Is this an epidemic? Smell the stink, hear the cries, look at the ashen faces, nobody visits them. Maiara, it’s a graveyard. The man on bed 17 died yesterday, old man drinks all day and vomits on his bed. He hurls abuses. They have lost hope. Look at him, bed 18, dead, entrails, flies, blood oozing, sores on his thighs. They are just dying. That old woman is always mumbling. She is cheerful, hopeful of living one more day. She waits for her grandson. She stares at everybody, laughs and then cries whole day. She eats the leftovers from the dust bin. Look at the street dogs limping, licking blood in wards. It’s dark and humid. The walls are haunting, gloomy; death is knocking on the doors. I have my fears, everyone is dying. I saw the other hospital, it’s different.
It’s Monday. Medics are on leave since a week. There is a whirlwind of chaos running through the premises, three on a bed, thousands on the floor, brawls, cries, whispers, groans, one dead lies flat, white, mouth wide open, legs frozen facing ceiling, stench creeps through the floor. Nobody comes out alive from the hospital. The young, the infant, the toddler, the elder, everyone dies.
Maiara lifting her hands up and down, slithering them on the iron grills running adjacent to her bed, cowering in linen and whimpering. Mahavara, the people are suffering, that old woman, her swollen legs. They’ll all recover. I pray for them. I’ll make it; it’s a mild cough. The hospital will shift me to a new ward. Cool breeze runs through that ward. It’s a garden there, flowers, good food, boiled potatoes, biscuits and coffee. People are not allowed to vomit there. It’s clean and lively. They’ll shift me. It’s a mild cough. Mahavara, see the twinkle in my eyes, look at the mole on my neck.
Nobody is allowed to even saunter around those wards, it’s for medics. The other guy just collapsed. He is shivering on his lips. He has gone mad. He speaks a different language. He says somebody dragged him and smashed his head with a hammer. He can’t walk his life time. He has fits all day. He has no one to visit him. The other people, they are offering Goodbyes, prayers, they come and go. Death is outnumbering life.
Mahavara, look at the henna on my hands and your name in the center. The bangles you bought for me, green and red ones, anklets and the sound they make, those love sounds, kohl in my eyes, took me an hour, smeared my face. I’m growing weak. I love you. What about this shiver that crushes my spine? I’m withering, I’m melting. Let’s make love here, kiss me, kiss on the mole at my neck, caress me. You love the mole. Kiss my tender neck. I have lost my color, face disfigured, fissured, wrinkled, I have lost my sheen, look at my fingers, bony, nails deformed, discolored, my dried lips, thousand sighs, saliva runs out of my mouth. I’ll recover, I’ll polish my nails, I’ll dress like a bride, I’ll look beautiful, the same. You love the mole on my neck, kiss it, run your hands over my face, hug me, kiss me on my shoulders, kiss my eyelashes, smell my hair, let me bury in you.
The other man worn out waddling, vociferating, famished with beard mounting over his face, naked, half covered. He spits on his hands and massages his head with saliva. He spits in every corner of the hospital. He is ugly. He searches for something in his hands, in the lines, at the top. He runs his hand over his head, back and forth. Everyone passes him. He has a whistle tied to his neck; he blows it all night through the wards. The other guy is busy mincing leaves in his hands, herbs. He puts the mixture, pellets, in a leaf coiled over and takes deep puffs. He wakes up in night, drenched in sweat, claps at all the patients, reads hymns and blesses patients. He coughs blood and phlegm. Maiara, this is a hospital. I’m quailing, let me cry on your lap, I can’t see this pain and madness around me, it’s heartrending. I have sea of tears in my eyes, they will dry, let them come out. My heart is sinking; hear the beats and my racing pulses. You live through my dreams. I die through my dreams. My heart has stopped beating. I’ll die of clogged blood. I wait all night. The door brushes the floor. I hear sounds, distant cries, my heart sinks, and the beat reaches to my throat and shifts back to my head. There is a lump in my throat. I can’t breathe. My heart stops beating. I swallow the beat. I taste death. People are dying in dreams, it’s a plague.
Maiara died after 6 months of her admission. Her body wasn’t handed over to Mahavara as he suffered from nervous breakdown. The body was given to the department concerning chest diseases and was further used to remove her viscera to find the cause of her death. The doctors at the department observed that she died of pneumonia.Mahavara turned mad and moved around the hospital for years.
Memories tormented Mahavara. She was with her friend walking right in front of me in the vegetable market right across the canal. I moved hurriedly and took hold of her hands. She recognized me, we greeted each other. The twinkle in her eyes and the mole on her neck, it was all same. She was the only girl I ever loved in my life. I wasted no time and asked for her companionship. She stood surprised and said: I can’t love or kiss; I can’t marry but only be friends. Her words betrayed her heart, she was concealing her love. Something came upon us and drove us mad. We smiled and laughed our hearts out. I looked at her and she looked at me. It was a dream. We ran and ran. We hugged and hugged. We kissed each other passionately; I kissed her nose, cheeks and her hands. Melancholia gripped us, we looked at each other with wet eyes and those copious tears were flowing like a stream of river, never ebbing. It was such joy. There was so much to talk about, all those years and the longing. Life was simple and so much filled with love.
For the first few days after the death of his wife, Mahavara warned people to take the other road that was at a distance from the hospital. ‘Veil your faces.’ He narrated them ‘Thousand Sighs’. He spoke of life.
A single hour and thousand sighs, A void and the sound, sound of air, supple black fingers and fluffy cotton skin, skin mottled. The clots, blue, red, black and grey .A single hour and thousand sighs. What do you think of this life? What is life? Those midnight yearnings and dreary silences, separation, shrieks, animals howling on streets, vapid movements, Bone dry limbs, Gargantuan belly, Bloated Belly, Bone Belly, Varicose Veins and the pallor, Sky and its dullness, Drooping eyelids, The color of hair, What is Life?Macerated lung, Diseased Kidney, Ruptured Heart, Half Liver, What is Life? Swelled parched tongue, Spinal puncture,cracks, saliva bubbles at edges ,mushroom fingers, fluids, pus, dementia and longing for dead. What is Life?Life is Death, Extended death. A stone in mouth, worms crawling viscera, poison and blood. A single hour and thousand sighs, what is Life? Death.
The hospital had a sly populace running the affairs. Thousands of patients swarmed the hospital every day. Winter and rains eased the rush. Hospital building was colored once when it was made some 100 years ago; it was on decay now. The wards were painted black, doors heavy with iron grills. Patients were seen sitting on the pavements outside the hospital holding fluid bags in their hands. Some had pipes running down their mouths and noses, clothes stained red.
Patients with fractured bones were shifted to rooms carved out in the underground parking spaces. Patients with pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses were kept in sealed halls devoid of fresh air. Patients survived a day or two. The 4th floor mortuary had wooden boxes infested with fleas and centipedes.
Mahavara described hospital as a place of death. The corpses lying naked in the wards; forlorn faces, dead hanging from fans, peelers, boiled water and blood. People never took him serious. Mahavara always carried a little diary with notes written all over it. It was about the hospital and treatment.
The hospital had ropes tied to fans where the patients were hanged in mid-night to assess and evaluate their health.If patients resisted hanging or moved their feet and body; they were released and given proper medication, many of them dying after few seconds of hanging, most of them too frail to brave it.For people wanting voluntary death, they had skin peeling machines that crawled over the patient’s body and pierced their skins, removing it out. Vessels were punctured with needles, blood collected in glass bottles and organs tested in other department. Diary had random entries describing each ward and the hospital affairs.
For patients with no symptoms of disease, they had fire producing machines in the wards, leaving patients charred to death. For people with mild symptoms, they had bottles and injections filled with poison. The cancer centre kept patients with 1st stage malignant tumors under quarantine for 6 months. Patients often died during the period of quarantine. The patients at the cancer center were given the same diet as supplied to the General ward. Boiled water with sugar syrup and salt was often supplemented with garlic paste to complete the dietary requirements of cancer patients.
Hospital staff was allotted an abuse chart and a regular duty of half an hour in the evenings and mornings. The duty consisted ofhurling abuses at the patients (duration: 10 minutes), depriving them of dietary supplements, offering special prayers (prayers of death) (5 minutes), narrating death stories (10 minutes) and sneering at the patients (5 minutes).The chart was to be followed strictly.
Patients were provided air pipes, attached with their respective beds. The air when inhaled smothered patients to death. It was one of those easy procedures followed by the hospital to ease pain. The hospital entrance had blood spattered on the sides and edges, on the stretchers, covering over, giving it a grotesque appearance. Most patients admitted to the hospital fainted to death at the very entrance of hospital.
Hospital had a trolley for keeping biscuits, bread, eggs and other eatables for the staff. Eggs and breads were given to medics to keep them sturdy and healthy, biscuits to the rats around the beddings and in the drains. Patients were given fluids made of salt and water; water was boiled and supplied through pipes when hot. It nourished the patients and provided them the required minerals and salts. The fluids were supplied six times a day each lasting for one hour. Everyday patients figured bloated bellies, swelled hands and legs. Patients complained all day to medics about their deteriorating health and were often given adrenaline doses. Every day, corpses were lined up in hospital lobby and waiting rooms, tagged meticulously with hospital MRD Nos. and wrapped in white sheets.
Blood banking facility of the hospital was under construction all the time. Dust and smoke filled the air. The rooms were all occupied with broken chairs and tables, cobwebs lined up the wooden benches, small black rat pellets marked the corners. Donors were seated on wooden benches with their heads wrapped in polythene sheets and needles inserted in both the hands to draw blood in rusted iron containers marked with hospital symbol, the skull. The blood transfusion facility was all dark with small blue tinted bulbs on the floor. The staff sported black goggles with male members having large beard and hospital symbol on their faces. The donors were given black viscous sugary syrup drawn from the earthen vessels at the exit of the facility.
Mahavara spoke of the other hospital that infused life in the dead. Medics worked day and night treating the patients. He saw hospitals touching skies, glass elevators carrying patients in and out of the wards. The patients wore clean tidy purple aprons and gloves with face covered by protective gears. The hospital had filters fitted on the ceilings, at the doors, in the windows, clearing air of dust. The hospital staff greeted every patient, wishing them good health in an enigmatic manner. The wards were colored crystal white, appearing lively.Beds worked on their own, digitized and connected to life saving machines working day and night. It was all life. Mahavara was despised by the staff. He wasn’t allowed to even sniff the air around the hospital. The hospital staff guarded the building along a wide perimeter. Half of the perimeter was lined up with wires having live current in nights. Most of the staff guarding the hospital was sported with guns and pistols. Dogs if seen pestering around were shot at legs. Mahavara often saw people laughing at the exit gate of the hospital. Mahavara confused this with a dream, he dreamt of carrying Maiara on his shoulders to the city hospital where she was rested on an automatic stretcher carrying her to the ward at the top through elevators. Maiara gets well in a day or two, hospital car drops them home and both live happily. Mahavara waited all day outside the hospital hearing abuses from the staff. He waited and waited. The wait never ended.
The hospital premise at the town was converted into a large facility with multiple insulated wards in the basement and mortuary. The counselor over the years allotted more funds for revamping the entire functioning of the hospital. He took several measures that saw huge amount of money being allotted to hospital. Over the years, various regulatory committees were formed and funds were allocated to the town hospital to make it more viable and life saving for patients of the town. The counselor took serious concern of the increased mortality rate and discussed it with the medics and senior officials over the years. The hospital saw more funds allotted to it for successive years. The funds were well used by the counselor to set up improved medical facilities for the patients. The water soup nutrition was increased from six to eight times a day, manual health determining system was replaced with automated hanging machines, automated skin peelers were introduced, hospital vans equipped with multiple sirens and color system were introduced, improved therapy system for cancer patients was inducted with quarantine time increased to one year, blood transfusion facility was upgraded to the standards of city hospital, patients often contracted multiple diseases following transfusion, sanitation facilities were improved and bathroom fluids were often seen seeping through hospital wards, walls and patient beddings. One of the most important developments was the construction of grief rooms where people were allowed to cry, slap their faces, call the dead and even stay for a night longer. In the follow up meetings of the hospital board, counselor did put up a proposal for installing a series of electric crematoriums and burial sheds for each department. People took it as a blessing from the counselor.
Mahavara’s body was found in one of the abandoned rooms. He slowed down the racing pulses. Mahavara guided a needle into his heart, twisted it many a times and bled to death.
The town hospital minted two coins after the names of Maiara and Mahavara, used for registering patients admitted in the hospital. People of the town and in the neighborhood praised the authorities of the hospital for offering such respect to the names of both. The counselor and the medics were the most respected people in the town after the coin thing started in hospital.
Sushant Dhar was born in Anantnag, Kashmir. Sushant writes short stories. He fears absurd. His short stories have been published in Indian Short Fiction Magazine. The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org