It was a balmy summer day in Wixom, a small suburban town in Cleveland, Ohio. The temperature was in early seventies and blue skies dotted with fluffy, good-weather clouds. The kind of day one would want to relax in an outdoor cafeteria with an iced mocha latte, or putter in the backyard, planting and weeding or whatever it is that people fond of gardening do, or maybe just drive through quiet tree lined lanes in an open convertible, feeling the sun on your shoulders and wind in your hair.
These were some of the vague thoughts running through Linda’s mind as she registered yet another patient, one weary eye on the automatic entrance door to the large and already full waiting room. She sighed when the bell chimed, signaling the opening of the door yet again, and the entry of a family of three.
It had been an exceptionally busy day at Pinewood Urgent Care and Linda, the receptionist, who actually loved her job on normal days, was heartily sick of it already. To make matters worse, she was working a double today, which meant by the time she got done at ten, the elusive sun would be already down.
The Pinewood Urgent Care was customarily staffed by a receptionist, a doctor and two medical assistants at any given eight hour shift and much to everyone’s delight, it was Dr. Khushi Gupta working today. Just the kind of doc one would want to work with on a crazy day like this. She was pleasant mannered, efficient, swift and even on days like this, she never lost her cool, which made her a favorite with both patients and staff alike.
At the moment, Dr. Gupta was in the trauma room. Judging by the amount of yelling and crying going on inside it, someone was definitely having a bad day. It was a feisty seven year old with a nasty gash on the sole of his right foot, result of walking barefoot on grass and stepping on a shard of glass; he was vehemently opposing all of Khushi’s attempts to examine it. Her soothing voice could be heard placating the bawling boy, soon resulting in a significant decrease in decibel level.
She emerged from the room, few minutes later, to instruct Michelle, one of the medical assistants, to prep for laceration repair. “Michelle, have a Laceration kit, 5 cc 2% Lidocaine and 4.0 Nylon ready in the trauma room, I’ll be there after seeing room 3.”
One laceration repair, two sore throats and one ankle sprain later, there was a much welcomed lull in action and Khushi sat down in front of her desk top, completing patient charts. As her well kept fingers flew over the key board, Michelle, a pleasant faced blonde asked, “Dr. Gupta, I am going to Tim Horton’s now, I need my coffee. The usual for you?
Khushi’s fingers paused and she looked back at Michelle with a smile, “Yes, the usual. Large-tripple-tripple and..”.
Rukiya, the other MA smiled and completed her sentence for her, “A blueberry muffin”.
Much to their amusement her order never changed.
“Yes and a blueberry muffin too. Got to have my sugar-fix in the mornings”, Khushi chuckled.
“And you, Rukiya? Do you need something?, Michelle asked.
“I’m already high on caffeine, if I have more, I’ll have to find myself a can of sleep at night”, drawled Rukiya.
“If you find some, pass it on to me too”, said Khushi wryly, having struggled with caffeine addiction and insomnia since medical school days, even as she participated in small talk and signed off on electronic charts at the same time.
She glanced at the time. 1:00. Just three more hours away from weekend. And Rukiya said out loud what Khushi was secretly thinking.
“Thank God, it’s Friday”.
Soon it was 4:10 pm and after signing off her patients to the evening-shift doctor, Khushi stepped out in sunshine. It never failed to set her heart abuzz with exhilaration. Freeing her hair from a jaw clip she dropped it on the passenger seat of her red Mazda Miata convertible, following it with her lab coat, stethoscope and handbag.
Sliding into the driver’s seat, she backed her car out carefully, sunlight slanting on her skin and hair, accentuating the natural highlights of her chestnut mane.
Once on the road, busy with rush hour traffic, Khushi sighed with contentment and turned the radio on. A warm breeze carrying dandelion fluffs rushed past her hair. Sun had a way of making everything seem better. Even the music.
Driving on left lane, she’d crossed a few green lights when she noticed a black SUV persistently tailgating her, urging her to go faster or let it pass.
Few things acted as pebbles on the famously placid surface of Khushi’s temperament; aggressive drivers were one of them. She especially loathed tailgaters and what she considered as their disgusting display of impatience and aggression in public.
Glancing at rearview mirror, she muttered a profanity and stubbornly refused to acquiesce to it’s demands. “Fucking Type A road hog”.
It was after a few more lights that the black SUV finally found passing space to move onto the right lane and angrily zip past her.
All it’s time-saving efforts came to naught however as the light turned red making it to come to a screeching halt. A smug smile played on her lips as she pulled her car next to the black BMW X5.
Khushi turned her head slightly to glance at it’s driver. She didn’t know what she’d expected but it was certainly not a strikingly good looking profile that seemed chiseled in granite. It reminded her of Roman emperors’ profiles on ancient coins in museums. She felt a bit mesmerized.
“If one could imagine them wearing elegant rimless glasses, Joseph Abboud summer blazer and an Italian silk tie. Among other things, of course”, she mused noting how his fingers drummed impatiently on the steering wheel.
Her uncharacteristically fanciful reverie was broken when he turned his head without warning to meet her eyes. His eyes were cold and piercing, their impatience highlighted by a brow arched in question.
“Damn”, she looked away quickly, reddening with embarrassment. She was relieved when the lights turned green. With an impatient surge of acceleration, the black BMW raced ahead of her, whizzing around the curve of the I-75 ramp to get out of her sight.
It took Khushi just ten minutes to reach home, a mid sized, red brick colonial in a quiet, neighborhood of Wixom. Nobody was home with her parents still at work and younger sister, Anita, still at school for after-school activities.
After a quick shower and change, she made herself a sandwich and stepped outside on the patio with a book. The book remained unread as she quietly ate her sandwich, her mind lost in thoughts, her senses lulled by a breeze rustling through oak leaves.
Resting her head back on the wicker chair, she closed her eyes, easily slipping into slumber, when her phone’s ringing jerked her awake.
‘Aman Agarwal Calling’, she noted with a smile as she picked the phone from the patio table.
“Hey…”, she said, sleepily.
“Back from work?, his pleasant voice came to her.
“Yeah, just got back. What time will you get done?
“Fivish. Be ready at seven”.
“Where are we going?
There was a slight pause, before he answered, “It’s a surprise”.
“But I need to know, Aman, to decide what to wear”
“Ah…just wear something special”, Aman drawled, his voice laced with warmth, humor and something else.
Khushi felt a twinge of nervousness in her heart. She knew instinctively tonight was going to be special for both of them. For the past few weeks, she had seen many signs of it’s impending approach. Their parents were expecting it too. They all knew it was only a matter of time. The moment when Aman would propose to her, sealing an alliance their parents had nudged them toward, six months ago.
Six months ago, after a lot of thought and sleeplessness, Khushi had allowed her parents to introduce her to a boy and family of their choice, becoming a willing participant to what is ubiquitously known as semi-arranged marriage. Aman had seemed like a genuinely nice guy, they’d struck an effortless friendship despite the initial awkwardness, and she hadn’t found any reason to not go with the flow.
And then she was twenty six and…had never been in love.
In fact, in the past few years, she had become increasingly convinced of the unlikelihood of her ever falling in love and having the kind of romance one sees in books or movies. She was bookish, sensible, traditional and just not cut out for a modern dating life…where one tries to find one’s Mr. Right through a maze of trials, errors, disappointments and heartbreaks. It worked well for some people, and she never judged them, but she was not one of them. She knew that very well.
“One doesn’t need a Yash Chopraesque romance to find love and happiness in life. It’s silly and delusional to expect your life to be like a Yash Chopra Movie”, she would often tell herself and her sister, Anita, “It’s just setting yourself up for discontentment”.
Love, sensible love, that bloomed from friendship and a solid base of similar interests, temperaments and family backgrounds was not only what her parents wanted for her but her relationship goal as well.
Yet, she could not shake off a vague sense of discontent. The suppressed disappointment that she was unable to reciprocate…what Aman clearly felt for her. As much as she liked Aman, his confession, their first kiss, a few days ago, had left her confused. It had led her to wonder if her heart was frigid. If there was something wrong with her…
She rose and decided to go for a walk around the subdivison. However instead of calming her, it only worked her already chaotic thoughts into further disarray.
Pausing near a maple tree, she sighed and gazed upward at the deep blue sky. Without even realizing, she prayed for guidance and inspiration and for a sign, a visible sign, that she was making the right decision.
Smiling a little at her dramatic supplication, she returned home, glad to find her father typing as expected in his den. An emeritus professor of Botany at Case Western Reserve University, he had had several books and research papers published in recent times and was now working on a book titled, ‘Plants And Legends‘, purely for pleasure.
A gentle absentminded man, his life revolved around his three girls and books. Sitting behind a desk top, he was immersed in the Greek legend of ‘Crocus and Smilax’.
He looked up when Khushi entered and sank into an old arm chair in a corner. Her shoulders sagged slightely as she gazed out of the window.
Navin Gupta sighed and took his glasses off. Placing them on the desk, he asked, “What’s wrong”.
“Do you have to go out with Aman today?
“Yes”, she said, meeting his gaze. He was able to fathom the reason for her conflict, the fear swirling in hazel depths with no effort at all. His heart melted with tenderness.
“It’s a big decision, I know, and your anxiety is quite normal”, his father said gently.
“It’s not just that, Dad”, she said slowly, “I’m not even convinced if I’m doing the right thing”.
As as her father looked on, she added confusedly, “I don’t know how to put it, is it normal, is it okay if I’m not able to reciprocate what Aman feels for me. I like him a lot but when he says he loves me, it’s like I don’t even know what that word means”.
Sighing, he got up and walked over to her. Ruffling her already tousled mop of hair, he said gently, “You’re overthinking Khushu. Everything will work out fine. Aman is a gem of a person. He’ll keep you very happy. Trust me. And as for love, it comes with time sometimes. There is no need to force your heart to feel something it doesn’t. Don’t think too much”.
Khushi smiled up at her father, his confident words acting as a balm to her weary mind.
“I guess you’re right”, she said slowly, uncurling herself to rise from the chair, feeling a lot better already.
Before leaving the den to start getting dressed, she decided to check her email. Reaching her inbox, she noticed an email from ‘Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders, an international, medical humanitarian organization.
Working for MSF was Khushi’s dream long cherished dream. In fact, when applying for medical schools, her obligatory personal statement had mentioned a documentary on MSF as an inspiration behind her career choice.
She had enrolled into their physician pool soon after finishing her Family Medicine residency six months ago. She hadn’t expected to hear from them so soon. A sudden surge of adrenaline rushed through her veins.
“Dear Dr. Gupta,
We’re pleased to offer you an opportunity to work for MSF as a field primary care physician in Pampore, Kashmir, India. It’s a temporary, three month vacancy starting from September, 2013 and details pertaining to this are attached for your reference. If interested, please contact our nearest MSF Human Resource Officer at one of these locations...”
All words blurred into insignificance as just two stood out, quietly beckoning her towards them.
Cleveland Clinic, Cole Eye Institute.
Dr. Arnav S. Raizada cut a striking figure as surrounded by an aura of understated elegance, he confidently strode down a covered bridge from the outpatient building toward the surgical wing of Cole Eye Institute. Sunlight streamed from it’s glass ceiling, throwing his features in sharp relief. Their rugged handsomeness were slightly marred by the formidable set of his lips and weariness indicative of several sleepless nights in his eyes.
His eyes framed by rimless glasses were caramel yet cold, a near impossible feat he seemed to manage with ease.
Soon he had reached the men’s locker room and quickly stripping and donning a pair of navy scrubs. A thorough scrubbing of his hands and arms at the scrub station later, he entered the OR. The OR staff, attuned to his punctuality, waited for him in readiness.
‘Afternoon ladies”, he replied cordially to the greetings of an all-female staff of scrub tech, circulation nurse and nurse anesthetist.
Like the wheels of a well oiled and silent machinery, everyone went about their well practised routine. Nancy, the young scrub technician, held a sterile surgical gown in position, for him. And after he had pushed his arms into it’s sleeves, she went to stand behind his back, bringing the flaps together and tying the strings snugly against his back.
She was unable to stop herself from admiring his fine shoulders and a sinfully toned back that a thin scrub top was miserably inadequate in concealing.
“He smells delicious..”, was her last, hurried, unprofessional thought before she mentally kicked herself and focussed whole heartedly on her job.
Soon, Arnav was perched on his surgical chair, one eye resting on the lens of the operating microscope. Under the glare of the overhead light, his gloved hands were mesmerizingly skillful, methodically accepting instruments from the circulation nurse, removing cataract from an eye with movements incongruously delicate for their largeness.
The first in a long list of patients.
It was past six and he was still in the hospital, sitting in the silence of his private office, delaying going back to his empty apartment.
With his eyes lost in shadows, he twirled a paper weight on the mahogany top of his desk, oblivious to it’s sound echoing in the office.
His unopened mail rested on one corner of his desk. The post mark on the topmost envelope suddenly grabbed his attention.
He picked it up with curious fingers, ripping the envelope open with a paper knife. With a frown, he pulled the letter out.
“To Dr. Arnav S. Raizada,
In the capacity of your late grandmother, Devyani Raizada’s attorney and executioner of will and strictly in accordance with her clearly expressed and documented wishes, we are attaching a copy of her final and last will for your benefit.
I, Devyani Raizada, hereby declare that this is my final and last will, revoking all wills and codicils that I have previously made…”
Arnav skimmed through lines after lines of what he impatiently dismissed as ‘legal mumbo jumbo’ to pause at this particular sentence.
I leave all my residuary estate, including but not limited to the saffron plantation, ‘Saffron Fields’ of Pampore, Kashmir, to my grandson, Arnav Singh Raizada…”.
A/N: Thank you for taking time out to visit this story. I hope you find it worth your while. I look forward to hearing your thoughts 🙂