Empty Seat

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“You have to register for a donor kidney right away”,’Dr.Garg at Apollo Hospitals, Delhi had told Priti last month. He had been treating Ajay’s deteriorating kidney condition, which was on a steady decline, for the past one year. The only viable option to save Ajay’s life was a transplant surgery. Priti had immediately signed the necessary documents that put them on a waitlist for donor organs.
Luckily after 3 days of registration, Priti received a call from Apollo, Chennai about a healthy kidney of an accident victim being available. She had to make that journey with Ajay to Chennai right away amidst Rahul’s, their son’s, class XII board exams. A nebula of fear and uncertainty captured her mind but she did not demur at all. She was the rock of the family at this time of tribulation. She placidly announced to Rahul and her mother-in-law that kidney transplant was the most common and statistically the safest organ transplant. Then, she nonchalantly packed without wasting a minute, asked Rahul to study hard and listen to his grandmother in her absence, said a silent prayer in her heart and lead Ajay’s frail arm into the cab for the airport.
Ajay was operated the same evening by a team of the most competent surgeons at Apollo, Chennai. Priti had called her brother, Rohit, from Bangalore for moral support and sundry needs. She submitted her husband to the surgeons with a kiss on the forehead and after three protracted hours of prayer and hope, the doctors assured them that the surgery was successful and Ajay would be able to return to Delhi in two weeks. A week after the surgery, he would be discharged from the hospital, but they would need to stay in Chennai for another week to facilitate checkups.
Ajay was on the conspicuous path to recovery as Priti could notice the color returning to his pale face and light reclaiming his eyes. The doctors were satisfied with his recovery and jocularly assured Priti that her husband was “good as new”. She had rented a small one-bedroom apartment close to the hospital for Ajay to convalesce in for a week before heading back to Delhi. She thanked God every waking second for Ajay’s renewed life. At home front, Rahul reported he was acing his exams and waiting anxiously for them to return back.
Two weeks after surgery had flown by amidst cooking nutritious food for Ajay and taking him for hospital visits. Their tickets for Delhi were booked for the next day afternoon 3PM.Priti had the bags packed, all the medicine prescriptions, and discharge files methodically organized. That night, she had called Rahul to wish him luck for the Physics exam in the morning and then they slept dreaming of the next night in their sweet home.
Suddenly,at 4AM in the morning, she felt Ajay shaking her vigorously. Light sleeper that she was, Priti immediately flicked on the light which revealed Ajay convulsing uncontrollably and sweating profusely. She tried to stop his body’s involuntary movement but the tremors shook her hands off. She frantically called the hospital for an ambulance. Ajay’s convulsions had dwindled a little; Priti assured him that help was on the way. Ajay stared unblinkingly into her eyes and clasped her hand tightly, digging his nails into her skin. The next second, his hand went limp and his eyes turned vacuous. Priti could see life draining away her husband’s body but she could not speak or shriek or admonish it to stay. She desperately pressed and pushed at his heart for any little movement. The ambulance and paramedics arrived and tried restoring his heartbeat, but his soul was already sky bound. One of the young attendants shook his head and held her hand, without looking into her eyes. At that instant the rock in her melted like wax and she broke down into his arms.
Slowly dawn crept up and she could hear the birds chirping welcome. The paramedics had left with Ajay’s body. She cursed the sun for rising, the birds for chirping when her life was at a halt. How could universe be indifferent to her loss to still keep running the well-oiled machinery? She called her brother,Rohit, who hopped on the next flight to Chennai. She instructed him not to call Rahul yet. It was his Physics exam that day and she would not have a bee whisper the news to him that day.
Eventually, she signed the papers necessary for transporting Ajay to Delhi, surprised she could still sign! Rohit would take care of any other arrangements necessary, so she decided to head back to Delhi as planned. Weighed down by a thousand rocks in heart, she somehow made it to the airport and the airplane. The ride to the airport and the check-in happened in a trance of disbelief! The reality of Ajay’s death was fleeting on and off,just not sinking to her bone. Was she really leaving without Ajay? Soon as she took her seat, the emptiness of the seat next to her dug its fangs into her soul! Her eyelids started trickling at the sight of the unoccupied blue upholstery and she was amazed at the oceans she held inside her.
Her heart flew to Rahul;she looked at the seat and played in her mind the scene when she would reveal the news to Rahul. Should she hold him to her chest and start crying? Should she hold his hand tight and quickly say it? Should she first ask him about his exams and then tell some lie about Ajay’s return? Whatever and however she thought, nothing seemed right about the situation at all. She had lost her husband of 20 years and she could not protect her son from this avalanche of grief. As a mother she could be the mountain to shield Rahul from harsh winds, the tigress to attack a predator—but she was powerless against God’s plans. She felt helpless and alone.
As the flight attendant approached Priti with beverages, she requested the girl to sit in the seat next to her saying—“I hate sitting next to an empty seat. Please sit by me and hold me!” The young girl with coiffured hair was bewildered, but one look at the woman’s swollen eyes, she complied.

Looks like I’m going to write every weekend!

6 thoughts on “Empty Seat

  1. Sampada Raje

    Such a heart wrenching story. It is really true that the universe ruthlessly goes about as usual, when our very world is shattered.

    And I like the character, solid as a rock.


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