Short Fiction | ‘A Long Journey Home’ by Teevranshu Vashishtha | Student Writing

Raman and Prakash were sitting on the side of NH30 brooding over the setting sun. They had left Lucknow with a meagre ₹1000 each. The last full meal they had had was three days ago when they were leaving the city. They had been surviving on biscuits and water since. Raman was a native of the village of Umarpur in Amroha. He had been working in a construction site in Lucknow for the past few months alongside his cousin from his village, Prakash. On the morning of March 25, the two came to know of the nationwide lockdown due to the spread of the novel COVID-19. They both hurried to the bus station hoping to catch a bus home, but all transport services were already suspended. So, they both decided to embark on their journey home on foot. They were anxious to reach their homes for it had been 6 months since Raman last saw his 1-year-old daughter, Neha and Prakash his 3 years old son, Raju. Raman and Prakash had been walking for the past 12 hours, without any food. That night, they fell asleep on the roadside, the tormenting hunger lulling them. The journey was a laborious one and they still had a long way to go but were adamant and went arduously forward. The next morning, their prayers were answered for they found an open eatery. They had a hearty meal and bought some takeaways for the journey before carrying on. That night they reached a small settlement after a long and exhausting journey and took shelter under a tree on the roadside.

On that ominous night of the 28th, Prakash suddenly felt an acute pain in his chest. Raman was awakened from his slumber by the painful cries of his brother. Prakash had a known history of hypertension and Raman feared that it was a stroke. They were on the highway near the city of Bareilly that night. They couldn’t call for an ambulance because they had both sold their mobile phones before the journey in exchange for some extra cash to send home. The nearest settlement was 2 kilometres away. “I’m going to go get help Prakash,” said Raman, frightened yet sturdy. Raman rushed to the nearest house in sight and upon reaching there, rapped on the door of the house like a madman. A sexagenarian man answered the door. “Sahabji, my brother is in danger, he has had a stroke. Can you please help us Sahabji!” The man who answered the door with a stoic look on his face was Suresh. Suresh Sharma was a retired cardiologist from one of the most prominent hospitals in Delhi. Mr Sharma spent his childhood in the city of Bareilly and after the completion of his service, had decided to spend the rest of his days in his native city and bought a quaint little house on its periphery where he lived with his wife Radha and their cute little beagle, Mojo.

Fate had brought Raman to Suresh’s house for he was to be their saviour. 

“Who are you? Where do you come from?” asked Suresh with a vigilant look.   

“I am a construction worker in Lucknow. I am travelling with my brother towards our home in Amroha,” replied Raman with a broken voice.

Suresh took a moment and thought about whether he was telling the truth. He had heard stories of robbers who played out the same scenarios to rob people. Suresh took a good look at the man standing at his door and convinced himself of the veracity of the man.

“Where is your brother? What happened to him? What is his condition?” asked Suresh with the air of urgency you find in a doctor. 

“He is down the road 2 kilometres from here. He was fine when we went to sleep tonight but suddenly in the middle of the night he complained of having chest pains.”

Mr Sharma thought for an instant and then went inside his house. He returned with the keys of his car.

“I am a heart surgeon, let’s go and bring your brother back here.”

In an instant, both Raman and Suresh were on the road fleeing towards Prakash. It had been 20 minutes since Raman was gone and Prakash was unconscious when they reached him. When Prakash woke up the next morning in the house of Suresh, he saw his brother by his side with his sleep-deprived eyes full of tears of joy.

“Where are we Raman?” asked Prakash.

“We are in the house of this Sahabji who has saved your life,” said Prakash pointing towards Suresh. 

Suresh had indeed saved his life, for the stroke that Prakash had was a life-threatening one and needed the care of a brilliant doctor.

“You are going to be perfectly fine my friend,” said Suresh to his patient. “For how many days have you two been walking?” asked the doctor with a curious look at Raman.       

“We have been walking for 3 days straight, Sahabji,” came the doleful reply. Raman told Suresh all about their heart-wrenching journey of the past few days. Suresh’s heart commiserated with the two of them. 

“We are finally here,” said Raman full of mirth after stepping out of the car. They were parked near the Banyan tree underneath which the two brothers had spent their childhood playing. Their toilsome journey was finally at its end. Who would have thought that only 3 days ago, one of them was in a life and death situation?  “I hope you both are happy now,” said Mr Sharma coming out of the driver’s seat of the ambulance. Only 4 hours ago they were in a hospital in Bareilly, lamenting their misfortunes. The sagacious doctor had pulled a rabbit out of the hat to make their dream of reaching home come true.

The doctor had sworn to personally make sure that the two brothers reached their destination. He had planned a meticulous plan to carry out his intentions. 

“There are no adequate facilities here. I need to take him to Meerut for better treatment,” said the doctor intensely to his acquaintance.

“But he is perfectly fine Mr. Sharma,” said a doctor in his early thirties. 

“No, he is not. He is my patient and I want to make sure he gets the best treatment.”

“You stopped seeing patients a long time ago, Mr. Sharma. Why the sudden zeal for this one?” asked Dr Aggarwal with a cunning smile. “From the looks of him and the man he is with, he doesn’t strike me as the type of a person who can afford your treatment, Dr Sharma.”

This was factually true–Suresh was renowned to be one of the best and costliest heart surgeons in the country.

“He is my old childhood friend,” replied Suresh with a voice full of affection.

“Very well Dr Sharma, but you are going to have to acquire a written letter of transit from the DM.”

Suresh had forgotten that this document was almost impossible to obtain in such times of crisis.

“Yes, I have it with me, Vinod,” said Suresh with a little fear in his heart.

“Ok then, I will provide you with the referral certificate in 10 minutes.”

When Suresh reached the room of his patient, he told Raman all about his plan. Raman fell to the feet of the Doctor crying and weeping, saying that he was an angel of God sent to their aid.

“Yes, Radha I’m going to take him personally to the hospital in Meerut,” said Suresh lying to his wife on the phone.

“All the commuting in the country is at a full stop. How do you propose to take him there?” questioned the anxious Mrs Sharma on the other side.

“I have all the required documents for the journey. I am going to leave with him early in the morning,” he replied.

“I know there is no point in convincing you to not do this but please think about it again. The deadly virus is spreading at an alarming rate. Think about that too.”

“I know all about that Radha but they both need me too. I am fully prepared, don’t you worry, take care of yourself, I’ve got to go now!”

“Just be careful and be safe, goodbye!” replied the anxious wife.

The doctor ended the call and went to prepare for the journey. At the dawn of the first day of April, an ambulance was seen on the roads of Bareilly speeding towards Rampur.

“I am taking this man to a hospital in Meerut officer,” said a man dressed in a white dress sitting at the driver’s seat of the ambulance to the police officer at the checkpoint for leaving Rampur.

“For what reasons?” asked the officer.

“To be admitted there, he is going to have surgery there.”

“Where is this doctor Suresh Sharma whose name is written here?” asked the police officer looking carefully at the referring certificate signed by Dr Vinod.

“Here I am,” came a voice from the back of the vehicle. A man dressed in a doctor’s robe stepped out from the back of the vehicle.

“Hello, officer my name is Suresh Sharma, I am the doctor of this patient,” replied the man with an air of haughtiness.

“Hello, Doctor I am SI Sandeep Pal, the officer in charge of this checkpoint. So, you are taking this patient of yours for surgery in Meerut?”

“Indeed, I am, Officer.”

“What kind of surgery is he going to have?”

“He is going to have coronary artery bypass surgery.”

The reply was made so astutely that it put even Suresh in a dilemma whether the man portraying him was a doctor in real life or had he lied to him in the first place. Suresh had decided not to take any risks and took matters in his own hands, he became the driver of the ambulance so as not to leave anything to fate. He had made Raman an acquaintance in his plan and made him portray himself as the doctor and even taught him a few scientific notions related to cardiology to be used in a state of emergency so no questions would be raised to his veracity as a doctor and no objections at the presence of another person being in the ambulance apart from the patient as it was opposed to the law.

“Doctor, do have you the requisite papers for the transit of this patient to the hospital in Meerut?”

“I have them with me, Officer. Would you like to see them?” came the confident reply.

“No, I believe you, you are good to go, Doctor,” replied the officer after a moment of deliberation.

“Ok then, Driver let’s go,” said Raman suppressing a big smile on his face.   

Suresh said a little prayer under his breath and after closing the door of the ambulance, drove the vehicle towards its destination.

“Phew! that was a close one, you did a good job back there, ‘Doctor’,” said the ‘Driver’ with a cunning smile.

“Thank you, Sahabji,” replied the man wiping the few drops of sweat from his temple. Fortunately, it was the only time they were questioned throughout the journey.  

 It was at 10 in the morning when the ambulance reached the village of the two brothers. The plan of the doctor had worked miraculously, the brothers were finally at the end of their journey.

“You are going to have to take good care of Prakash for the coming days, Raman,” said the doctor to the man who was standing under the tree crying of joy. Raman took Prakash’s stretcher out of the ambulance and brought it under the shade of the tree and woke him up.

“Do you know where we are now Prakash?” 

“Am I hallucinating or are we really under the old banyan tree?”

“You tell me, Prakash.”

“It is the old banyan tree Raman. Are we home Raman?”

“Yes, yes, we are finally home, Prakash.”

“But how did this happen? When did you do this?” asked Prakash with a bewildered look.

“I didn’t do this, it was Sahabji who brought us both here,” said Raman pointing towards the doctor. He told his brother the full story of how the doctor had carried out a dangerous plan and brought them home.

“You must be God! You must be the almighty Sahabji!” said Prakash with his eyes full of tears.

“No, I am just a man who carried out the will of God,” said Suresh holding the hands of his patient. The doctor then helped Raman in taking all their luggage towards their home.

“Baba!” came a sound from Raman’s little cottage. It was Neha who upon seeing her father return home, let out a cry of joy. Raman took his little angel in his arms and held her tightly.

“I am here my child,” said Raman as tears rolled down his cheeks.

The wait was finally over, they were finally at the end of a harrowing journey. The doctor helped Raman in taking Prakash to his home. Raju was happy that his father was home with him. The doctor gave all the requisite medicine to Prakash’s family and informed Raman that Prakash would be fine in a week or two. The doctor then took his leave and went towards the ambulance. Just when he was about to leave, he heard someone calling his name.  

“Doctor Uncle! Doctor Uncle!” It was the sound of little Neha and Raju who had come to give the stranger a gift. It was a little clay statue of Goddess Lakshmi, the God of good luck. They wanted to give it to the man who had brought good luck to their family. Suresh accepted their pious little gift and went on. When Suresh said his last goodbye and left for his home, a few tears rolled down the cheeks of the man who was known to be emotionless.

Teevranshu Vashishtha is an 18-year-old student. He is a graduate of St. John’s Senior Secondary School, Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. He is a dilettante writer who mostly pens short fiction and poems. His favourite writer is Ernest Hemingway.