Khushi clicked on the next patient on list to access his electronic chart. He was new. Her eyes skimmed over the history of presenting illness, entered earlier by the triage nurse, before flicking to the past, social and medication histories. She gathered wheat from the chaff, so to speak, a skill she’d learnt, and continued to learn, from not only years of rigorous training but each experience as a practitioner as well. It was a skill she’d gradually begun to operate at a subconscious level without realizing.
After one last measured glance at the vitals, she rose from her chair to head to the examination room.
Fever. Tachycardia. Low Pulse Ox. Productive Cough x 3 days. Chills. Headache. 35 year old. Smoker.
She knocked and entered the exam room, going over the ‘smile, self introduce and hand shake routine’ with mechanical precision, a part of her brain noting a clammy palm and sickness glazed brown eyes.
What with Mr. Garcia’s broken English and Khushi’s rusted high school Spanish, communication proved to be a bit of a challenge, which was luckily not insurmountable; and by the end of a meticulous auscultation of lungs, Khushi had a presumptive diagnosis of Community Acquired Pneumonia in mind.
Contrary to what medical dramas and their spectacular success would have us believe, one of the commonest maxims ingrained in the minds of medical students the world over is the absolute need to think horses and not zebras upon hearing hooves beats. Irrespective of how tempting delving deep into the ocean of medical knowledge or how liberating letting one’s mind wander in the locales of rare and exotic diagnoses might seem.
After verbally ordering a Chest X-Ray with two views, Khushi went back to her office. She pulled the next chart, a 19 year old with burning during urination. She was still being triaged and not yet ready for her. It seemed like a clear cut case of UTI and Khushi rested her back to steal a moment, the first since morning, to relax. It had been non stop since morning…or ever since she joined this hospital based practice a month ago. But despite the workload being just short of overwhelming, like she’d fully expected it to when she first joined, her new job had several aspects, besides excellent pay and benefits, that worked in it’s favor. A modern well equipped office. Well trained and amiable supporting staff. It’s commitment to medical ethics and evidence based medicine.
Also, setting all these worthy cerebral reasons aside, there was her new colleague, Dr. Das, or Debanti, as she now called her pronounced the correct way, who contributed significantly in making her work environment a space she liked stepping out of her apartment for each morning.
They shared many interests besides an office and many a minutes between patients were spent on bursts of inconsequential chatter on topics as varied as politics to medicine to husbands to television.
“Dr. Raizada”, an MA called from the nursing station, “The X-ray’s up”.
Khushi walked over to the digital X-ray monitor, her eyes flickering with surprise as they stilled over the unexpected. A hilar mass and right upper lung atelectasis or collapse.
So yes, once in a while, one does get surprised with a zebra, or at least the possibility of one, as well. Exhaling sharply, she headed out to do what was still one of the least favorites things about her chosen profession. Again, contrary to what many medical dramas would have us believe, it’s widely acknowledged that most doctors find it difficult to stay emotionally detached from patients to the extent of only viewing them as subjects. And provided these emotions are not paralyzing, like they rarely are, no merit has ever been found in keeping a natural empathetic response and it’s resultant melancholy suppressed. Rather the opposite.
After calling his girlfriend from the waiting room, she gently broke the news, watching as a familiar spectrum of emotion- from shock and denial to anxiety and hope- flitted across their features. The heaviness in her heart was familiar too as she let herself out of the room after a while, quietly closing the door on the young couple.
There was no time to ponder upon mortality and existence however as she arranged for hospital admission for further diagnostic workup. A process that is normally straightforward was complicated in this case by Mr. Garcia’s uninsured status. It took Khushi twice as long because not only did she have to contact social work for financial assistance but also convince him of the absolute necessity for hospital admission. Irrespective of how straitened his circumstances were at the moment.
After sending them off to the hospital and seeing a couple more patients, she sank deep in her chair, slipping her pumps, pointy toed Pradas she’d recently splurged on in a rare self indulgent moment, off and sighing audibly. It was lunch time. It was signaled by an anticipatory rumble in her stomach.
After picking her phone and quickly checking for updates on real and virtual worlds, she slipped her feet back in shoes and rose, looking soft, chic and professional in an off white long sleeved ruffled blouse and black trousers. She shrugged her lab coat off, placing it next to the stethoscope that rested on the mahogany surface of the table before her.
Her lunch, packed and brought from home, waited in the office fridge and she was on the way to get to it when a sensation akin to a cool breeze, a silken cloth brushing across her heart, made her footsteps pause. Her lips curved on their own accord, amused at her own reaction. With Arnav’s office just a few blocks away, it wasn’t as if it were the first time he’d unexpectedly dropped in on her.
She could hear him just outside the door talking to Debanti. Her mind listened to his voice without paying attention to the actual words.
The humor of it’s cadence.The gravel of it’s timbre. The brevity of his sentences.
Was it normal that after months of being together, unexpectedly hearing his voice still sent a frisson down her veins? Still brought the butterflies back to the pit of her stomach? Did he feel the same too?
Her lips widened when he appeared at the doorway and greeted her with a cheeky wink that tugged at her heart in inexplicable ways. A treat to the eyes in a blue shirt that he’d recently bought for him, black trousers and silver tie, her eyes flared a tad lustily as he crossed the room to reach her.
Her eyes widened in protest as he pulled her flush against him, holding her way too intimately than the situation warranted, his hands resting possessively on her derrière.
His eyes danced with mischief as he met her eyes. Their underlying happiness didn’t fail to make her heart dewy as usual.
“Erm…Dr. Raizada, this is my office…”, she began to be interrupted by him leaning in to let their lips meet.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Raizada”, Arnav said appearing deliciously unrepentant as he released her after a quick kiss, “I didn’t mean to embarrass you but you have no business looking so damn sexy. I was wondering if I could take you out to lunch”.
“I have to be here by two”, Khushi replied smiling at the Lipotor wall clock, “I don’t think I’ll be able to get back on time”.
“There’s this Italian place right around the corner that somebody told me about, Khush. I promise to bring you back in time for your next patient”, said Arnav seriously with a subtle shift in demeanor.
As he drove to the restaurant in his black beamer, she sat relaxed in a cocoon of his cologne, presence and filtered sunshine. Her mind, working on subconscious connections, wandered to the patient she’d seen earlier in the day. Mr. Garcia. His girlfriend’s bewilderment at life that changes in the blink of an eye floated before her. She wondered what they was doing at that same moment of time. She thought about time and the way each moment brought different things to different people. It was unfair. It was unpredictable. It was life.
After a short drive of less than five minutes, she found herself seated in a small but critically acclaimed Italian restaurant, waiting for their order.
Arnav held her fingers across the table, caressing them gently with his thumb as they rested on the table. Khushi smiled into his eyes, her soul instinctively recognizing, for that moment at least, the blessing moments like these were.
His eyes flickered as a memory, several memories, from last night suffused them, slowly spiking their caramel with a hint of satin and vodka. A tiny smile lifted a corner of his mouth. She read his eyes and a furious red color spread across her cheeks. Her long lashes curled against her cheeks as she was unable to stop herself from blinking and averting her eyes.
Geez. What were they even thinking?, she mused. Her mind traveled back to a conversation from last night. It had begun on a light note amidst much laughter and derision directed at a popular albeit braindead movie playing on cable…progressed to silliness on bed and ended with a half-serious experimentation in soft domination- submission that they surprised themselves by actually kind of…liking. Although they were too well adjusted with themselves and with each other to be shamed by it.
As images of unprecedented boldness on her part flooded her mind, her cheeks reddened with a fresh surge of color. She looked up when he called her name. Her name. His lips made it sound like a caress. It was interesting how his lips made it sound different at different times, depending upon the emotion and mood it emerged in. A caress. A temptation. A plea. A command. A prayer. A benediction.
His eyes were somber even as his fingers weaved lightly with hers. “Khushi, promise me something”.
“What?, she asked intrigued by the sudden seriousness in his eyes, the bobbing of his Adam’s apple.
“That you’ll never allow me to do…or coerce you into doing something…you don’t want to. On the bed or elsewhere. I know I can get…carried away sometimes”.
It was only when Khushi assured him with dignity that she rarely let people do that to her and had no intention of letting him get away with it either that Arnav relaxed and smiled, disentangling their hands when the server showed up with their orders.
Khushi took another bite of her Chicken & Shrimp Carbonara, spending a moment or two in pure gastronomic heaven. Taking a sip of Diet Sprite, she remembering something. Something that had never forayed too far from consciousness anyway.
“Tomorrow is Friday”, she said, her voice a little high pitched with barely concealed excitement.
Arnav nodded smilingly in acknowledgement, polishing off the last of his entree when Khushi wasn’t even close to being half-way through. The restraint in his nature was like a beautiful foil and balance for her effusiveness. Pushing his plate back, he linked his hands on the table and looked at her. A ghost of a smile played silently on his lips while his eyes whispered of sunshine, sea and promises…
They were leaving for their long overdue honeymoon the following day…a week long vacation on a small private island in Florida Keys.
In sharp contrast to the heat and light of Florida but not unexpectedly so, Ohio groaned under bucket loads of snow, ice and slush. A few lonely snowflakes still spiraled down from a gray sky at will, splattering onto a dirty windshield before being swept aside by a squeaking wiper.
Anita, her cheeks pink and slightly chapped from snow, drove her father to a doctor’s appointment and she did not look forward to the visit at all.
Although it were Aman’s father who was her dad’s doctor, Aman worked in the same office and chances of not running into him were slim to say the least.
“Maybe he’ll be rounding at the hospital or something”, she thought with her eyes brightening before reprimanding herself for being a coward, “Why should I be embarrassed to meet him? I have less, if not nothing, to be ashamed of anyway”.
She realized her father was asking her something and blinking, she glanced sideways with a blank quizzical expression in her eyes.
“Will you come to Sameer’s engagement this weekend?, Navin repeated the question. Sameer and Anita had been in the same schools from Kindergarten onwards and their parents had been friends for almost a decade longer than that. Despite their parents’ attempts to get them to forge a friendship or perhaps because of it, they had never been able to stand each other as children. Their fights were the stuff legends are made of and as they grew older, as is often the case, they just disappeared from each other’s orbits, putting on veneers of social affability upon increasingly infrequent collisions.
“I don’t think so, Dad. I have lots of assignments due and I’m feeling really stressed out”, she said with her eyes on road.
“And it’s not even like he’s going to miss me or anything”, she added with a cheeky grin.
“And that might be the understatement of the century”, said her father with part horror, part amusement, “Remember that party when you locked him in a bathroom after a…scuffle”.
“He wouldn’t stop making fun of Di’s insulin pump”, Anita cried with an unrepentant twinkle in her eyes, “And that was him in a nutshell at that age. A mean, annoying bully. And just when I thought he was finally growing out of that phase, high-school happened…making him meaner, weirder and full of pretentious twaddle”.
Navin, who disliked back biting on principle, frowned mildly in disapproval. Anita got his silent drift and smiled. “Don’t get me wrong, Dad. That’s not the reason I’m not coming to his engagement. I wish him all the best, I really do, but I have a lot of do”.
Turning her Honda Accord around a corner, she asked mischievously, “So are Uncle, Aunty happy with his choice?. His blonde and blue eyed would be fiancée had also been his high school sweetheart and someone Anita didn’t care for any more than Samir. It was truly a match made in hell, she was tempted to think but didn’t. Almost.
“I think we both know the answer to that already”, Navin laughed, “But what can they do…they’ll just have to grin…and bear it, I guess. But I’m sure they’re hoping it works out for them and they have a happy life together”.
While Navin reflected upon the various intricacies that went into making the navigation of an inter-racial relationship even more difficult than what it is for most relationships these days, Anita, for no particular reason, pondered along somewhat similar lines as well. Her thoughts, safe in the privacy of her own mind, were unfiltered by societal expectations and unfettered by a need for political correctness.
“I can never imagine myself falling in love with a person from a different race. Period. And it’s not about skin color. Nope. As horribly prejudiced as it may sound, it almost seems, to me at least, that their souls are a different color too. Why else would looking inside their eyes seem like traveling through a foreign terrain sometimes? When there is little you can recognize. When there is little that is familiar. When there is little you can connect with. Enough for friendships definitely…but love? Not too sure about that…But I’m sure that’s just me because it happenes with other people all the time”.
She wished souls knew what their colors were.
What color…is the color of your soul?
Arian wore a UF Gators T-shirt, it’s gray, orange and blue colors blending with that of twilight falling around him. He was on the deck of a rental home their band usually used for practice. It belonged to their bassist Daniel’s step dad. It was falling to pieces but since it was free, no one really cared.
They had a couple gigs on the road coming up that weekend and irrespective of whether they caught the eye…or rather ear…of an indie label producer they’d been in touch with or not, he couldn’t wait to get started on the rehearsals.
He could hear sounds coming from the garage as they got ready to play, equipment being moved around, cords being plugged in, strings being plucked for tuning.
A surge of adrenaline shot through his body as he played the strings in his head. With an eye on the horizon, he leaned an elbow on the rotting wood rail and raised his Budweiser to his lips. A pair of arms reached him from behind, coiling themselves around his body.
His nostrils flared as he recognized that smell wrapped around her usual floral scent. He shrugged her arms off and turned around to face her.
“Why aren’t you in the garage with everybody else?, she asked. He could read a subtext of defiance in her sentence.
“Because I can’t stand the smell of that potent shit you were toking in there. And you know it”, he said, his stubbled jawline taut with restraint.
She rolled her eyes and laughed at him. It infuriated him like only she could.
“You’re such a buzzkill”, she said.
Their eyes clashed before he turned away sharply to go inside, the adrenaline in his blood mixing with fire and shadows. Even before he’d slung his guitar across his body and felt it’s coolness under his fingertips, he knew he would give his best, his face melting best, that evening. For some reason it had ceased to matter like it used to..
The palm leaves were gray shadows and silhouettes with light from half a moon shifting and rolling like quick silver in the breeze.
The sky was the densest black they’d ever seen, far removed as they were from civilization and by extension any artificial light to mar it’s darkness with. It was weird to think that the dim light from the Tiki torches on the deck was the only light within miles of the ocean that surrounded them.
They lay on a hammock on their backs with Khushi nestled between his legs, his arms folded over her. They gazed at the sky in silence, at the stars that appeared unnaturally large and close…at a vision that was aesthetically appealing…at inanimate celestial objects that stirred souls in unfathomable ways…at a vastness that aligned unasked questions with undefinable but satisfactory answers.
Khushi raised an arm to the sky. “I could almost pluck them off the sky if I wanted to”, she said with childlike glee.
“And I’ll take them from you to keep in my pocket”, said Arnav somberly.
“In your pocket?, repeated Khushi, her teeth gleaming in the dark, “Why?
“I’ll save them to make sure your eyes never run out of them”
Aap ki aakhon mein kuchh meheke hue se raaz hain,
Aap se bhi khoobsoorat aap ke andaaz hain.
A/N: Thank you so much for your kind feedback 💕. I hope you’re still enjoying reading my ramblings about these characters and their lives 🙂
Next Chapter: Next Friday.