(As told to Joie Bose)
(Names changed to protect identities)
I was going through a tough time at home
Dr Wasim Ahmed looked like Imran Khan and seemed totally out of place in the hospital where I worked as a receptionist. He was a doctor but he basically facilitated between the support staff, nurses and the other doctors. He had a management degree and represented us workers in the management boards, highlighting our concerns. Dr Wasim was empathetic, kind and caring.
When my mother fell ill, our head of staff created hell for me. She didn’t grant me leave after the first few days. As the only earning member of my family, it was difficult for me. One day Dr Wasim found me red-eyed on duty and instead of asking me what was wrong, he waited for my shift to get over. As I got out of the hospital and headed towards the bus stand, he followed me casually as if he too was going that way. Soon he caught up with me and asked, “Hey Sukanya, what’s wrong with you these days?”
The way he asked me was so casual that it didn’t matter to me who he was and I poured out my heart to him. He took me to a tea-stall nearby and ordered an egg-toast. I ate hungrily. It had been ages since someone treated me with respect, care and concern. Time flew and I poured my heart out, over glasses of cutting-chai. I didn’t care if Mother was worried. I didn’t care if it was getting late. Dr Wasim just sat and heard me and I trusted him. I told him of my mother’s paralysis. About my father leaving us. I told him about my brother having to quit his tuition classes just before his board exams. I told him about my fiancé breaking off the marriage because of the sudden changes in my life that my mother’s illness brought upon us.
We found a mutual love of food
For us Bengalis food is the ultimate solution to everything. Dr Wasim asked me, “Biryani khabe?” Do you want to have biryani? He dropped me off home in a taxi, because he didn’t want to return to the hospital to take his car. People would see us together and rumours would fly. Since that day, every now and then we began roaming around the city on a gastronomic food tour.
When my brother asked me why I was late so often these days, I told him that there was pressure at work. He told me that in our neighbourhood people had seen a man dropping me off in a taxi and were beginning to talk. A dark cloud came on his face. Then with tears in his eyes, my brother said, “As long as you are not doing anything wrong to support the family Didi, it is none of my business. If you are, tell me, I will start working. Studies can wait. We are in this together.” At that moment, my heart broke. He was thinking I was selling myself?
I quickly reassured him and told him of Dr Wasim, who was just a friend. I told him how we harmlessly roamed around the city. Spoke. Ate. I told him that Dr Wasim was married and that he need not worry.
But that night onward, I began thinking, what was it between Dr Wasim and me? We just talked really. Ate. Ate a lot. Nothing else. But was there not something?
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Gifts of food that meant so much more
The following day, I made halwa for breakfast and left it in a box for Dr Wasim at his table before he came in. At lunchtime when I returned to the staff room I found the empty container waiting for me atop my locker. Another day I found a Cadbury waiting for me. This game went on for over a month, but we didn’t talk about it when we met. I made kheer, mutton curry and even cutlets. Pickles, dry fruits, barfi and more chocolates awaited me. I had never seen a more beautiful and a more caring soul.
I still remember the date, it was 30th March.
Dr Wasim’s eyes were smiling at me that day. Perhaps it was me who felt that everything was extra special, in hindsight. I don’t know. I had decided that what was happening between us could be so much more and had so much potential that I would take the first step forward. That evening, while walking along with him down Zacharia Street towards a famous kebab joint, I took out my phone and texted him.
When I spoke my heart
I love you.
His phone beeped and he took it out. His face remained inexpressive in the glow of the mobile light. He wrote something. My phone beeped.
You know I’m married, right?
Of course I knew it. And what was I thinking? And what was he thinking? What was going on between us? And what did my loving him have anything to do with his marriage? Why was he with me for so long if he was happy? So many questions bombarded my mind. I wrote another text.
What is this between us?
He didn’t reply to this. Instead he said he was feeling a little unwell and it would be great if we left the kebabs for another day. He asked me if I wanted a sandwich from the confectionery that was in front of us, for he saw my face fall. He had thought I was hungry. Fool! I replied yes. My world was shattering. But strangely my head over took my heart. I didn’t want to cry. Normally I would have had. But that day I didn’t. I pretended as if nothing had happened and I quietly ate.
He asked me if I wanted anything more. I said yes. I ordered for some more savouries and a big chocolate cake. He laughed and asked me what I was celebrating. I said I was taking all of that for my brother. After paying, he dropped me home. That was the last I saw of him.
So I resigned because I could no longer work with him
I sent in my resignation the next day. I couldn’t bear to be next to Dr Wasim any more. I’d dreamed of him and I dreamed of settling down with him. I had dreamed of my relatives protesting about marrying an already married man or about marrying a Muslim. And I would have fought with the world, just to be with him. Alas, nothing happened.
I didn’t go back to the hospital. Ever. In fact I changed my field of work. It was tough initially to manage, but I found another job in a few days’ time. I work in a school. And I teach in an evening school as well. I manage. Thankfully my mother is unable to understand what is going on in my life and my brother is too young to even fathom what just happened. Dr Wasim never tried to contact me. There is a man who has been pursuing me for marriage for the last few months and though I don’t love him, though I am a little sceptical, I am considering marriage. Dr Wasim had a charm for me that no one will ever have. I don’t know what exactly was so charming, but I guess in life, you never really get what you want.