Holding the large envelope, Meenakshi dropped down on one of the shiny steel-netted chairs. A while ago she had been hurrying down the chilly corridor of one of the city’s topmost super-speciality hospitals looking for the counter where they handed out medical reports. There was still an hour’s time for the counter to open. Meenakshi had pleaded with the two smartly dressed girls at the reception. She had to get the reports before their visit to the doctor.
The envelope felt heavy as she slowly undid the flap as if she had all the time in the world. She began to take out the contents one by one. She peered at the clumsy ponderous negatives. Skeletal images on a grey, murky backdrop that showed tiny dark patches on the knee caps, the femurs, the tibia, the shoulder blades, the elbows. She knew even before she took out the neatly typed diagnosis what was making her father double up in pain at the slightest jerk. She could already imagine the clinical term – metastasis – even before she had properly taken a look. Had she not come across it before? Josef would frequently mention it in his messages during his last days. The handsome Josef who had become a priest and lived with his Indonesian wife in Papua had been a close friend of her father during his stint in Germany as a young man. Though she had been unfamiliar with the word itself, Meenakshi had instinctively known its outcome. While Josef was readying himself to welcome the end gracefully Meenakshi would gloss over the more distressing details as she read out the mails to her father who was still struggling to learn to use the newly bought desktop.
Meenakshi remembered her father’s hand tremble slightly as he took out the biopsy report while they waited at Beleghata crossing for a taxi. Even then she could sense the meaning of carcinoma as her father looked confused. But she told him nothing. He would come to know anyway she had thought. The doctors would explain it to him. For a year they had struggled together, getting in and out of hospitals, visiting pathological clinics, chemotherapy and radiation and protein supplements. Meenakshi would anxiously wait at the hospital lounge for the chemo to arrive. A man would come with the drug inside a white clinical box all the way from a reliable store in Thakurpukur. She would be nervous every time they would insert the channel, and the tightness in her chest stayed as long as the chemo was administered. A colleague’s father had passed away during the first dose. But she could not say this to her mother who had only hoped for the better. Once when her father was returning after a three-day dose, a young neighbour had jokingly remarked on his hat that he wore to hide the thinning of his abundant hair. “Seems Mr Minister has left you his hat,” he quipped, unaware of the import of his jest. The politician in question had recently passed away. No dose of chemo could save him. Meenakshi’s father, known for his joviality, had smiled a wan smile. There was talk of a new hospital being built at the outskirts of the city, one that would serve the burgeoning number of patients with the terminal illness. For months Meenakshi and her parents waited for the news of inauguration of the new hospital in hope of a better treatment, and now the cancer had returned with a vengeance spreading itself even to the bones.
“Don’t be late Mini ma,” her mother had called out from the car. Her father lay bunched up at the rear in a painful stupor. They still thought it was the old arthritis come to nag. But Meenakshi knew the struggle would begin all over again – an unending chain of visits to doctors, platelet counts, another course of chemotherapy and radiation – this time more arduous considering her father’s failing health and financial concerns.
Meenakshi felt the ground slip beneath her feet. In an hour or two her parents would come to know once they will be inside the doctor’s chamber. A whole year’s effort, the pain, the anxiety seemed to have come to naught. But Meenakshi will not tell them anything, not right now. Let them live in hope for a while longer. She will pretend she has not seen the reports. She will say she got delayed as the staff was off duty. She will say she had to urgently use the loo. Meenakshi will hide her little secret for now curled up like a baby snake. Meenakshi will buy time for the time being.