fried fish.


I trudged, dragging my heavy heart and feet back home.


Mumbai witnessed the first rain of the season and my heart seemed to be drowning in floods of despair.


I couldn’t sleep. I cried that night unable to hide my emotions any longer.


*************


For six years I held on to my love for Omana. After the night I had dinner at her home, we had not met until three days ago. Not a day went by without thoughts of Omana. I learned that she had been traveling from city-to-city seeking better employment opportunities. I too had been traveling to different cities switching work and the little time I eked out to visit my parents did not leave me with any spare time to find out about Omana’s whereabouts. I would be immersed neck deep in work and Omana would surface every now and then to engulf my being in sweet ecstasy. I decided that I would seek her when the time was right and despite our religious differences would propose, confident that she would accept if her parents accepted me. Her parents weren’t conservative and I was sure it would not be difficult to get their consent if I could convince them of my true love for their daughter.


*************


I reluctantly walked into the quarantined ICU ward and with my heart beating in despair, stood by Omana’s bed. She wasn’t conscious and was hooked to the ventilator. My hands shook as I went through her test reports. They did not look promising. Though Omana was young and healthy, she had contracted a more virulent strain of the virus that was known to attack the lungs in a fast-paced manner. I made sure she was given all the possible medicines that were known to have some effect on the virus. Recovery was bleak, yet holding her hand, I said a prayer for myself. With tears brimming my eyes I selfishly prayed for the successful recovery of Omana.


Towards the end of my shift, Omana had been resuscitated twice. I was losing hope. I thought that Omana may not make it through the night.


Even though she could not open her eyes or look at me, I felt the strong urge to propose.


‘Now or never. I am already late. Better late than never.’


It is said that when all doors are closed, there’s a window left open somewhere. This was my only window of opportunity, which too I felt would close soon.


I slipped the rosary I used for my prayers under her palms riddled with multiple IVs.


“Omana, I’m sure you are hearing me in your subconscious state. I have been in love with you since I was in eighth grade. I was waiting for an appropriate time to confess, but now I realize there is no appropriate time for love-confessions. I should have told you long back. I am sorry for that. Will you be my wife?”


I sat there for few moments holding her hand and wept. I left as I sensed Omana slipping into an abyss of never-ending darkness.


*************


Not a day has gone by without Omana. Thirty-two years have passed by since the day I confessed my love to Omana, the day I proposed.


I was jolted to reality by the loud sound of the buzzer.


“Come in”


I measure the right amount of ‘Saviour-19’ – the vaccine for Covid - 19 into the injection vial. The infant smiles at me. I wipe his bum with the alcohol swab and pierce it moments later. He bawls. I immediately pick him up in an attempt to pacify him.


“Dad! Stop crying. Babies cry when they are administered injections. What kind of doctor are you to cry along with the babies? Leave that work to us ladies. You’re such an emotional fool and yet you could not understand the feelings of the woman you loved?” – my daughter mocks me.


I stifle a tear.


“I can understand babies, but not women. And why are you bringing up my love-story today?”


“Saviour-19 reminded me of your love-story. If it was not for your love-confession and proposal on that day, Miss. Omana Thankachan would be six-feet under and would not have fought her way to survival to be Mrs. Oomen Joseph today. No wonder mom calls you her Saviour-19” – my daughter walks out carrying my grandson as Omana, my wife of almost thirty-two years smiles her dimpled smile making me go weak in my knees once again.




August 04, 2020 18:14

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4 comments

Nandan Prasad
13:00 Aug 12, 2020

Well-written story! I loved the emotions in this one. Really done well. Keep writing!

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18:23 Aug 12, 2020

Thank you for reading and the feedback as well :)

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Deborah Angevin
23:53 Aug 06, 2020

Well-written one, Parvathy. The description at the opening paragraph sets me right into the period of the story. Loved it! Would you mind reading my recent story out, "(Pink)y Promise"? Thank you :D

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01:50 Aug 07, 2020

Thank you Deborah. Sure, I shall read your story.

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