On a dark rainy night, in a deserted bus stand, he found her, sitting alone, wearing a hospital gown with a strange tale to tell.Dhruv is an MBBS student with a passion for storytelling.
It was raining heavily and thus I decided to wait inside the pub. I had left my umbrella in my office. It was certain I would miss my routine bus and the next one going to my home wouldn’t arrive before an hour. If I had run, I still would have caught it. But I didn’t want to risk catching a cold and jeopardise my presentation the following morning.
The rain stopped after a few minutes, and I set off towards the bus stand. It was a dreary night. The town had retreated itself for the day and there was hardly any vehicle to be seen. The stand was situated on a desolate road, where you can’t hope to get a ride and hitchhike your way home. It started raining again just as the shelter came to my sight and I ran to get a cover. The stand was lit by a flickering bulb, which was on the verge of going out anytime. There was only a girl sitting alone on the bench. I wiped my face and took out a cigarette.
‘Can I have one too?’ the girl asked in a feeble voice. I passed her a cigarette and lit it with a lighter. In that small moment, I took a glimpse at her face. She was young and unusually pale. She was wearing a white patient gown and I didn’t doubt for a moment that she was a runaway. In the flickering light, it was hard to make out any other feature of the girl. She took deep puffs, making the cigarette glow in the darkness.
‘Are you alright?’ I asked.
‘Yes, I’m good,’ she said.
‘Did you get out to get a stroll?’
‘No, I ran away,’ she said.
‘How old are you?’ I asked.
‘I think you should go back to the hospital,’ I said and took a deep drag from the cigarette. ‘It’s not safe to roam around in a night like this.’
‘I need to go somewhere,’ she said.
‘Go where?’ I asked.
‘Leave it. You won’t understand,’ she said and stubbed the cigarette.
‘Well, try me,’ I said. She stared at me for a while, probably figuring out if she should share anything or not. ‘Else we can sit in silence and get startled by the thunder now and then,’ I chuckled.
‘Very strange things have been happening to me my whole life,’ she admitted.
This made me think back to my teenage years. I laughed. ‘Like what?’
‘My eyes rolled out of the socket when I was six years old. By “rolling out’, I mean they literally fell off when I was playing,’ she began. ‘Even the doctors couldn’t explain what had happened. A few months later, my nails started to break and shed, leaving behind nothing but pink and sensitive skin. So sensitive that I could feel the air moving around my fingers.’
‘That might have been painful,’ I expressed my sympathy.
‘Yes, but things became even strange. One morning, I woke up missing a tooth. I thought I’d have swallowed it in my sleep. But someone at the school told me there was a tooth inside my ear. I shook my head in surprise and it fell on the ground,’ she said. ‘And like that, all my teeth fell and came out of the ears, one each day. It took me a whole month to go completely toothless.
‘I was taken to an institute, where I became a subject of research among the best of the doctors of our country. I don’t remember most of it as I was anaesthetised all the time. When I became entirely conscious, I realised that my hair was gone too. But I didn’t panic this time. One of the doctors explained it to me that I suffered from a rare condition.’
‘What condition?’ I asked curiously.
‘The name’s too long, it never got registered in my brain,’ she replied. ‘Anyway, in this condition your body parts aren’t held in their positions for a longer period. I lack a mechanism which is responsible for keeping your eyes in your socket, or your teeth in the gums, or your hair rooted in your skin.’
Her voice grew sterner and sterner as if she was narrating a climax of a fairy tale.
‘I was warned if my condition gets worse, my internal organs might dislocate too,’ she continued. ‘Each day, I woke up with burning anxiety and panic. I had nightmares about my heart or lungs getting detached and floating around in my stomach. But luckily nothing of that sort happened for the next ten years. I got an eye transplant. My hair and nails fell and grew back and fell again.’
‘What happened after ten years?’ I was on the edge of my seat.
‘I woke up with a rib sticking out of my chest,’ she said. Her eyes glimmered under the light of the bulb. I was worried they might fall out at any moment. And it would be difficult to find them in the darkness.
‘Excuse me,’ she said and suddenly went out into the rain to pick up something from the ground. She came back as quickly as she went and threw a rock at the bulb. It broke into pieces. ‘Sorry, it was giving me a headache.’
With the bulb gone, the darkness enveloped the bus shelter too. There wasn’t a faintest of light, except the occasional lightning, which brought terrifying thunder along with it.
‘Where’re you headed in the middle of the night?’ I asked.
‘Ever been to Mount Elbrus?’ she said.
‘No. But I’ve been to Southern Caucasus when I was just about your age,’ I answered.
‘I want to get a glimpse of the mountain before I die. I want to witness the sunrise and relish the spine-chilling wind,’ she said. ‘The operation I was supposed to undergo tonight is too risky. There are fewer chances of surviving it. They want to secure my liver and kidneys before they collapse. Lying down on the operation table, I had a moment of clarity and all I could think about was the picture of the sunrise on Mount Elbert, from my school textbook, and how I always wanted to go there. So I pulled all the tubes and needles from my body and ran away.’
‘I don’t know what to say,’ I said. ‘I wish you get there safely and return for your surgery.’
‘Thank you. But I need to be careful. I’ve not changed my eyes for the past couple of months and they might roll out anytime. I need to see the sunrise before that happens,’ she added.
‘Your story is so painful,’ I said, ‘and a bit strange. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said that….’
‘It’s alright. You just cannot see my skin right now. Or else you wouldn’t have doubted me,’ she said. ‘It’s shedding off day by day, exposing the blood-red tissue underneath. I’m constantly under morphine to get rid of the terrible pain.’
‘I’ve heard people suffering from radiation poisoning have similar symptoms too. Their skin shed off, they lose hair and nails,’ I remarked.
‘I wish the researchers didn’t forget to think about it,’ she laughed.
We sat in silence. The rain had finally stopped, making the night deadly silent. I heard howling of wolves from the distance. A gust of moist wind hit my face and left behind an algal smell.
‘Are you afraid of death?’ she asked.
‘I wouldn’t be able to guess,’ I replied. ‘I’ve never been closer to it. I should ask you this question. Are you afraid of death?’
‘Death feels like a déjà vu,’ she said. ‘It’s as if I’ve died countless times and another death wouldn’t matter to me.’
There was silence again. I wondered what death would feel like if I ever came closer to it. And then the same thought made me chuckle. There I was, in a bus shelter, situated in the middle of nowhere, thinking about death.
‘Tell me something about yourself. Are you married?’ she asked disrupting my channel of thoughts.
‘Yes, for 5 years now,’ I answered. ‘We’re expecting a child too.’
‘I would never be able to give birth to a child even if I get pregnant,’ she said in a sepulchral voice.
‘My faulty mechanism. I won’t be able to hold the baby in my womb. Maybe I should never get pregnant. I don’t want my baby to pop out from my womb, like my eyes, in the middle of the day.’
‘That would be heart-breaking, a miscarriage,’ I said. ‘But you’re so young for it now. Who knows you might get better when you get older.’
‘Actually, I did get pregnant,’ she said, almost in a whisper. The girl was bombarding surprises each passing minute. ‘There was this boy in my class and I had a huge crush on him. He dated many of my classmates, but I knew he was out of my league, given my condition. I mean who would like to go out with a girl whose teeth may fall off into your mouth when you’re kissing her. That would be so squeamish. But there happened to be an incident in my high school which made us come together. It’s as if it was all prearranged by some divine force so that he could fall in love with me. Nobody saw it coming…..’
And suddenly I heard a horn. I turned around to see a bus speeding towards the shelter, its light piercing the darkness and radiating the stretch of the wet road.
‘That’s my bus!’ she said with excitement. ‘Will you stop it for me.’
I waved my hand impulsively, to stop the bus. ‘Wait, what happened at your school?’
She giggled. ‘Maybe next time,’ she said. The bus stopped in front of the shelter. The doors opened and climbed in. The driver stared at me.
‘My best wishes to you and your wife. If life has it, we’ll meet again. So long,’ she said and got on the bus while I stood there with a stupefied face.
‘Hey, you!’ screamed the driver. ‘Getting in or not?’
I shook my head. ‘I’m on the next bus.’
‘Asshole,’ he said and drove away with an angry face.
What’s wrong with him, I thought and sat on the bench and waited for my bus to arrive.
When I got home, my wife had already gone to bed. She opened the door rubbing her eyes. I took a warm bath.
‘You missed the first bus?’ she asked when I lay down beside her.
‘Yes. It was raining and I left my umbrella at the office. So I decided to wait inside the pub,’ I answered. ‘You know I’ve got an important presentation tomorrow morning, right?’
‘I know. You should sleep now and get up early to prepare for it,’ she said and cuddled me, pressing the baby bump to my waist.
‘I met a girl while waiting at the bus stop,’ I said. ‘It was a quite strange experience.’
‘And?’ she said in a passing voice, hinting her disinterest in whatever I was about to speak.
‘Nothing. I wish she reaches to the mountain before her eyes fall out,’ I said and drifted off to sleep.