“This is my fault,” she sobbed.
Nayan hadn’t spoken to Meera, ever since they rushed into the hospital after the accident. He caressed Babu’s broken arm and frowned at the slow drip of the saline bottle. He had a meeting in half an hour and the saline seemed to be going rather slow.
“Hello!” said the doctor as he entered the room, ushered by an intern holding a clipboard and pen. “How is he now?” he said, with a voice so mellow and kind that soothed Meera’s frayed nerves.
“He was in pain a while ago, but the nurse gave him a painkiller. He’s asleep now,” replied Nayan, looking at the doctor and then his son.
“Okay…” he said checking the medication list on the clipboard and then turning to look at Meera, “This must be your wife.” Meera nodded. The doctor smiled and assured her, “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine. Everything is under control now.” Meera stifled a choke.
“Doctor, when can he get home?” asked Nayan.
“Considering his condition, I’d advise 2-3 days of observation. It is a minor fracture but he is under tremendous shock. He might not have collided with the truck but even the possibility of that is going to trouble him for some time. He needs mental healing. Distraction is the quicker way right now. You need to give him time to recover physically before you start healing him mentally. Even elders suffer trauma in such an accident. He’s just a 9-year-old. Talk to him, play board games, have his friends over, watch a movie, you know!” assured the doctor.
“Sure doctor,” Nayan replied, escorting the doctor as he left the room. “One more thing, doctor…” he continued outside.
Meera kept her bag on the table next to the attendant’s bed and walked over to her son. She looked at him closely. The right side of the forehead had a small cut and swelling, the right arm was in a bandage and the right shoulder had turned purple from hitting the pavement on the road. Tears welled up in her swollen, red eyes as she ran the tips of her fingers on his hair. Why did she look away? What was more important than her child? Eve teasing happens every day. Why did she have to go save the girl they were groping? She looked at him and cried even more.
Just then, Nayan entered. He looked at her for a second as she turned to look at the door and then, opened the door wider. Their neighbour, Mrs Sharma and her adolescent twins, Parul and Krishna, entered with a see-through polybag full of apples, chips packets and chocolates.
“Poor dear, he looks so fragile!” Mrs Sharma said, looking perfunctorily at Meera.
“Alright then bhabhi, I’ll be back by 5. Please be around till my brother gets here,” Nayan said to Mrs Sharma, picking up his brown, office leather case and leaving the room without looking at his wife, even once.
Meera closed her eyes as Nayan shut the door and touched the tips of her son’s fingers, thick drops of tears rolling down her cheeks.
Parul and Krishna perched on Babu’s bed and looked at him. “When will he go home, aunty?”
“After 2-3 days,” said Meera, wiping her eyes.
The twins moved away and sat on the couch, taking out their respective mobile phones and started playing games.
Meera looked at Parul. Such a nice girl she was! Meera loved that naughty twinkle in her eyes when she had mischief in her mind. She had always wanted a daughter. Not that she loved Babu any less. But growing up amidst four sisters and then moving into a motherless family and with three unmarried brothers-in-law, had left her longing for a daughter all the more. She imagined having a daughter someday with whom she would share her dreams, hopes and her mother’s secret recipes. Then Babu had come along. He was a gem of a child, always endearing and cheerful. She had still hoped of having a daughter the second time, but a terrible miscarriage robbed her, not just of the hope but also of her uterus. The girl she had saved from those eve-teasers was an adolescent too, maybe around Parul’s age. She had just looked away for a minute when…
“You know, it’s a crime to leave these kids alone. Part of being a mother is policing them all the time, you know! One miss and everything goes for a toss,” said Mrs Sharma, stroking Babu’s hair, jolting Meera out of her reverie. Babu twitched his arm at the touch of Mrs Sharma’s coarse, washing powder hands.
Meera stood there, listening to her otherwise distant neighbour giving her motherhood lessons, knowing full well that her husband will take time reconciling with her. She took deep breaths of decision. Yes, she did lose sight of her son and yes her guilt trip would probably be long, but it was because of a pressing reason. She was not going to wallow in it anymore. She went into the bathroom and washed her face.
She then switched on the TV news channel and turned the volume down to 2, silently letting Mrs Sharma drone on about the necessities of a responsible mother. Suddenly, a blurred face appeared on TV wearing the same salwar kameez the harassed girl was wearing whom Meera had saved. She turned up the volume two notches as her eyes flitted through the content of the news scroll – ‘Local girl saved from molesters by a young mother’. The camera panned to the right, where the police had detained the three molesters who were then being shoved into a police van. On the top right corner of the TV screen, a CCTV footage flashed, which showed an image of the girl getting harassed by the men and then a young woman coming to rescue.
The young woman notices the commotion and takes out a pepper spray from her bag. She says something to her kid and then runs and sprays it on the men. The girl covers herself with the dupatta while the men run helter-skelter. One of the men collides with the woman’s child on the footpath and topples him over. At the same moment, suddenly, a truck takes a sudden manoeuvre and comes to a screeching halt in front of the spectacle. The kid loses balance and falls down, his right shoulder hitting the edge of the pavement.
Meera looked at the reruns of the footage, her hands gripping the edge of Babu’s hospital bed. The girl who was saved was getting asked by the media about the incident. She along with her family was thanking ‘the unknown lady’ for coming to her rescue. “She was my angel in disguise!” said the girl.
As Meera stared at the screen, Parul pointed at the TV, “Look ma, isn’t that Meera aunty?”