By Nanditha Kannan
Fatigue was threatening to wash over my insides again. I tried to rise, but I felt wholly comatose, unable to support myself. My renewed efforts vain, I fell back onto the bed. I hadn’t moved the past week; the only sight for my sore eyes was the cream-colored wall adorning the space opposite my white metal bed fitted with wheels. I was principally afraid of the bed sliding, and me rolling off and away with it. Naturally, I’d not be efficient enough to move the bed back to its original position, in front of the cream wall, beside the rosewood stool. I barely had enough energy to open my eyelids these days. “Maya,” my sister called out from behind the door to the room. She emerged, her usually perfectly made hair pulled up in a careless bun. “It’s time for you to-” I cut her across, holding a trembling hand up; it fell back down as quickly as it came, I was too weak, clearly. It was, however, enough to quieten her. She looked down as fresh tears filled her strong brown eyes. The nurse, Alisa, entered, holding a prescription firm in her hands. “Well, hello again,” she smiled, giving me a bright smile. I wanted to return it, but I couldn’t. I simply couldn’t do a thing. The usual, painful, time-consuming process went on subsequently. I couldn’t swallow food- I had to be tube-fed. The tube was fashionably placed directly into my stomach. A specially prepared mixture of nutrients was fed into the tube, but of course, I couldn’t taste it. I hadn’t tasted food in almost two months now. Once Alisa was satisfied I’d gotten all the nutrition I needed, she patted my forehead, gave me another smile, and walked out, saying that the doctor would come to see me in another quarter-hour. Siya, my older sister, came down and dropped beside me onto the stool. “M-mama is on h-her way,” she said, her voice choking at the end. I wasn’t sensitive to her feeling, though, not this time. I moved my head in acknowledgment of having heard what she’d just said. “Please talk,” she pleaded. “Please.” I took in as much air as my dilapidated lungs allowed me to. “Why?” I asked. My voice was barely heard. Siya looked up at me, her eyebrows curved upwards, looking miserable. With a great courageous effort, I swallowed and spoke. “I am going to die in a few days, Siya,” I said. Tears welled up in my eyes and spilled onto the pillow. “There’s nothing you can do to help me, nothing you want to do to help me. I am pathetic, my heart has no hope, all I feel is despair. I wish I die sooner. I hope God has the mercy to take me away, I’m ready to go. I can’t live with this pain.” My sister, who had been trying to hold back her tears for my sake, could not anymore; unreservedly, tears gushed from her eyes. “D-don’t say th-that,” she spluttered. More tears cascaded down her cheeks, onto her pants. “Then why don’t you help me?” I croaked, as Siya shook her head back and forth in denial. “It’s not good for you, she’s not good for you,” she mumbled, wiping her cheeks. I sighed. “MAYA!” I heard the series of sounds I had registered with the arrival of my mother. She would drop her bags with a thud onto the floor of the front room outside and take her slippers off beside them; she’d greet all the people on the way, and even more as she washed her hands in the basin outside my room. “Hello, mama’s here darling-” Mother’s sonorous call quelled as soon as she got a glimpse of me. Siya rushed to her side, and I could hear her quite markedly tell my mother that I’d gotten worse today, that I was getting worse each day. My mother’s face retracted. She frowned a little, then straightened herself and walked toward me. “This is quite serious, Maya,” she said firmly. “The doctors tell me that you’ve no will to live, and they simply cannot do much more than this! What is it that is bothering you? We are trying to help you!” Her voice stifled, she held down tears; either mother wept for hours, or she didn’t cry at all. I managed a slight grin. “This is terminal cancer we’re dealing with,” I whispered back. “We all know how this is going to end.” My mother’s expression hardened. “You can live longer if you leave no stone unturned, you can!” she cried. “But there’s nothing left that I look forward to anymore,” I said, moaning as a feverish feeling swept over me, making me feel nauseous. Perhaps there is only one more thing that will make me strive for my life, but they’ve taken that away from me. I turned my head sideways, and although my head felt weighty, with difficulty I stole a glance at the framed picture beside my bed. My heart soared with a joy that it wasn’t expecting at the moment, and I felt my cheekbones align in a smile I wasn’t ready for, for smiling took a lot of effort. My mother and sister sighed. The doctor arrived at the door, knocked, and came in. He analysed me, tested me a little, my memory, asked for his name, which seemed altogether ridiculous to me, since I’d been seeing him for over four months now, and then walked off with my mother. Moments later, she came back into the room, her eyes sunken. “Try to get some sleep,” she said. “We’ll be back in the morning. Your aunt will be here to spend the night.” With that, she turned and left, and I thought I heard a sob as she left the room; Siya followed her, turning at the door to give me a feeble smile. I slowly turned toward the picture, feeling remarkably dejected. Somehow, I felt that my end was nearer than everyone thought. I knew I was going to die soon. And I hoped with all my heart that I’d get to see her before I did.
Aunt Sanah walked in the front door in a haste. She looked frazzled, and one look at mother and me, her face pulled into a long frown. “Girls, for God’s sake,” she said, dropping the groceries onto the kitchen counter and bounding toward us. I stood up and motioned for her to follow me to the kitchen. My mother was too exhausted to notice. Aunt Sanah followed me to the kitchen, looking dazed. “Maya’s gotten worse, and probably isn’t going to get any better tomorrow. She’s making it pretty clear she doesn’t want to stay here anymore,” I said. Auntie pursed her lips. “Her one condition remains, though?” she asked. I nodded. “Perhaps, that is the only thing that will make her aim-” my voice broke yet again, as I held back tears with difficulty. “For a better last few days,” Auntie said, holding my shoulder securely. I looked at my aunt, and she appeared to be thinking hard and long. After a few moments, she looked at me firmly. “I think the only right thing to do is to concede Maya’s wish.” I swallowed. What had gotten into her? This is the solution she’d come up with after thinking so much? “We’ve been through this!” I exclaimed. “Maya has an asthma problem and is already having trouble breathing with all these tubes going in and out of her body!” Before I could finish the customary explanation, as to how giving Maya what she wanted, although it was an inviting thought, for the girl was going through so much, was not the right thing to do, I heard my mother cough deliberately at the entrance to the kitchen. Both of us turned towards her. She was leaning against the wooden railing, her hands smoothing her forehead in a consoling manner. “For once, I agree with your aunt,” she said, her face contorted in a manner that showed that she wasn’t exactly in the highest spirits. I looked at my aunt, and she looked back at me amusedly. My mother spoke again. “The poor girl probably doesn’t have a very long time left, so let’s give her what she’s been wanting so badly. She’d be elated, and I’d give anything to see that happy look on her face.” They were both right. Maya deserved to be happy. She was the merriest girl on the planet. Why did these illnesses strike the loveliest people? She was the most cordial and deserving child, who was always cheerful. She made everybody around her happy as well. “You’re right,” I said. “Oh for the sake of all that ever was, I said the same thing now!” Auntie mused, throwing her hands up in exasperation. “And you’d end up agreeing with only your darling mother!” She pouted childishly. Mother and I laughed, something we had missed doing in a long, long time. We missed Maya so terribly, and sometimes I thought that Auntie compensated for some of the glee Maya brought to the house. For the right reasons, they were unnervingly similar. I nodded. “Let’s go get that dog,” I said. Aunt Sanah raised her eyebrows, then nodded vigorously. “Yes of course, of course, come, come!” she squealed, propelling me forward. Chuckling, she added, “I was just a little surprised, I never thought I’d hear you say that!”
The room was engulfed in darkness as Alisa turned the lights off and closed the door behind her. I was feeling utterly forlorn and discouraged. I wished I had her with me. She gave me such strength. Only, the others couldn’t understand that. Why was it so hard to believe that my little Joy, my little Dachshund puppy, gave me so much peace of mind? She was an ecstatic, adorable little creature. And I hadn’t seen her in almost two months, since this awful treatment had begun. “She’d not be able to go through two days without me,” I wailed to my mother almost a month back, but she’d just not pay heed to my tantrums. “That dog sheds a little, barks a lot, and she’s nothing but a stubborn little hothead!” I groaned, as another round of nausea hit me. My eyes stung with hot tears. I remembered the time I first saw Joy. It was at the shelter when I’d gone to feed the animals. I hadn’t been in the mindset to bring home a pet, but as soon as I saw her, I just knew she was mine. Somehow, her affectionate eyes and her magnificent black coat drew me to her. Both of us had developed an immediate bond, and I knew I’d love her forever that day. I’d taken her with me on the bus, the first day of high school. She helped me make friends. The students at school were all completely captivated by my beautiful little Joy. Sid had taken a fancy to her as well that very first day. And I’d taken a fancy to him. I laughed, now bringing myself back to the present until my cheeks hurt from the unfamiliar feeling. I tried not to fall asleep, but my eyes felt unbelievably heavy, and I simply couldn’t help it. After what seemed like three seconds of dozing off, however, I heard a shrill, cheery voice. “Ma-aya!” Bleary, I forced my eyes open. I smiled weakly as my aunt trapezed her way to my bed and kissed my forehead. “Now, you’re going to go off your rocker after I tell you something,” she started, sounding hysterical. I chuckled and was about to tell her to stop pulling pranks, that I was not in the mood, but she cut me off. “Tut-tut-tut! I have a surprise for you, dearie,” she chirped, clasping her hands together tightly. Clearly, she was beyond herself with excitement. “Okay, make it quick,” I said, propping myself up on one elbow with forced difficulty. I didn’t want to disappoint another person today. “Come in!” my aunt said, melodramatically. The door creaked open, and in came Siya. I fell back onto the bed dully. “Wonderful surprise, yay, I’m so happy,” I said, visibly rolling my eyes, but before I closed them, I heard- What was that? My eyes flew open, and fighting the searing pain, I lifted myself up swiftly. My eyes watered as my head throbbed intensely. But I didn’t care, not one bit. “W-what was that?” I said, fighting the dreadful pain, and sitting up hastily. Siya and Aunt Sanah were smiling at one another sheepishly. “Siya, come in!” I cried, my eyes growing wide, with all the thoughts flowing through my head growing more and more flamboyant. Siya turned around and whistled twice. No, no way, I thought, leaping out of the bed. Every pore of my body screamed tormentedly, bearing down on me, hard. Distressed, I was forced to keep my eyes open, I had to. “Siya-” I said, reaching out for her, and she came toward me, looking beside herself with excitement. Then I heard her. “Woof! Woof!” the door flew open as my strong little girl pushed her way through the small space. I gasped, my hands shivering as Joy leaped onto me, licking my face. I caught her, embracing her, as tears ran down my cheeks. My lips trembled, and I sighed jovially, kissing my Joy. Oh, how I’d missed her! “Oh, my baby girl!” I sobbed into her splendid black coat. Joy barked, and I brought her onto my lap, crying although my body hurt, although my body was rioting from within. I looked at her gorgeous black, marble-like eyes, which were swimming with tears. “Are you crying?” I whispered, kissing her forehead, as she wagged her tail. “I missed you, Joy, I missed you girl,” I said, bringing her closer to me. More tears escaped my eyes, and I felt weaker than ever. “We thought this was the best solution, that you were right,” Aunt Sanah said, shrugging, looking at the both of us happily. “Joy hasn’t been eating properly these days, and she refuses to sleep, or let us sleep,” Siya said, pursing her lips. “By the look of it, she wanted you too.” I smiled. “Thank you, thank you so much,” I told them. “Nobody can keep us apart,” I whispered into Joy’s flappy right ear, as she playfully licked me, willing herself onto my shoulder, her favorite sleep spot. “You’re tired!” I said, petting her as she positioned herself comfortably on me. I laughed, and so did Siya and Aunt Sanah. My Joy was back with me.
The result was almost immediate. How had we missed seeing this? We were so engrossed in ensuring Maya’s treatment went perfectly, that we missed to understand what the real treatment she needed was. The medicines were working only to an extent, but Maya’s will to live, we couldn’t bring that back however hard we tried. I smiled as I watched the duo tackle one another. Maya and Joy have been inseparable for six years now. How could I not have realized? Yes, Joy wasn’t the finest choice for Maya’s fragile health. She has asthma and with her now weaker constitution, Joy would probably make things worse. This was the doctors’ theory. And yet, Maya’s face hasn’t bloomed in days as it has now, she hasn’t smiled so widely in way too long, and she hasn’t gotten off that bed since the treatment began. What we weren’t able to do, Joy did in seconds. Maya’s eyes shone brightly, though her face was losing color with every moment. She was losing strength. “Maya,” I said, lunging forward and grabbing her, as she went down with a bout of cough. Joy whimpered, and Maya bent down on her knees to pet her- this was Maya’s only fault. She was known not to refuse her Joy in any way. She couldn’t let her Joy be unhappy, she couldn’t see Joy sombre; I just didn’t know how she found out when Joy was feeling what. And yet, she always seemed to know. Joy seemed to somehow know Maya better than any of us did, too. They both simply couldn’t be separated. “Maya,” Aunt said, firmly now. “Off you go to bed, dear.” Maya looked up at us, pleading, and that’s when we both lost it. Maya’s face was ashen, her eyes puffed up and red. But her face having gone completely white within a matter of seconds was what frightened us. She looked anaemic, blanched. “Get up Maya,” Aunt Sanah said, her voice quivering anxiously. “Now, girl,” she said stiffly, pulling a sickly Maya onto her feet. Maya kept looking at Joy, and Joy at Maya. Had we made a mistake? Maybe keeping them apart was the right thing to do, however difficult it was. Maya coughed, and it sounded outrageously delicate. Her eyes widened, and Auntie and I caught her right on time, as she threw up on the way to the washroom, wheezing agonizingly. Joy barked behind her, circling around Maya and snivelling. “Joy, get back,” I said, but Maya turned around on me, frowning as best as she could. “Maya, could you kindly not worry about Joy right no-” I started, but Maya was not in the mood to listen. She forced herself out of our arms, stumbling on the way, her feet fumbling beneath her. Yet, with all the mismanagement, she reached the basin, cleaned herself up, and bent down hazily to pick Joy up again. “This is ridiculous, MAYA!” Aunt Sanah screeched, floundering behind Maya and Joy. Maya looked dizzy now, she was fumbling in a very discouraging manner. “Could you stop it?” I shouted at the top of my lungs, baffled. What was Maya doing? “Maya, go to bed now!” Aunt yelled. “NOW!” I screamed. “You’re weak!” And then, Maya did something that surprised us even more. She laughed. It was an effervescent, glowing, crystal-clear laugh. Joy was also barking along ecstatically. Maya groped with a disappointing number of things on her way to the bed, as Aunt and I stood rooted to our spot, speechless. Joy had leaped out of her clutch and was leading Maya to the bed. Maya was obediently following her, like a gullible little child. Then, she hit the bed hard.
The sun was shining bright in the sky, the rays straining to reach the green grass through the gaps created by patterns of the leaves of the almond tree. The smell of dew was overwhelming. It was humid, and yet it was sweet. It was feeble dawn, and the breathless warmth took over my senses and I lay sprawled on the moist grass. The sky was glowing golden. The dappled light shadowed my face. Something else blocked the patches of light, as it towered over my face. “Wwwoof!” I opened my eyes to find Joy staring at me, her startling eyes reflecting the warmth of the sun. “Is that my aubade?” I asked, laughing as Joy jumped on me and roused me. “Okay, girl,” I said, as she licked me all over, and pawed at my bare feet. “I’m getting up!” I ran down the slope beside Joy. I couldn’t have been happier. I was running toward the fantastic cottage at the bottom of the gentle slope. Then, everything turned over, darkness enveloped everything as far as I could see, and another image materialized from the flood of blackness. I was sitting in a dimly lit room, and around me were many people who looked the same age as I was. As the image became clearer, I could see they were my friends, seven of them including me. And of course, there was Joy, sitting on my lap. “You bring her everywhere,” a pretty girl with long earrings and a lot of makeup said, pointing at Joy. I nodded. “Yes, I do, Diya,” I replied, turning around to get my bag. My eyes met those of Siddharth, and the image rapidly changed behind him. Only, he continued standing, looking at me. Soon the cloud of pitch-black behind him materialized into beautiful scenery. I was looking down at Joy and was laughing heartily. So was he. “Come on, Sid!” I said, looking at him. “They all danced yesterday, anyway!” he exclaimed, coming forward and taking my hand. “Now it’s really your turn! There’s no one here to see your terrible dance moves!” We both laughed, and Joy yipped along, excited. This time, the hazy images only manifested into a blinding white light, and someone calling out, ‘Maya? Maya!’ I opened my eyes and found out that the white light was from the doctor’s equipment. He was shining the torch on my face. “Ugh,” I moaned, turning onto one side. I didn’t know where I was. “Maya!” Mother came forward and grabbed my arm, sobbing. “Oh, my darling girl!” I blinked with great effort and tried opening my eyes. “I’m fine, ma,” I said feebly, as Siya, who was holding my other hand, let go, sighing in relief. “You scared us, dear,” Aunt said, her eyes crinkling. She looked concerned. I knew something was up. “What’s the matter, doctor?” I asked, without turning back to face anyone. “And where is Joy?” The doctor walked up to me and placed his hand on my shoulder. “Your body has been weakened a lot,” he said. “You’ll need rest.” I clenched my teeth, sending a jolt of pain up my temples. “I do not have much time left, doctor,” I said, trying hard to sound patient. “Please let me enjoy these last few days. As a matter of fact, I do feel much more refreshed now, than I have every single day, these past few months. All I want is to be with my dog.” The doctor’s eyes shone with an uncanny poise. He smiled at me. “You know, Maya, I was just about to tell you.” I looked up at him. “You’re really doing much better after this clumsy encounter you just had, to be honest.” I blinked. “Yes, child, somehow, the dog worked her charm on you, which was what the medicines tried hard to do for a long time.” He smiled again. “I will come tomorrow evening to check on you. You take care of yourself, will you?” He added, with a wink, then turned and left. As he opened the door, I heard a whimper by my bedside. I rolled onto one side and looked down, and there she was. “Oh my God! Has Joy been here this whole time?” I asked, bending down, and bringing her onto my lap. Everyone smiled and nodded. I cradled my small, patient girl. It was really the truest saying, that dogs really are man’s best friend.
I awoke the next morning with the sun. “Well, hello there,” I said to Joy, who was sitting by my feet, without making any noise. I looked at the alarm clock on the rosewood stool. 7:25. Uprightly, I had an abhorrent feeling about myself and wanted nothing more but to go right back to sleep. But Joy was beside me. How long I’d missed her. I knew I had to spend all the time I could with Joy. I stretched, forgetting that I shouldn’t, or more correctly, couldn’t. Wailing with the traumatic impact it had on my body, I held my palms together, squeezing them hard and waiting for the pain to subside. My eyes watered, this time not only with the pain. What had I become? Joy trotted onto my lap and prodded at my chin. It was like she was saying ‘Stop, stop it.’ I nuzzled her, and she whimpered. Then all of a sudden, she barked. I jerked up. “What?” I asked. Joy barked again, leaping off of my lap and taking off toward the door. “Joy, what is the matter?” I asked. The door creaked open. In came Siya with a seemingly heavy parcel in her hands. “What is it?” I asked. “You’re up already,” Siya said, patting my head and nodding in approval as she laid the package on the bed. I could smell perfume. “Eu de Cologne,” I said, wrinkling my nose. “Nope, it’s Ew de Cologne,” I said, laughing as a memory from school popped into my head. Joy was running around in circles, evidently repulsed. “I know, Joy,” I said. “This smell drives me mad.” Joy came and stood in attention by my foot. “Yeah, let’s open it,” I laughed. As I unravelled the brown paper on the large packet, Siya stood up. “You’ve to guess who this is from,” she said, smiling smugly. I frowned. She started laying out the table for breakfast. “Y’all eating here this morning?” I asked. Siya didn’t respond. I continued unwrapping the terribly wrapped bundle, finally throwing aside a huge ball of ugly brown. Inside was another bundle. “Siya!” I yelled. “Who’s this lunatic? Whoever it is, they’ve gone wild with the wrapping-” I stopped. My voice died out as my thoughts took over. Siya was leaning against the table, looking complacent. “Lord,” I said, yanking the bubble wrap and shoving it hastily onto the floor. Joy was tottering around madly. She could sense I was excited. My heart thumping, I threw all the unnecessary wrapping aside, waiting to see what was inside. My body ached with the sudden activity, but lately, in the past few hours, that is, I’d been plenty active. My body had to have gotten used to it. Eventually, I ended up at the nucleus of the humungous, unsightly package. My eyes stung. Joy jumped onto the bed again, now hurriedly flapping her ears and wagging her tail. Inside laid a small box. Siya looked disappointed. “What the devil!” she exclaimed, enraged. “That tiny thing was in this hideous big pack?” I smiled, opening the purple Papier Mache box with aqua wrappers. It had nothing but a small note in it. ‘The sky so blue, the sun so bright, and yet I can’t feel the delight’. Sid. “Is he here?” I asked, laughing as I read the note out loud. Siya snorted. “That jerk, he told me there was something lovely in there, something so great, it’d make you swoon. What’s this rubbish about, anyway? It’s so random.” I sniggered. “Well, I’ll take him on when the time’s right, that big dilly-dallier. He troubles you all the time, and you fall for it every time!” I looked back down at the faded paper, and it was then that the upsetting thought struck me. “Well, didn’t you…” Siya began. I shook my head. My throat caught. I’d asked Sid to mind his business and be off, hadn’t I? As soon as I knew I had terminal cancer, I had pushed everyone away from me. “You know how many times Aanya came to visit me?” I asked, starting to sob. Joy cuddled beside me. I patted her silky head, crying harder. “Sid came so many times! Everybody came so many times!” Joy and Siya let me cry. I knew, and they knew too, that I deserved this. My face felt hot, as blood rushed up to my cheeks. “What did I do at those times? I simply pushed them all away. Further and further. And now, I’m going to die!” I wept so hard now that my body started to ache. Joy nudged me. She was telling me to stop crying. Siya came to my side and held my shoulder softly. “You know, when we knew, we all reacted hysterically,” she said. I looked up at her, still bawling violently. “I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for you,” she said. She sat down on the stool and held my face. “You are brave,” she whispered. “You don’t burden yourself with more worry now, it’ll do you no good. Instead, look at the bright side. Now you’ve realized, and now you can be with them all. You love them all, and they love you back, Maya. We all love you so much.” Siya’s eyes were moist. “I wish I can be stronger, for you,” she said, wiping the tears away. “I wish I can always be that person for you like Joy is.” I shook my head. No, no, she had always been there for me! Siya pressed her fingers onto my lips. “We all are learning to deal with a lot, especially you, you fearless young woman,” she said. “We all are learning to become resilient in the process, and that is not easy. But we have to do it for each other.” I swallowed, nodding. “I love you, Maya,” Siya said, kissing my forehead. “I love you. I’ll always be there for you.” I broke down in her arms. Joy whimpered beside me, and surprisingly Siya pulled her closer, into the hug. “I love you too, Joy,” she said, chuckling in between her sobs. “You’re our biggest strength, whether we say it, as Maya does, or whether we don’t, like the huge dolt I am.” We all laughed and sat close together for a long time.
“What an airhead!” Aanya screamed, chucking the crushed paper cup across the room toward Sid. He had cracked the silliest joke and had even honoured Aanya as the main protagonist of his ludicrous storyline. Siya hadn’t been laying the table that morning for the family to come for breakfast. Aanya and Sid had asked her if they’d be allowed to see me, and Siya had said ‘yes’ confidently this time. I was willing to see them this time, and not push them away. Aanya continued sipping on her second cup of coffee, while Sid, finishing his fourth sandwich or so, threw the packing aside and turned toward me, looking serious. I contained a smile, furrowing my eyebrows and looking at him. We both burst out laughing. It didn’t at all suit us, this earnestness. Sid was having Joy on his lap and was giving her some good dose of pampering. “No, but for real this time,” he said, staring straight at me. I rolled my eyes. “I know this is the first clue for the treasure hunt, Sid,” I said, exasperated, holding up the waned paper which was in the box. “I don’t know if I can play, though, considering the situation I-” Sid threw his hands up, causing Joy to jump slightly, then bark disapprovingly at him. He chuckled, laid her on his shoulder (Joy only let Sid and me do this to her; it’s her favorite spot), got up, and strode toward me. He held his hand out. “Come on, that was hell a lot of wrapping I did for that insanely puny box,” he said, laughing. I laughed with him. “Wonglers, winglers, diggly, doggly, wrap, wrap!” we both said together, bursting into peals of laughter. “Oh, Mrs. Kien!” Aanya said, crushing yet another paper cup, aiming it at Sid’s head, then joining me on my bed. Sid whacked her arm and sat down too. “I really fail to understand why she loved wrapping paper so very much!” Aanya said shrugging, looking amused. “Oh my little doll, how proud she’d be of you!” I said, tossing a pillow in Sid’s direction. He caught it; a shameless grin plastered on his face. “And then Sid would say, ‘Oh my dear Mrs. Kien, how we love your impeccable taste in wrapping paper!’ Oh please!” Aanya and I exclaimed together, shaking our heads at a flagrant Sid, who looked priggish. “Girls, really now, don’t I have to get on the good books of these teachers to successfully talk them into some nonsense or the other? One way or the other, it was I who saved the classes, and surprisingly held the teacher’s attention till the bell rang, and till y’all ran out. Somehow, Mrs. Kien never understands that till date,” he finished, with a low bow and a wink. I rolled my eyes at him. “You shameless idiot!” I said as we all laughed again. I was really exhausted now. Before I could say anything else, a bout of cough consumed my words, and I doubled over. Sid and Aanya rushed to my side and held my hands. My eyes watered, my head pounded, and my lungs felt completely depleted. I sat still for a few seconds, gathered myself, and turned towards them both. Joy had rushed to my side and was sitting beside my arm. I embraced her softly and looked at Sid. He looked terrified, ready to bolt out and call the doctor. “You’re okay, right?” he asked, reaching out and touching my wrist. Then blushing, he withdrew his hand and stood up. “If we are troubling you, you can tell-” he started, but before he could say anything else, I held his hand and said, “Please don’t be silly.” He looked at me. I could almost hear his heart pounding a step from mine. “I’ll play, alright,” I said. Aanya shook her arms and said that I needn’t have to if I wasn’t feeling fine, but I waved my hand at her. I had to get up from this bed one day or the other. And surely, I didn’t have many days left, so I had to count my blessings and live to the fullest every day I had left. Joy caressed my cheeks. I looked at her, away from the other two, for my eyes were moist. I was feeling heinous hate, and I wanted nothing more than to get up and scream at the heavens for putting me in such a dreadful situation. Yet I smiled and asked Sid and Aanya to help me up. Once I’d gotten over the horrible pang of pain that came with my standing up, I picked up the thin piece of paper and read out loud. A smile bloomed on Sid’s and Aanya’s faces. Joy leaped down from the bed and ran round and round my feet, eager to play what was also her favourite game. “The sky so blue, the sun so bright, and yet I can’t feel the delight”. I pursed my lips. Sid was grinning broadly. “You had to, didn’t you?” So saying, I limped toward the door, much to the dismay of the other two, wrenched it open, flung it aside, and shuffled to the front reception. Joy trotted along beside me. The nurses and the rest of the staff in the hospital alley looked dumbfounded, quite what one would call tongue-tied, I guess. They started shamelessly as I hobbled down the passage. I hadn’t been outside that room in almost three months. I peeped into some of the other rooms in the same passing as mine, and my heart capsized. I wasn’t the only one. How selfish had I been all these days? Perhaps, as Siya said, it took me time to cope with the bombshell. But wasn’t it wrong on my part to have troubled and worried the others so? I saw children younger than me using walkers, some on hospital chairs, many handicapped. I bit my lips, as I shook with a pang of profound sadness. ‘I’ve had a great life,’ I thought. Joy came closer to me. I picked her up, fumbled a little, but continued walking. ‘I’ve had people who have cared for me. I’ve had it all. Maybe it isn’t so bad, that I’m leaving in a few days. Where will I go? To the heavens, like everybody thinks? To hell, maybe? Or to someplace no one has ever dreamed of? Will I be reborn? Perhaps not, I don’t believe that, but Mother does. Hamlet says it all, doesn’t he? If death is an eternal sleep, what would happen when we dream?’ I shook my head. For now, I’d be where I was. After all, I did have a long time to ponder these questions. Possibly I didn’t. But what of that? Now, I had the people I loved with me. I had my friends. I had my family. And I had my Joy.
I couldn’t stand up, I couldn’t think. I sat on the floor and wept. I wept, and I wept for so long. My mind was a swirl of emotions. I felt acute pain, and absolute heartache, but I also felt a notorious happiness. I hated it, but it played on in my mind, mingling with my other emotions to make me feel all the more troubled. The morning’s events played on in my head, making me feel light-headed, for I was re-playing it for the hundredth time. I sighed. It is the most beautiful story of the life of a young girl. And her hero.
“Milk?” Aunt Sanah asked me. I shook my head. “I’m not hungry, somehow,” I said, chuckling. “I better go check on Maya, though,” I said. Aunt Sanah nodded, pouring the rest of the milk into paper cups. As I stepped out of the room, I saw Siddharth and Aanya sprinting towards me, looking devastated. My heartbeat accelerated. Siddharth fell onto my arms, Aanya panting behind him, her face distraught. “WHAT?” I asked, holding a heaving Siddharth. He buried his face in my shoulder and began to cry. “Siddharth, what happened?” I asked. He continued sobbing vigorously. Aanya’s lips were trembling, her face shell-shocked. I looked further down the corridor. Mother was standing beside Maya’s room’s door, her eyes wide, and her face haggard. “Come,” I said, grabbing Sid’s hand, and running towards Mother. “Ma!” I yelled. “Ma!” My mother had slid into Maya’s room again. I yanked the door open and entered, petrified. I feared the worst. I prayed that that wasn’t the case. Maya was sleeping, embracing Joy. Joy was sleeping soundly on Maya, her paws kissing Maya’s cheeks. Everyone was standing still beside me, snivelling. I paled. Letting go of Siddharth’s hand, I walked forward slowly. On Maya’s lips, a slight smile played. ‘She has never looked more peaceful’, I thought. I was too scared to reach out. Was she simply asleep? I wished that that was the case, but I knew only too well now that it wasn’t. “Maya,” I whispered, faintly touching her elbow, which was resting on Joy. She didn’t budge. I blinked my eyes, as tears formed and cascaded down my cheeks. “Maya,” I said. “Maya, p-please.” On Maya’s face was a serene look that, however, forced me to hold my peace. “Joy,” I said, prodding at her softly. It was time to go. Joy didn’t move. She looked tranquil and appeared to be deeply asleep on her favourite person in the whole world. “Joy,” I said, little more loudly, as tears continued to flow down from my tired eyes. Joy didn’t move. My eyes slowly became bigger, and I flipped around on my feet to face the others. Mother’s face was red, and she was wiping her face. She looked at me and smiled sadly. ‘No, no, no.’ I turned to look at Siddharth, and he was still crying hard. I knew he loved Maya too deeply. He loved Joy. He was shaking till he walked and came to me, till he keeled over onto me. I tried to hold him steady, though I felt that my world was breaking up into a thousand pieces and was unsure whether I could hold myself in the first place. “Sh-she was just lying there on the b-bed, playing with Joy,” Sid said. “I was sitting with Aanya on the left side of the bed, on the stool, and aunty,” he said, motioning to my mom, “Was sitting on the right-hand side, on the chair, holding her hand. Maya was, somehow, so calm, as she spoke easily to us all. Then, Joy settled on Maya’s stomach, and Maya cradled her softly. Maya told us how she was so glad that we all were there for her, that she loved us all.” Sid broke down. “She said she loved Mother and Siya and Aunt Sanah, and that she loved me and Aanya. She looked at Joy and patted her head, saying, ‘I love you too, Joy’. Then, Maya smiled at us and said that she was feeling very tired, that she was feeling uneasy. She rested her head on the pillow and closed her eyes. I went to call the doctor, and by the time I came back-” Sid’s eyes were blotchy when he broke out of my grasp to face me. He smiled wistfully. “The doctor was going to check on Maya, and he moved Joy aside slightly. She didn’t move, just as Maya didn’t. The rest was a blur for me,” he said. “It all happened so fast. But I’m glad I was there when it did.” Mother turned to Aunt Sanah, who had been standing at the doorway, listening to Sid unravel the events. She was crying, but a smile was intertwined in the melancholy. “All I know is that Maya lived her life to the fullest,” Mother said, holding Aunt’s hand. “She was a happy girl, who lived a happy life.” Aunt Sanah nodded. “Especially these last few days,” she said gently. I nodded. We stood at the bedside, looking at Joy and Maya, still locked in an embrace, looking like they were merely asleep. It was then that I understood a simple, yet abstract secret of life. I kneeled down on the floor by the bed and stroked Joy’s head. Sometimes, we never understand the value of the small things that make our life so full, without which we will, perhaps, be lost. As I looked at Joy and Maya, I realized that that was what love was. It was a love so pure, so thorough. For my baby sister, happiness instantly meant only one thing- her lovely dog, Joy. For Joy, I was sure, happiness meant her favourite human, Maya. Somehow, they were always there for each other. They had grown up together, and now, they had died together. I sobbed harder, smiling as I brought to the front of my mind those moments when Joy and Maya had made us all happy. Together, they were something different. Together, they could do things only they could imagine, that was so beautiful. And together today, they truly made us all understand what love was. In the story of Maya’s and Joy’s lives, it was the joyous coming together of a young girl and her dog.
By Nanditha Kannan