Don’t Go Away
Riddhi Doshi ( inspired from a real-life story)
They have been by each other’s side for a good eight months now. Eating, sleeping and playing together, impossible to separate.
Little Laksmi, 7, and Ayan, 6, have grown extremely fond of each other. Ayan says that he will marry Lakshmi when he grows up, to which Lakshmi nods enthusiastically.
They became friends after Ayan shared half his biscuit with Lakshmi when she first walked into the hospital ward and since the duo shared their tiffins, pencils, erasers, colours and lots of laughter.
Even at their weakest, post a chemotherapy, the duo sticks together, nursing each other’s wrists, sore from the multiple needles and syringes. Hidden under the bedsheets, they talk in hushed tones about stars, moons and a land full of chocolates where they’ll go hand in hand when they grow up. But more than often the conversation is interrupted by the overwhelming medicines, though what it can’t do is to tear the children apart physically. They are often found sleeping in each other’s arms.
On good days they manage to create quite a ruckus in the overcrowded children’s hospital of Mumbai. Ayan loves to jump from one bed to another and Lakshmi applauds him on his every step like he is some Olympics star.
Surprisingly though, the nursing staff isn’t too hard on them. Lakshmi and Aryan’s bond has managed to bring smiles to the faces of even the most seasoned doctors, who have mastered the art of breaking the news of the horrible disease to the shocked, wailing parents with a straight face. They seemed to numbed their senses while mastering the art of inserting needles into the soft skins of toddlers, which is later sealed by a small piece of wood to avoid children from scratching and further damaging their skins.
But Ayan and Lakshmi seemd to have coped with the pain quite well, thanks to each other’s company. That’s what the head nurse of the hospital believes. In her 25-year career she has never seen such happy kids happy in the cancer ward.
Lakshmi was born in Mumbai to a carpenter father Mahesh and homemaker mother Bhairavi. Originally from Joanpur, Uttarpradesh, Mahesh decided to move to Mumbai soon after marriage to seek better earning opportunities. He has since been living in two rooms at Javerbai slum along with his two older children, wife, three brothers, their wives and children.
Aryan is the only son of taxi driver, Dilip and homemaker, Asha. They live in B2 chawl and unlike Lakshmi he never had to wear run-down clothes or share his food, books or toys with other kids.
In fact, just before Aryan had to discontinue school and was brought to the hospital his father bought him a ChhotaBheem bag and a water bottle. He’s quite possessive about his belongings, but happily shares them with Lakshmi.
Both Ayan and Lakshmi were diagnosed around the same time. At the very onset their parents were told that they would be in a hospital for a longer duration. But these little munchkins weren’t complaining, As long as they had each other, they didn’t care.
On the other hand their parents were trying hard to arrange for funds for the kids’ advance treatment. Dilip was now working double shifts. As a driver in the morning and as a watchman at night. He so far had managed to earn 50,000 rupees, still 1,50,000 rupees short. Despite of cutting down on ration and sleep, he was struggling to accumulate the required amount. Asha too managed to cut corners. She slept in the hospital corridors instead of renting out a room near the hospital like many parents did.
Lakshmi’s father Mahesh hadn’t done all that well either. His work at the housing complex in Navi Mumbai stopped due to the new Real Estate Regulation Act and his contractor refused to let him work at any other site, which he wasn’t in charge of. If Mahesh did so, he would lose his house provided by the contractor.
The going was tough and people say that sometimes the shared sorrow bring people together. But that wasn’t true for the two set of parents, especially the mothers. Asha and Bhairavi never really spoke to each other except this once after a particularly bad chemo session that made the kids exceptionally week.
Asha took a surprised Bhairavi by her shoulders and accused her of falsely claiming poverty to become eligible for medical funds from an NGO for Lakshmi’s treatment. The baffled Bhairavi was at loss of words. But Asha was uncontrollable. She was now hurling abuses at Bhairavi, her hands shivering and tears rolling down her cheeks.
“So many people visit you at the hospital and bring toys and goodies for your child. Why don’t you ask them for money? Please let other people in real need use the funds,” said Asha.
“Why don’t you withdraw your application for the funds and let those with more survival chances live,” replied Bhairavi.
Asha broke down, collapsed on the floor and wailed. But nobody came forward to console her. They all just gulped, looked away and let her cry.
Lakshmi got the funds as she had 90% survival chances. Aryan didn’t as he had clearly scored below 35% in the highly competitive, survival-of-the-fittest test in a mega city like Mumbai.
A few hours later Lakshmi was taken away for chemotherapy, for the very first time without Aryan. She stopped midway, half ran half walked to Aryan, cupped her hands around his ear and whispered. “I’ll be back soon. Wait for me here. Don’t go away.”