The hospital room looked like most hospital rooms do, terribly sad. The kind of sad that doesn’t believe in sunshine, colours or even rainbows. It’s surprising how one place can bring to you happiness wrapped in glitter paper yet leave you dry and lifeless. It was sultry and the harshness of the summer was here to make the insides of the human body melt. The fan kept moving in circular motions making the room humid, the air smelled of sweat and medicines and of emotions leaving one’s soul. Somewhere near I could hear the ambulance blaring, a few doctors and nurses rushed to the main entrance to attend the patient who had a heart attack. There was a flurry of activities with silence resuming as quickly as the storm arriving. My visits to the hospital are not very routinely but sometimes my headaches get the worst of me. On waking up this morning, my head started to explode like a thousand loudspeakers set off at once. The painkillers failed to give any relief and I almost collapsed. I saw a few newspapers and magazines lying around and to occupy myself I kept flipping through them. The doctor was stuck in traffic which meant I had a lot of time in my hands. After about an hour, when the waiting became monotonous, I decided to stroll and stretch my muscles a little.
While walking down the aisle, I passed a room which was slightly open. I heard someone singing. It sounded like the voice of a man. Deciding to not let curiosity get the best of me, I kept walking. The voice kept getting louder and before I could open the door to understand what was happening, an old man came out of the room looking tired. He looked a little taken aback by my infringement on his privacy but I apologized for the misconduct and admitted it was just out of sheer curiosity. He listened and then laughed. Unfamiliar as it may sound, his eyes bore a tint of belongingness and comfort. He turned around and closed the door slowly, making no noise while gesturing for a cup of coffee. Hesitatingly, I obliged.
The next few moments changed my life and how.
The old man was a retired police officer. After having served the country for about 30 years, he decided to live the last few years of his life with his wife in peace and togetherness. On inquiry I found out he had no children and no regrets. In the middle of our conversation, he stood up, went inside the room and returned. He kept doing this after every ten minutes. Before I could say anything, he sensed the uneasiness starting to develop, the air getting denser and that’s when he spoke. “It started when we went on a trip post retirement to the hills. She loves adventures and I don’t. But her enthusiasm always wins over my resistance and we end up visiting different parts of the world. While we were returning, she forgot the names of the places we visited. It was strange but not unusual. On another occasion, she couldn’t remember her favourite TV shows or where the locker keys were or where the laundry clothes were kept. Blaming it on old age, we didn’t pay much heed to her forgetfulness which we believed happened to everyone.”
He paused a little, wiping the tears that came running down. Once again he stood up and went to the room. He returned and continued,” Sometimes I wish, I had known. But there are certain things in life that are beyond your capacity and control. When we were having dinner at a dear friend’s house one day, she forgot the names of the people she was surrounded with. And that’s when it hit us. The reality came crashing down and before we could realise what was happening, it was too late. The months that followed kept getting worse. In between everything that was happening I kept telling myself we’d sail through this, we always did. That no matter how extreme the disease was it won’t tear us apart and for a few weeks it felt like there was hope. But as fate would have it, she didn’t remember me. She woke up one morning with terror in her eyes and a scream so deafening it shattered my whole world. I tried to calm her down but nothing would make her feel better. Maybe I knew this would happen. I wasn’t ready to accept it. Nobody can handle such a blow. My wife and I have been married for 60 years and I have never needed anyone else in my life. Seeing her in a state of such helplessness broke my faith in ways more than one. It is difficult trying to be a new person everyday for her because she doesn’t remember me; it’s like living a life wondering whether I will ever get the old her back. Most days, she refuses to look at me. She is scared of my face, this stranger that I am becoming to her.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” I mumbled.
He went on, “But you know what kept me going?” I nodded.
He smiled and whispered, “Her love. I could not for the life of me be who I am had it not been for her. That’s when I decided my story wasn’t over. It could not end like this. There were parts of her still left that loved me and appreciated me and I wasn’t going to give up so soon.”
It was time for my appointment with the doctor but I refused to go. The old man was staring at the walls of the cafeteria, looking at nothing but I knew his mind was with his wife. A gentle smile spread across his face. He looked at me and I knew. He was reminiscing all those precious times he spent with his wife when they went on adventures along with their nights spent lying under the star lit sky and when the world was cruel but their love wasn’t.
After sharing a few minutes of silence, he stood up for the last time.
“But why were you singing?” I asked.
“When I sing, her eyes lit up like a million fireflies and even if it’s for a few seconds, it’s worth a lifetime of happiness for me. And if you have a wife who smiles like that, you know you’ve found the one.” And he went inside. I don’t remember how long I sat at the cafeteria. His words echoing through my mind, his unwavering faith and the courage to keep believing opened my heart to a new dimension.
I walked down the aisle once again to go back home but this time things became clearer and calmer.
How do you define love then? I thought. Is it when you build a foundation of faith so strong that even fate trembles? Or when you see the one you love slowly disappear yet you keep holding on to the damaged parts till there’s nothing left?
Maybe we will never find out. Or maybe we might just get lucky.