- Amal Raju
Looking out of the window, Tanya gazed longingly at the park nearby. It amazed her, the brightness and the intensity of those smiles. Had she ever smiled like that? Would she ever smile like that? She would never know. She looked down at her hands, trying to force back the tears from her eyes and the lump in her throat.
Tanya was 10 years old. She had been diagnosed with a tumour since the day she could remember. Since then, it was in and out of the hospital which had become her home, albeit a cold one. At some point in time, she had stopped going out of this new world she was pushed into. Where, all that awaited her was despair and waiting. Waiting for the inevitable. Accompanied by machines that were depended upon to decide whether she lives or not.
However, today was a special day. Today, she was going to gather her courage and put forward that special question that had been hounding her since forever. There would be resistance. A whole lot of resistance. This time, however, she would stand her ground.
Her determined expression broke into a warm smile when she saw Julie, her best friend walk into the room. Being best friends, they did everything together. Played together, studied together, read together. So, when Tanya spiralled towards her unfortunate destiny, Julie followed her right along.
Julie was diagnosed with the same condition, a few years before. She never let it get to her, though. She never stopped smiling, never stopped talking. Even though it pained a little to smile and a little more to talk, Julie’s lifeline was social interaction.
“How are you today, Tanya? “.
Tanya’s eyebrows rose. “I am curious as to why you are suddenly asking me this question. Are you up to something?”.
“You are the one answering a question with a question. Come on, tell me!”, insisted Julie.
Tanya smiled. It was pretty easy to rile Julie up. “I am good”, she said, punctuated by coughing, each cough driving a shot of pain to her head, that left her breathless for while.
Julie smiled back, painfully. She knew. She asked every day, even when she knew.
All of a sudden, Tanya’s parents came in, along with Dr.Martin. They were all smiling the same smile as Julie. Why did it seem that everyone meeting her smiled the same smile? That same, painful smile.
It was then she noticed the birthday cake. Her eyes widened in remembrance. It was her birthday today! How could she have forgotten?
“Happy birthday, sweetheart,”, Mrs.Johns approached her with a smile.
“My sweet girl is finally turning 11 today! What does she want?”, Mr Johns asked.
She held her breath. This was the moment she was waiting for. With bated breath, she let it all out in one go.
“Can I go to the park today?”,she asked, hope shining bright in her eyes.
Silence. The faint beeping of the monitors, the silent ‘whoosh’ of the wind, the faint noise of children playing outside. Who knew a four-letter word could cause this much terror to appear on their faces? The horrified looks?
“Tanya, you do know the consequences. Your body is weak. very weak. Even the slightest movement could hamper the betterment of you condition. Your skeletal and neural systems…”, Dr.Martin rambled, fear and concern mixing together. And of course, sadness. Was it ever, NOT there?
“I want to. So, badly. I just want to watch the children play. I would never, ever ask again.”, Tanya pleaded. Her eyes conveyed her heart’s desire.
“She will go. I will take her.”, Mr.John said, determination at its height. Deep inside though, through that facade, Tanya could see her dad’s overwhelming worry for her, his deep concern and instability, of the decision that he has just made.
Yet, he carried her. Gently, like a feather, firmly, wrapped up in his arms, just like a butterfly wrapped in its protective layer of cocoon before facing the world.
It was like heaven. The innocent laughter of the kids, the crinkly smiles, the adoring looks of the parents for their children. Why was it that she had never come here? She was calm. Relaxed. For the first time, in her entire life she didn’t feel so sick. She felt alive, energetic, like she could do anything. The pain was not so much. She had spent her entire life, questioning, screaming. Why did she have to have this? Of all people, why her?
But, if this pain, the pain that she suffered for more than 5 years, was the price to pay, then so be it.
“Promise me, dad, mom, that you would not feel sad when I am gone.”, Tanya said, tuning out her mother’s silent sobs and her dad’s burning eyes.
She looked over at Julie, who was sitting with her. She was asleep, a slight smile playing on her lips. Something in the way, the manner she slept, told her that she was not going to wake up very soon or ever again. She closed her eyes, too. Slowly, surely. The pain. It was burning her. A bright flame. The brightness was intoxicating. Yet, in that brightness, she could see herself slowly burning away, blown away by the wind, just like the summer breeze which touches your face gently, then runs away.
If she could wish now, she would wish for this all over again.