After parking the car in the monstrous multi-level parking lot of the trauma center at Castro Valley, Ary walked into the emergency ward and enquired about his friend. He was directed to one of the smaller rooms where she was lying down on the bed, eyes closed, lower part of the body covered by thick white clothes. If he hadn’t noticed that, he would have thought she was just taking a regular nap like he had seen her taking umpteen times in the past. Two tall African American men in white gowns were standing near her bed and discussing something in a very low voice. Ary presumed they were the doctors inspecting her.
Seeing Ary walk into the room, they turned around.
“She listed me as her emergency contact person. They gave me a call, so I got here”, Ary said in a shaky tone.
“Hi, I am Dr. Stephan. This is Dr. Phil with me”, the shorter of the two men said and shook Ary’s hand.
“Are you her family?”, the taller doctor, Dr. Phil, asked. He was really really tall- probably six and a half feet or something.
“Friend. We go to university together”, Ary responded hesitantly. He wasn’t very sure how to answer that question. In this land far away from his hometown and his parents, where he had been living for the last four years but had no real roots, she was his family. Probably she considered him his family too, after all she listed him as her emergency contact person, but she always seemed so distant even though they hung out all the time. And it wasn’t just him, every body felt the same way about her- guy or girl. She seemed like a saint. No human being seemed to leave an impression on her, nothing could make her vulnerable. Probably that was why Ary was a little happy when he heard about the accident. He wanted the accident to be a reality check for her, he wanted her to realize how important he was in her life, he wanted the shell of her vanity to crumble to pieces which he would sweep away and finally be able to make her truly love him.
But the present situation seemed much more serious than that. It wasn’t just a mere accident. From the tone of the doctors and the ambience in the room, it seemed like death was lurking in the background.
“Is she gonna be fine?”, Ary asked the doctors. His voice was trembling when he asked that.
Dr. Phil responded, in his African American accent, “We are trying our best. There is internal bleeding. She basically fell off a cliff. The hike was slippery or something. You know it rained so hard last few days, it was always dangerous to do a hike today. She fell down and her stomach hit a hard rock. That’s what we gathered from her. So there’s internal bleeding inside her stomach and kidneys- we have to stop the bleeding immediately. Otherwise she is gonna lose all the blood and die. We will start a procedure soon-in about half an hour. Why don’t you go wait in the waiting room? We will give you regular updates and call you when the procedure is done. If everything works out smooth, we will give her a room in the ICU which is in the other building. Ohh, and she also has a major fracture in the right leg, I am guessing. She couldn’t move that leg at all and reported enormous pain there a while ago. Anyway, Dr. Stephan will take care of that later. We gotta stop the bleeding now.”
Ary looked at her painfully. Her eyes were still closed. Then he turned towards Dr. Phil again and asked, “Can she talk now?”
“Well, we gave her some pain killers. She may not be completely in her senses, but you can try talking. It won’t harm”, Dr. Phil responded assuringly.
Ary walked close to Polo, touched her forehead and waited for a while. She slowly opened her eyes and looked at him. There was a smile on her face, but the smile looked different from her usual smile. Probably it was the pain.
“Why did you go hiking into Muir woods on a working day?”, Ary asked. They both were Bengalis, but unlike Ary she didn’t grow up in Calcutta and hardly spoke Bengali in childhood. So they mostly communicated to each other in English.
“Was working in the lab, wasn’t getting any good idea, thought of taking a break, took the Bart and then bus and went to Muir woods, it almost became evening by that time”, she responded. The characteristic nonchalance was still there in her words and in her tone. That extreme pain and the fear of impending death didn’t seem to shake her spirit. It amazed and disappointed Ary at the same time.
“What happened at work today?”, she asked Ary. Though they were both graduate students in the same department in University of California Berkeley, they had different research advisers and laboratories, which were also in different buildings. So their paths didn’t really cross everyday for the sake of their work, but they both made it a point to catch up almost every alternate day. Sometimes she would drop by his lab in the afternoon and they would go out for coffee. Sometimes he would go to her lab and they would go out for lunch or dinner. And of course there were the weekends where they would explore Berkeley and rest of the bay area together- the hills, the beaches, the bookstores, the museums, the cafes, the bars and the restaurants.
“Bill dropped by to deliver some packages. He was saying Ronda Rousey just beat every woman in UFC, now they would need to put her against a guy. I asked Bill if he could take her down. He said he was currently not in the best shape, so he wouldn’t be able to, but in his heyday he could have”, Ary said.
Bill was a big African American man who delivered packages to their lab. He was a big timeUFC fan.
“Janice was walking by”, Ary continued, “Bill said, “Janice can take her down”. Janice overheard only that part and said, “Who?”
Janice was a fat elderly African American lady who worked as Ary’s adviser’s secretary and sat in the office next to their laboratory. Both Ary and Polo used to find her hilarious, and she was particularly fond of them too.
Polo said, “ROFL” There was a glow of joy on her face.
“Alright, I will go wait in the waiting room. You have to go through a procedure now, “Ary said, “Ohh by the way, should I call up your parents? It will be midday in Singapore. I think we should inform them.”
Polo nodded. She was probably in too much pain to keep talking. Ary wished she wasn’t taken away anywhere from there for procedure and he could just stand there all night and talk to her. But then the nurses and staff came over and started making arrangements to slide her bed all the way to the operation room. Ary held her hand tightly and she pressed it tighter. That was the first time he sensed vulnerability in her. Somebody who was always exploring life, always living on the edge, was always ready to do new stuff and push her body to the limits expressed momentary fear at the face of death. It was as if she had lost faith in the mental world she had built together with Ary over the last two years- the world of mathematics, science, poetry, music and mysticism and just got in touch with reality- the finite possibility of everything coming to an end for her.
Ary kissed her on the cheek and walked away.