I wouldn’t call it hate; I simply envied the little girl waiting outside the Operation Theatre.
Extracting the tumour was laborious. My arms were lodged into position so firmly that I reckoned moving them would inevitably cause them to fall to the floor, dragging my body weight with it. So, maintaining my arms in the same awkward position, I compelled my feet to carry myself to the sink, washed off the smell of rubber gloves from my hands with hospital-scented water, and closed my eyes for a much-needed rest.
The cool liquid served as a lubricant to allow my fingers a narrow range of motion. They shook, and I wheezed.
The clean-shaven intern stared at me quizzically, with a blithe disregard for proper etiquette. And why wouldn’t he? The surgery was successful, so much so that any surgeon would be chest-bloatedly, beamingly, fake-modestly proud of the accomplishment. Instead, to postpone conversing with the patient’s family, the little girl, I picked at the thin cotton of my mask and risked wetting the surgical cap in my hand. I inhaled vigorously.
“You”, I turned to the intern. “Inform the family.”
My repertoire of unfriendly snarks and remarks was well-known. He nodded and scuttled towards the doors without hesitation.
I wasn’t always like this. I remember my first day at the hospital:
I bounced down the sorrowful hospital halls, greeted everyone- underpaid nurses, dying patients, penniless parents- with an ignorant cheer.
A constellation of colours adorned the inside of my locker in which I kept my Medical books on dissections of the human body.
My white coat was white, untainted still by drops of foreign blood and dried ketchup.
Every day, during lunch hour, I’d sit with fellow interns to glare at the unsuspecting, grumpy Dr. Scott. I hated him. I hated his, “What are you crying over? It’s just a patient. Just one life. Get over it.”
And now, I’ve taken his place, followed his footsteps, and have been waiting for an untimely death of my own.
Today was not an anniversary of any sort, and yet a reminder sat just meters away from me: the little girl had cried for her mother; she had begged me to save her mother. It took only one look; only one look of uncontrolled ebullition had her cowering behind the nurses.
Nonetheless, I had vowed to donate- no, sacrifice- my life, my time, my opinions, my emotions for the good of society and its people. Today, I had offered my profession any remaining sympathy for my mental health, pushed aside emotions that risked the surgery’s success, and saved the mother.
With caution and a still chest, I tiptoed from behind the group of nurses crowding and blocking the little girl’s view and turned to a different hallway.
The uneasiness in my chest, once bubbling up my throat, ebbed as I faltered towards my office and away from the girl. I stumbled into the cold room- no attempts to keep the room warm had been successful- and collapsed near the empty bin. I retched. Unbid tears rolled down to allow me a taste of how salty, how unsavoury my life had turned out. I retched again. The unforgiving coldness of the marble floor had me shivering for mercy- the room I grew up in had marble floors; the house I spent my youth in had marble floors; the house my mother raised me in had marble floors.
Today, years since I visited my home, the memories were more scattered than ever. I couldn’t recall the books I had read in that house, but I could effortlessly list those I suggested to my mother. My favourite frocks didn’t manifest themselves in my mind, but I will never forget her long skirt and buttoned-up shirts. I could try- neither do I want to, nor have I ever- to remember the distractions that kept me from spending my weekends with her, but all I know is her toothy smile, the one reserved only for me.
I left that house, and her, over a decade ago. I despised the confining walls, the conservative father, and their prison bars. She saved me from its patriarchy. Instead, she encouraged me to succumb to my weakness- my appetite for science. It engulfed me; I should’ve let it only accompany me.
The day she wished me a ‘safe journey’, I said, “I’m never coming back, Ma.” She cried for one last embrace, and I proclaimed her ‘silly’.
I crawled to where the telephone sat on the floor- courtesy of the piles and piles of papers and files on my desk- and caressed the inch-long crack on the teal handle. It was my anchor. Through this very telephone, in the initial years at the hospital, I had fed my mother excuses and explanations to avoid her spam calls: Did you eat yet? Have you taken your pills? Call papa, he misses you. Talk to me, I’m dying.
And through this very telephone, I had said, “I’m busy. Bye.”
Cuddling the telephone after every surgery had become a routine, a tradition. It was as if I was expecting a call to inform me of the stark opposite of what I had heard that day.
“Hey”, my brother had whispered. “Any last words?”
Now, I regret the silent sobs I had emitted. I regret the words I did not say. I regret the “I love you” she didn’t get to hear.
As a 15-year-old, young with ambition, I had announced, “I will be a neurosurgeon by the time I’m 35.”
“That’s impossible. Look at you, a frail little girl”, papa had said.
“Fine. I’ll be a neurosurgeon by the time I am 30.”
A light knock to the door kept me from transgressing sanity. Shabbily wiping away my tears and expertly putting on a face of indifference, I opened the door.
Innocence redolent of my recent past stared back at me; the indifference on my face rephrased into anger, envy.
The little girl stared back at me with courage and resolve. “Thank you for saving my mom”, she said. When I didn’t accept the rose she had held up for me, she frowned, dropped it at my feet, and bounced away.
That cruel day too, seconds after Ma had left, I had saved a daughter. That day too, seconds before the phone call, I had saved a mother. That day too, I wailed for my own mother, the way she must’ve wailed when I had said, “I’m busy, bye.”