He asked me as if he knew what must have conspired between the two of us. He knew, I thought. There was no point in lying.
“Well, she uh..told me that her family had conspired to put her here. To get a share in her father’s property. She told me she didn’t really belong here”
He was quiet for a while. Then he said, “Dr. Neeti, All I can tell you is to be careful of what you believe of what comes out of these patients’ mouths. They’re smarter than you think”
I wondered for a moment if he was implicitly telling me that Smita was lying. Did he know more than he was letting on?
“Sir, you must have read her file. Is she lying to me?” I asked before I could stop myself.
He contemplated my question for a while before answering, “I can’t share the details unless the family approves. But I can tell you this – the events are true, per se. But what she said about her family’s intentions and her own..well, those are as clear to me as they are to you”
I felt even more confused than before. I wanted more details, and it seemed as though he understood my longing to know more, because he said, “I can understand how baffling this might be for you. But this is how it is. Intentions are the toughest to understand. Take it from someone who has been there, done that”
My brain was in overdrive and I heard his advice only distantly. I nodded vaguely and eventually said, “I want to have a look at her file. Let me know when her family approves”
He nodded and said, “I’ll let you know as soon as possible”
With that, I took his leave and walked out of his office. I have 6 more days to go, I thought, maybe I’ll be able to figure it out by then.
There was no answer from her family over the next two days, but I still spent a lot of time with her and other patients in the wing. Smita, as it soon transpired, was a smart girl who loved reading literature and watching movies. She was in her second year of B.Com when she dropped out and decided to pursue her passion for writing full time. She showed a lot of her stories and articles that she had worked on after being admitted. I had to admit, she was quite talented. It was obvious that she was extremely passionate about what she did, because she went on talking about it for hours.
I met a few others patients who had rooms close by. Almost all of them parroted the belief that they didn’t belong here. Each one had a story to tell. But none of them convinced me as strongly as Smita had. It was not about what they said, in fact, 2 days later Smita’s story was still the most implausible one that I had heard; it was the vibe of hopelessness and misery that they carried around themselves that gave them away. Their eyes had the sort of blank look of being lost in limbo – of not knowing which path they would take if they were to start walking again. They smiled, but it was as mechanical as their routines.
Their routine included a daily hobby class where they were allowed to pursue a hobby of their choice from the list of given activities. It included chess, carom, painting, reading and a few outdoor sports like basketball and badminton. Everything happened under supervision. Everyone was thoroughly checked for any object that they might use to harm themselves at both the entry and exit. Reading, ofcourse, was Smita’s hobby of choice. But she soon became bored because there were more books about the economic development of India and biographies of politicians than literature. Another one of her favourite hobbies, she said, was playing cards.
“Each year at Diwali, I loved playing cards with Papa”, she said with a smile, “We invited a few good friends over and played all night”
I smiled back and said, “My family does that too. Except I’ve never played any card game before”
“Are you serious?” she said with a chuckle, “You haven’t played either Rummy, 3-2-5 or bluff ever?”
“I think I played bluff once, a few years ago. But I was pretty bad at it”
“Oh in that case I would love to play with you, it would give my ego a boost!” she said and we both started laughing.
“So they don’t have cards here?” I asked when the laughter had died down.
“No. I wish they did though, I would literally play all day!”
“With whom? Are there other people here who like to play?”
“I don’t know, but I’m sure there are”
At this point my phone buzzed and I excused myself to see what it was. It was Dr. Mohan’s message – ‘Please come to my office. Smita’s bua is here’
I wondered why she wanted to meet me. I had only requested to see her file, not meet her family personally.
“Hey Smita, I have to go to Dr. Mohan’s office. He says it’s important”, I said to Smita as I turned to face her.
“Okay, when am I seeing you next?”
“Tomorrow” I said with a smile.
As I walked towards Dr. Mohan’s office, I thought about why I had decided against telling Smita that I was going to meet her Bua. It was an instinctive decision and it had felt right. Maybe I just didn’t want to make it so obvious that I was on her side. Maybe because I had doubts about it myself.
I entered his office and found a lady dressed in a simple Salwaar Kameez sitting in a chair. She seemed to be in her mid-40’s and looked very collected. She smiled as she saw me and stuck out her hand, “Hello, you must be Ms. Neeti, the intern Dr. Mohan was telling me about”
I shook her hand and said, “Yes. Nice to meet you”
“I’m Archana, Smita’s bua”
I had not forgotten about the allegations that Smita had laid down against her family. I kept reminding myself to be objective and not let my friendship with her cloud my judgement, but try as I might, my preconceived notions kept poking me again and again as I sat down with her.
“So Dr. Mohan tells me you want to see her file?” she asked.
“Yes, she has told me a few things that I would like to corroborate”
“I have had a word about this with Dr. Mohan, and unfortunately, I can’t let you have a look at her file”, she said gently.
That came as a blow. I wasn’t expecting this. In fact, I had never doubted the outcome of my request and was looking forward to finally getting a look at that file. She seemed to surmise as much from my look of disbelief and said, “I’m sorry, but this is a very sensitive matter for us and we only let very few people in on it. But I can answer all your questions. That’s why I’m here”
Which would mean that everything will be told from your point of view, I thought as I looked at her. Why would she not let me at least have a look at it? Even as the question formed in my mind, I began to doubt her intentions. My subconscious started telling me, once again, that Smita was right. There was something fishy here. I looked into her face, which was lined with age and sculpted by experience. To someone who was not privy to Smita’s story, Archana’s explanation might have been good enough. But I could not ignore all these signs that only pointed towards one thing.
I finally opened my mouth and said, “I only wanted to see it for academic purposes”
“I understand, but even then, I cannot allow this. I’m sorry”
I was silent for another few moments and then said, “She told me that her father had left her a lot of property, and the only reason she is here is because you put her here” I decided it was best to be blunt right now.
She sighed and said, “You believe her?”
I considered the question for a moment, “So far, yes”
“It is true that her father left her a lot of property. But none of us are vying for it. We might be a joint family, but we have never eyed my brother’s property in that way. The only reason Smita is here is because of her own suicidal tendencies”, she replied slowly.
“You make it sound like she’s attempted suicide plenty of times, but there was only this time that she had ingested pills, mistaking them for headache ones-”
Archana cut me off at that point and said, “Which is not true. She knew what she was taking. They were benzodiazepines for her depression. She had it all planned”
I shook my head, “Even if what you’re saying is true, how is one attempt enough to put someone in a suicidal wing for a month? Wouldn’t outpatient counselling have been enough?”
“Would you rather we wait for her to have 10 attempts under her belt before admitting her?” she asked in a pained voice.
I didn’t know what to say. It was Archana’s word against Smita’s. The file must have had everything (or lack thereof) – history of Smita’s alleged depression, attempted suicide and every other evidence of mental illness, but Archana wouldn’t let me see it. I was beginning to feel extremely frustrated at this point. It was like being lost in the middle of a maze without the support of a compass.
Eventually, I simply nodded and said, “I didn’t mean to intrude. I’m sorry if you felt that way”
“That’s alright. I can understand why you must be curious” she replied.
At that point I took my leave and left. Instead of making anything clear, this conversation had only made things murkier for me. If anything, I had begun to trust my gut about Smita even more. Archana’s outright refusal to let me have a look at her file was odd for sure. It seemed as though Dr. Mohan believed her as well. He didn’t utter a single word during our conversation. On my way out, I waved at Smita in farewell. She smiled at me and waved back. I’m right, I thought to myself.
Next day (which was also my last day), I bought a new pack of playing cards for Smita on my way to the institute. I remembered how happy she had looked at the prospect of playing with a pathetic player like me, and I decided that if I couldn’t help her get out, I could make her happy for a while at least. I walked into her room and gave her the box. She squealed with happiness and said, “You read my mind, sister!”
“Well, now you can get your game on and show everyone what a player you are” I replied with a smile.
“Absolutely. I think we should start with bluff first. It’s for noobs like you”
I mock-frowned at her, “Sure. Let’s start”
“Hey we don’t play bluff with two people. We need at least four”
“Okay..so who do you suggest we call?”
“Well, I think Jyoti and Nandu might be interested. They seemed happier than everyone else, at least”
“Okay, you go fetch them. I’ll wait here”
“I can’t. Their rooms are on the first floor and I can’t go wandering off alone to any floor that I want. It’s against the rules.”
“I see. Okay, no problem. Tell me their room numbers, I’ll go and call them”
She smiled, “Great. Go to room 204 for Jyoti and 201 for Nandu”
“Right. Be back in a minute”, I said as I got up and walked out.
I took the stairs and reached Room 204. It was open. A nurse was ticking off points off a list and a girl who I presumed to be Jyoti was sitting on the bed.
I cleared my throat and said, “Jyoti?”
She looked up and replied, “Yes?”
“Hi, I’m Dr. Neeti. Do you know Smita?”
“Oh yes, I talk to her sometimes. She’s a nice girl”
“Yeah. I’m a visiting intern for this week. I’ve been interacting with Smita for 6 days and she tells me you might be interested in playing cards with her”
Suddenly, the nurse looked up and said in alarm, “What cards?”
“Well I bought her a new pack of cards today. She said she wanted to play bluff but it needs at least four people so I…”, suddenly my eyes slid out of focus as my brain put two and two together. The nurse was already rushing past me when reality struck me hard and I turned on my heels and followed her lead.
We thundered down the stairs, scaring a few nurses and patients lumbering around their floor. We skidded to a halt in front of Smita’s room. The sight of blood greeted me as everything around me faded into a blur. I was vaguely aware of two more nurses and Dr. Mohan rushing into the room to tie a cloth around her bleeding wrist. All I could see was her white face and immobile body. The card that she had used to slash her wrist was lying menacingly next to her.
Someone was yelling, “Code red!” repeatedly. I felt someone pulling me back as they dragged a stretcher inside the room. As they carried Smita out of the room, I heard her feebly mutter her last word, “Thank you”
And I was left standing with the burden of that word for an eternity.
So here it is. I decided to conclude it in 2 parts instead of stretching it on further. I hope you liked it! Feedback will be appreciated.