The alarm tone started ringing and interrupted Shruti, who was lost in deep thoughts. Turning around in her bed with difficulty, she tried hard to make herself pull her own body out of the bed. Her body was not cooperating with her. It felt immensely heavy. She finally managed to sit on the bed. With disheveled hair, dark eye circles, and stinking clothes, she looked grisly. Her trembling hands reached the phone. She unlocked the phone and stared hard at the phone. The date was blinking with a sharp beeping tone. She snoozed it. Yes, it was the D -day for which everything was planned. She opened her inbox and checked her last message on the phone that she had sent to Atul! It read as:
‘Give me some time !!’
As soon as she read the message, she gasped for breath. Tears started rolling down from her cheeks as she looked outside the window. The lush green zone that was visible from the window seemed like a dead canopy. The air was humid and the afternoon seemed dull and lifeless. It had been almost a week!
Yes, It had been a week since she had seen Atul. The scorching heat outside was adding to the burning sensation that she was feeling within her heart. Was it because, she was missing his presence, was it because she craved his touch, or was it because she had forgotten what day it was since she had locked herself in her room?
There was a knock at the door!
“Shruti beta, please open the door! You have not eaten for two days! You have to eat to survive right? Don’t punish me like this, my child.Please.” Her mom paused after making several unsuccessful attempts. Shruti sat in one corner of the room without answering it. Slowly she looked at her phone and flipped through the pictures. Pictures of her and Atul and she was lost in her thoughts!
Atul and Shruti met during their MBBS course. Atul was one year senior to that of Shruti. They had met one day in the college-canteen. Atul was very hungry after his practical class and wanted to have an egg puff and a cold drink. Shruti was also there in the canteen that day with her friends. She had demanded one egg puff as well. Canteen Anna had a tough time managing both Atul and Shruti who went on to argue with each other over who should have the only piece available. Shruti fought like a warrior and was able to win that day. She had a mysterious smile when she held the egg puff from Anna’s hand and Atul looked into her eyes that were the most beautiful ones he ever had seen. Atul lost the egg puff along with his heart to this beautiful, bubbly, and slightly chubby girl called Shruti. Her childlike simplicity had made Atul weak in his knees. He could not resist the attraction that he felt towards Shruti from the first instance of seeing her. After much convincing and persuasion, Shruti had agreed to be his girlfriend. How could Shruti deny him? He had arranged for a flash mob proposal in a mall!! Shruti had never imagined Atul to be this romantic. Though she hated public display of affection herself. That day, she just could not stop blushing. Shruti fell in love with him. They were inseparable and soon became college sweethearts.
The college was soon coming to an end. Being senior, Atul had to leave college sooner than Shruti. This was difficult for him. Somewhere he felt insecure. He was clear about his relationship and had proposed to marry Shruti.
“Let’s get married soon. Just after I complete my degree.” He had said.
“What, marriage? No way!! I am just not ready. Let’s enjoy these fun, free days.” Shruti had replied.
“I agree with you. It’s too early for you. But do you understand why I am saying this? I will have to go to the US for the completion of my Master’s as pre-planned. I can not even bear to think of staying away from you. I want to be yours forever, Shruti! Why do you not understand? Please let’s get married.” Atul had pleaded.
They would often fight about this issue. Shruti wanted to finish her MBBS, practice in a hospital, and then open her own clinic. She thought of marriage as a barrier to her professional dreams. She often thought about it.
“Well, how can he just think about marriage now? There is so much to do! Atul has surely lost his mind.” She would tell herself.
Soon after, Atul completed his degree, he went on to meet Shruti’s parents. He was determined to say what was there in his mind. At least an engagement would be fine. And both their parents knew about their relationship. So he did as planned. That night Atul and Shruti had the biggest fight ever in their relationship.
“How could you? How could you, Atul? Without talking to me about it, you went to talk about our engagement with our parents? Who does that? ” Shruti had yelled.
“I did that because otherwise, you would never agree.” Atul had replied in a calm voice.
“You don’t understand Atul. Everything is not as per your demands. It is also about my feelings. I need time and I am not ready for this. I do not want to speak with you. Just leave me alone.” Shruti had shouted on the phone while saying so.
After an hour, Shruti had received a video from Atul which was a recording of him saying a lame joke. Shruti could not stop laughing. As always Atul had managed to convince Shruti. She sent him a message saying that She needed at least one year to get engaged. She would then marry after a few years after establishing her clinical practice. Hesitantly, Atul had agreed. He had pressurized Shruti to fix an alarm on her phone exactly one year later, the day when they would get engaged. Then made her promise to check her message box showing the message that Shruti had sent, once the alarm beeps. He would not give Shruti any time then and officially declare their relationship to the whole world. He wanted to make her remember how he had longed for her an entire year. The message was:
Give me some time!!
Atul’s plan of going abroad for a Master’s was soon curbed. The Coronavirus pandemic had gripped the whole world. Being a fresh MBBS degree holder, Atul had to join the College Hospital as an intern. Shruti was also required to do part-time assignments in the hospitals during her final term. Being doctors, seeing patients was nothing new for them. But the experience of handling a pandemic was something unprecedented. There were not enough beds. People came thronging into the hospital and the symptoms were also varied and complex to understand. The hospital had an acute shortage of protective gear and mostly senior surgeons and specialists wore them while taking on critical cases. Freshers like Atul had to deal with the rising number of cases daily wherein they risked their lives. But as they say, duty comes first. Atul never thought twice and gave his best towards serving the patients. Long working hours, odd shift timings, and paucity of time made Atul and shruti hardly have any time to meet each other.
It was Saturday night. Atul was in charge of the Emergency Casualty Department and Shruti was assigned work in the Pediatric section. Atul thought of teasing Shruti by sending a message saying,
“Hey, when is the marriage happening? I can’t wait anymore!”
Shruti smiled and had forwarded the same message saying she needed more time.
Give me some time!!
After about two hours, Shruti got a call that Atul had complained of breathlessness and had fainted. Shruti had trouble believing the news. Atul had tested positive!
The wind blew and Shruti came back to her senses. The curtains of the window were white resembling the color of the bedsheet that had covered Atul’s body that day. After a week in the ICU, Atul succumbed to the illness. His body lay there in the corridor wrapped in a white cloth. Shruti had wanted to hug him one last time but in vain. She was not allowed to, it seems!. Atul’s body was cremated in an electric furnace. Proper funeral rights could also not be conducted. After all, it was the body of just a Covid patient! Not some doctor’s, who had once vowed to serve human lives! The same vow was worthless that day. He was one among many. No distinction. He became a nobody. Just a number that was assigned to him!
She had frozen. She could not cry. She could not breathe. She simply turned a statue.
Shruti looked at the beeping phone displaying the same message. Looked at the outside window and cried out at the top of her voice.
I DO NOT WANT ANY TIME. I NO MORE WANT ANY TIME, I WANT TO BE YOUR’S. I CAN NOT WAIT FOR ANOTHER LIFETIME! COME BACK, ATUL, COME BACK TO ME! JUST ONCE. I AM SO SORRY.