A Night at the Hospital

The time was 3 pm. “Your body is burning up” panicked Ankit’s Nani, his mom’s mother. Ankit had just arrived at home 2 hours before his school’s usual closing time. He looked pale and was dripping with sweat when he slumped on the bed almost like a lifeless seal in the room. “Where is the thermometer?”, she continued. The panic had set into her so deep that she forgot that nobody was home to listen to her order. She realized it and went into the bedroom, opened the sliding glass door at the top of the tv almirah. She came back to him, placed the thermometer in his armpit and looked at the clock. “I’m alright. Don’t worry” said an eight-year-old Ankit. Two long minutes lied ahead. Or the first two minutes of a very long night ahead.

“105 degrees!” Nani said to herself in horror. Even the young Ankit knew that it was bad. Ankit’s uncle Ravi, youngest of three, had gone out just before Ankit came home. Meanwhile, the panic in Nani had transformed into paranoia. She stayed by his side asking repeatedly what had happened. Ankit was still conscious. “I was standing on the bench and then I had a feeling I will throw up,” Ankit began, “I took permission from miss and went out at the new handpump in the school.” “Standing on the bench? Why?”, Nani enquired. “Umm, because I hadn’t done the homework” a sick Ankit uttered slowly.

“And then? How did you get here?”
“I went to the principal’s office and asked if I could go home. She was hesitant at first but when she saw I was turning into a pool of sweat right before her eyes, she asked a guard at school to drop me home on his cycle.”
“On a cycle? How can they be so irresponsible? What if you’d fallen?”
“I didn’t, Nani. I’m not weak!”
“Who said you are weak?”

“Where are mamas? When will they come?” Ankit was starting to feel the first signs of uneasiness. He had started to worry. And there are not many things in the world that makes an eight-year-old boy worry.
Ankit lived with his family from his mother’s side. Lack of a good school in his village had separated him from his parents. “I don’t need to study in town Maa there’s an English medium school nearby,” he said. But one day, as he was being taken to the English medium school he talked about, a mid-road drama caused his return back home.

Nani called Ankit’s father Anand. Correction, it was 2005 and she called the only phone in the village to somehow make the news of Ankit’s illness reach his parents. That took about fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, both of his mamas arrived. Both were a little anxious about the sheer high reading on the thermometer. They checked it again to make sure Nani’s old eyes hadn’t misread the temperature. She hadn’t. It was stable at 105 degrees. As the news reached his home his maa started packing bags to get on the next bus to the town. They arrived at 6 pm.

By the time his parents reached, he had already started losing consciousness. His mother Malti cried in front of him but he couldn’t recognize her or anyone else. The paracetamol didn’t work. They rushed him to a hospital.

They returned after a couple of hours with a couple of medicines and Ankit was looking like recovering. During that time, Nani was alone at home. Her mind was a place of utter chaos. And in the times when you least want your mind to start imagining about the worst scenarios, it refuses to obey your order to maintain sanity and logic. That’s exactly what was happening with Nani. A plethora of unpleasant imaginary scenarios filled her head. She started to search for reasons. “How did it happen?”, she kept asking herself. She had a theory. “It must be that witch!”, exclaiming to herself. She had a eureka moment. Nani always believed in god and other supernatural powers. She grew up in a time and place where ghost stories were not limited to just stories but were a part of life.

The witch she was referring to was a neighbour’s old mother-in-law. She had sent Ankit to bring flowers for pooja this morning. She was always anxious to send him. She wished the neighbour would be the one giving the flowers, not her mother-in-law. Ankit ran towards the destination, jumping and dancing along the way. But as he reached the at neighbours gate, he became quiet. He asked for flowers and that his Nani had sent him. The old woman rushed to him with flowers in spite of her daughter in law telling her not to. The old woman smiled and gave him the flowers and kept on smiling for a few more seconds. Ankit thought it was weird and said to himself, “what difference does it make?” But he was too little to be creeped out and sniff anything spooky about the incident.

After their return, everyone was relieved that the illness was receding. The fever had gone. Nani was explaining her theory to everyone. Everyone rejected her theory with little or no sympathy. Everyone had their dinner and were preparing to go to bed. At around 10 pm, the fever scooped up to 105 degrees again. They rushed him to the hospital again. Fear that had receded along with fever had returned with it, this time getting even stronger.
The last thing Ankit remembers about that night is a nurse injecting something into his saline that turned it yellow. That doesn’t mean he slept all night. He just doesn’t remember what happened after that. He started shouting in the middle of the night. And when the compounder tried to control him, he slapped the compounder so hard he almost fell to the ground. The floor above the hospital was a guest house. The shouting of a boy had woken an elderly couple up. They were on a short trip to the town and were spending their last night there. Upon hearing the cries of the boys and frantic noises of his parents’, he descended.

The old man reached up to the bed where Ankit was admitted. He looked at his face for a couple of minutes. The parents were perplexed about all this. “It’s a witch’s work.”, he started speaking, “Did he go to bring some flowers this morning?”. Everyone was stunned. Only one question was in everyone’s head, “How can he know that?” “He will wake up once again around 3 am, I will be sleeping upstairs in room 205. Knock on my door when he’s up”. It was 12:30 am. His parents couldn’t sleep.

The clock hit 3 am. Loud wails cut through the silence of the night once again. The old man was called one again. He chanted mantras and brushed Ankit’s face and upper body with a peacock’s feather. Ankit calmed down and went back to sleep and woke up only in the morning. By then, the old man had left for his village with his wife. Anand and Malti were both wishing him a safe journey back home and thanking him for saving his son’s life. A night at the hospital had come to an end.

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