Loosely based on a hospital fire in Calcutta, India
Susan twitched her nose but didn’t wake up. The aroma wove its way into her dream. She stirred restlessly and the obscure figures in her visages of slumber grew agitated and started running around doing she knew not what. The acrid smell grew stronger, stinging her throat. Susan woke up rubbing her eyes and found herself staring straight into Jenna’s terrified eyes!
Leila shook her violently. “The hospital is on fire!” she screamed.
“Someone call for help!” Barbara yelled. “Let’s get out of here!”
“This is sure a junky, old hospital,” Jyoti grumbled. “As soon as I can I’ll be glad to move on to a better place. Why in the world is it called Atman hospital anyways? “ Vivek stood behind the floor-length mirror in the staff washroom. She arranged her nurses’ cap just so on her long wavy hair that was formed in a knot at her neck. “That’s the Hindu word relating to ‘World’ or person. This huge hospital holds a cross-section of people from all walks of life. "
“It looks like most of them are from the untouchable caste to me,”
“Not so!” Vivek’s eyes flashed. “And besides we are not allowed to call them that!” How she wished to really tell this snobbish newcomer off. Every day since Jyoti had volunteered to work in Shalputa’s inner city hospital she had found something to complain about. If she finds it so dreadful why doesn’t she just leave?She obviously doesn’t know a thing about the caste system and the benefits of it! Why if -----------wasn’t from the caste he is, he wouldn’t have received the assistance needed to find a bed in even this economy hospital.
Jyoti’s voice cut through her thoughts. “Pardon me, your royal highness, and what caste are you from?”
Vivek flushed red but didn’t deign to answer. She thinks her western ways are so superior to ours, but they aren’t, they simply aren’t. The Eastern Culture is as varied and beautiful as a rich tapestry.
While trying to keep a tight rein on her emotions, Vivek turned and sashayed out of the room.
Fifteen minutes later, while she was chatting with other caregivers at the nurses’ station, she lifted her eyes to see Jyoti strolling languidly towards them, coffee cup in hand.
“What took you so long?” Leila, always the outspoken one, demanded. “Shift change was fifteen minutes ago, and Report is over.”
“Oh, this and that,” Jyoti chose a chair and sipped indolently of her steaming beverage.
Vivek saw a spot on Jyoti’s uniform but Jyoti either hadn’t noticed or more likely didn’t care.
“It looks like a long night is before us,” Jenna sighed.
Jyoti shrugged, “The moaning and groaning doesn’t seem any worse than usual.”
Vivek leaned back and peered down the dimly lit hall. A look of concern shadowed her features, but she kept her thoughts to herself. Will tonight be like every other night, with the staff enjoying the comforts of the brightly lighted lounge and only superficially going through the motions of making sure everyone is all right?
Last night she had verbalized this concern, but Jyoti had responded. “They will come to us if they need to. They can ring their bell.”
Vivek had nodded but she knew better.How many would actually call? They are afraid that every act of service we provide will cost them something. Our ways are so strange and foreign to them that they will shrink back and think that…Vivek glanced at Jyoti and her lips curved slightly; that they are untouchables.
Just then a bell tinkled from somewhere down the hall.
Leila glanced pointedly at Jyoti. “That’s your patient.”
Jyoti sighed, “I’m not quite done my coffee. It will be cold when I get back.”
“Must you always put your own needs before others?” Leila snapped. “See there it rang again. It must be urgent.”
Jyoti checked the number against the chart. “That only old Mrs. Farah. Probably wants to use the commode again.”
“Well, what if you needed to use the commode, and couldn’t wait…” Feeling embarrassed, Jenna’s voice trailed off.
“I’ll go,” Vivek said quietly.
“Nah, I’m almost done.”
“If that what’s Mrs. Farah wants, you’ll need help anyways.” Vivek started down the hall and Jyoti trailed after her.
They attended to Mrs. Farah’s needs in a professional manner, but Vivek’s heart ached for the elderly woman. I almost wish I would have gone alone. Mrs. Farah is so sweet and frail. I wonder if she is afraid of the great beyond. She would never call out to ask for spiritual help, but shouldn’t we be offering it, somehow?
The long night wore on. The girls went the rounds when it was time, and answered the bells when required to, but Vivek wished they could do more.
Around three o’clock that night, the girls couldn’t resist the urge to slumber and sleep although they knew it was against the rules. When Jyoti was sound asleep on the couch, Jenna dozing in the rocking chair, and Leila deep in the pages of a book, Vivek took her little candle and slipped away into the darkness. She went into one room after another, the tiny light illuminating her face and a small area in front of her. Some were sound asleep, but not everyone. She knelt beside Hanzia’s bed. The tiny child was weeping for her mother so Vivek smoothed a lock of hair off the small, delicate face and offered words of comfort.
A little further on Gabi was muttering and tossing, sleepless. Vivek knew he must be in a lot of discomfort from the fractures suffered in a gang war earlier that week so thought of offering him a sedative.
Gabi looked like he was going to lunge at her with his fists and hurled a few choice expletives her way, so she backed out hurriedly.
Gabi stared at her in dismay. Why did I ever act like that? She looked like a ministering angel. I am so used to having to protect myself, but what if, just what if she had intended to show mercy? Vivek didn’t know how he felt in his heart and avoided him next time she passed by.
Eventually, Vivek reached Mrs. Farah’s room supposing she would be fast asleep by now. The round orbs that were the old woman’s eyes were wide and staring as Vivek crept closer. Vivek placed the candle on the bedside table and knelt beside her. She placed the wrinkled, claw-like hand between her own, and stroked it gently.
“Oh, Vivek, thank you for coming.” Mrs. Farah murmured. Vivek saw that her cheeks were damp where a tear or two had coursed down it.
“Would you care to talk?”
In the silence that followed Vivek dimly heard a bell tinkle, and the sound of passing feet.
“What is beyond this life?” Mrs. Farah asked hesitantly.
As Vivek quietly shared her hope of eternal life with God, Mrs. Farah listened eagerly. "If we confess that we have sinned to Jesus," Vivek continued, "He will take them all away. Jesus has prepared a place in Heaven for them that love and serve Him."
Eventually, Mrs. Farah fell into a deep and peaceful sleep, so Vivek let herself out of the room.
Far down the hall, she saw the brightly lighted nurses’ station with the staff all dressed in white.
They were enjoying each other’s fellowship, which was pleasant, yet here in the dark and gloomy corridors, only the occasional beam of light was searching out the needs of a suffering society. Some cautioned against penetrating the darkness with all its dangers, and reminded her that they can come to us but once again Vivek wondered how many would actually dare.
She slipped into a comfortable recliner and had nearly dozed off when Jenna’s words floated into her consciousness.