When the boy returns with a bottle of water, Stille first drips a few drops into his (the man’s) mouth, which he immediately swallows eagerly. He then tilts a half-filled glass slowly into his mouth, which the man drinks more eagerly until his mouth shuts before Stille cants off the glass dry.
It seems he is relived for a while–his complaining eases off and then stops. The mist of tension lifts. Even the old woman rises with an effort and comes trudging past Stille, stops beside him and smiles weakly down at the man.
Is she his wife older by five or ten years? Stille wonders. Or his mother, him having sprinted through his life so fast almost overtaking his mother’s age, perhaps consumingly quickened by what he is suffering from?
Soon the creases of faint smile around her lips and eyes wither back home into the usual crow’s feet, and she leaves there before long, trudges back and sits down at a new place, curled up like before. However, when Stille begins to think of going back, the man starts again, and worse this time. He tosses and turns and twists and kicks, and the low moans develop into long-drawn shrieking cries. The spirits that showed a weak rise during the momentary let-up quail.
“What is the doctor saying?” Stille asks the boy without expecting much of an answer of the boy.
“Nothing!” He is quick on the trigger.
Exactly, Stille thinks.
He leans over the man and asks him in a calm, firm voice, “Please don’t cry. Let’s face this.”
The swaying of the head breaks off, and in the dark, steep depressions in the gnarly emaciated face, a pair of glinting eyeballs rolls to a stop to look at the speaker. “What do you want me to do?” Stille asks softly.
The eyeballs glint at Stille for a moment. There is no anger in them. No defiance. No suspicion. No wickedness. Nothing. Just pain, fear and confusion. Then the head that begins to sway takes them in tow. Now his body twists and then his legs shake as if they were kicking off the pain.
Stille leans back up, shifts his position a bit toward his left and begins to massage the man over his blanket. Unaware of what is troubling him and where the trouble lies, Stille is quite quick about the massage covering the man’s back, waist and legs. However, it seems that the man’s body does not feel his massage—the man groans on, as if the pain is as deep as his marrow, oozing out of the pores of his bones, unaffected by the massage.
“My skull! Frozen! My legs!” The slurred murmur amid his moans is fibered. He is tired, but the illness pulsates what remains in him. His slurs a second language to him now, the boy gets closer to the bedhead on the other side and massages the man’s skull with both his little hands, the fingers hooked and flicked out like the prongs of a harpoon. Stille moves further left down to the foot and finds the feet cold like a block of ice. The temperature felt normal five minutes ago. He manages to rub them fast until the increasingly more terrible jolting makes it impossible. Then the man gives himself up to more jolting, more strained groaning, cursing and crying.
The night has both ends of sound—silence and this man’s cry—together in such a strange fashion. There is the engulfing silence and his occasional cry tears into its pitching, throwing its spear-tipped flight into the darkness toward the other end of the long ward. And the ward’s dark silence kisses the sound dry off it even as it flies and turns it into one of its kind. The silent sitters who have woken up remain still like ghosts pitched in their sick beds black against the dull glass windows.
The place felt empty to Stille when he entered, and now when he scans the space allotted to the bed, its emptiness feels so chilling—the bed, the stainless steel on one side of the bed, the rusted steel bedside table with cabinets between the bed and the wall, which the hospital provides, and nothing else, except for a small bag under the bed and a small plastic trough smelling of urine. The steel cabinets contain no medicine. The only vestige of medicine is the spent plastic IV bottle on the hanger attached to the bed, with the tube casually coiled back up and the connector plugged into the hub of an extra needle punched into it.
Did the woman or the boy put the prescription away? In one of the half open empty cabinets? The darkness inside would not give away a small piece of paper that anybody would tend to fold. Or in a shirt or trousers pocket or in a petticoat pocket, as many Throny Vale women of the lower middle class steeped in hard earning with some valued money usually show doing when they furtively loosen the phanek slit to reach for the money when they need to part with part of that on a bill at a hospital or on an unavoidable distant trip? It is not anywhere visible, but yes we don’t put a prescription on the show. We tend to take prescriptions carefully even when we are too broke to make them meaningful and keep them at a safe place intensifying the feeling of safety, false as it may be, and the lesser money we have, the tighter and tighter does our hold get. How tightly a penniless person holds a prescription shows how tightly and dearly they hold their loved ones on a hospital bed against the pull of death, as if the piece of paper were the very soul of their loved ones.
The boy shakes his head. The innocent face has learnt to show despair. Stille shifts his eyes to the man in noisy torment and it looks like he is dying.
Stille’s lips tighten. He draws in a long draft of air and gives a long sigh, and taking a couple of brisk steps toward the right, he leans low over the man’s face and asks,
“Do you believe in God? In Allah, or any God?”
Is he hesitating? The man gives no visible sign readable as a response to Stille’s question. Not even a different twitch in his lean face almost grotesque in fighting pain. Does he not believe in the idea of God or is he pissed off with me bringing in the far-fetched, inane and useless idea of God while he is struggling for life?
Go to Of God and Men (Part 1)