The neatly typed block letters on the report were unmistakable. You could notice them at once – POSITIVE. The eight-letter word was like a declaration. It was unquestionable and matter of fact. It was a confirmation of Jhiri’s worst fear.
The expression came out of her mouth quite spontaneously, without thinking. In fact she couldn’t think. Just then she felt a familiar touch on her shoulder. A very dear and very comforting touch. She looked at Tamal’s eyes, as his hands embraced her more tightly.
“It’s okay.” He was calm and yet firm.
“But we’re not married, Tamal.” Jhiri could only mumble those words under her breath.
No, she was not crying. She was strong enough to manage herself like she has done in this foreign city till she met Tamal, her love, her life, and her biggest support. But this was different.
‘How could this have happened?’ Her mind was running fast and was trying to scan each and every past event to fathom what fateful night or day or moment sowed the seed of this so called “positive” news. What an irony, she thought, failing to see any positivity in this situation. She tried to shift her mind to the past, when their relationship began – a time of excitement, expectation, and happiness. Jhiri was trying to get out of the present stress by taking refuge in the comfort of those memories. She was trying hard.
It was the very first day when Jhiri boarded the office bus as a new joinee and with lots of apprehension about the new environment. She was the last pick up on the way to Hi-tech city, the hub of all IT companies in Hyderabad. The moment she grabbed her seat she heard laughter from the front row and she peeped curiously. A group of six young people was having a great time it seemed. The most talkative of them was a young man who looked youngest of them all. Jhiri did not need to strain her ears too much to know the topic; they were talking about movies, and some of them were her personal favorites. Though the topic was interesting enough, her eyes were more engrossed in that young guy, a thin person with a sharp nose and two intelligent eyes behind high-powered specs. Who was he? She did not have to wait too long for the answer.
“Tamal, you should have been an actor. You mimic so well”, commented a girl from the group referring to his impersonation of a movie actor.
“Yeah, I know but the film fraternity is yet to ‘discover’ me,” came the pat reply, and the facial expression that accompanied it created another laugh riot.
Jhiri could feel that her heart had started beating hard, and a smile was spreading across her face. She knew she would love to get introduced to him.
But it was not easy; it seemed they were picked up before her. Jhiri felt frustrated and was now even more critical of the concept of “groupism”. But she soon got her chance. It was a Monday when as soon as she got into the bus she could see Tamal sitting by the front window seat, all alone. Her heart started thumping. She made her move and approached the seat. Did he give a sneaky glance? Jhiri could not be sure, and anyway she was too eager to utter the polite question,
“May I join you?”
“Oh, please do. I shall be glad to get some company.” Tamal was ready with the answer.
“Where are the others? Aren’t they coming?”
“Ummm…not sure. Ideally they should’ve been here by now. May be they are enjoying their extended holiday.” Tamal replied with a smile. Jhiri too smiled back. Truly it’s really difficult not to extend one’s weekends by taking a casual leave. This common practice was known to the employers and the HR guys.
“By the way, am Tamal.”
“Yes, joined last week.”
“Welcome aboard. See, I’ve already made this company mine. The HR guys should be impressed, what say?” Tamal winked. Jhiri’s smile broadened, “They should be”, she replied. “After all you are making the working environment better”, she added.
The conversation flew smoothly and naturally from there. Jhiri was feeling quite comfortable in Tamal’s company. The chord she struck with Tamal seemed instantaneous. That day she felt as if they reached the office faster than the other days. How she wished the conversation and the journey lasted a bit longer. But she also knew she had made a friend and believed that her days at the office would get even more interesting.
The bus conversation soon got extended to an online one via the office chat and even continued to the office canteen during the breaks. During the weekends she found herself dialing his number and Tamal’s voice at the other end told her that he “was waiting”. Within a few days Jhiri understood that she could discuss her mundane problems, could share her secrets, reveal her inhibitions, and speak of girlish stuff with him. Tamal was never judgmental, and a patient listener despite being a short tempered and emotional person. She was eager to know more about him, and she could feel that he had become an inseparable part of her life. What she did not know then was how he felt about her till he kissed her on a friendship day, confirming the passionate bond.
“Jhiri. Jhiri!” The slight nudge and the sound of her own name brought her back to the present. It took her a few moments to remember where she was and her current predicament.
“We need to show the report to the doctor. She will be waiting.” She heard Tamal speak in a quiet voice. Yes right, the doctor’s opinion, Jhiri thought. She could not think what more the doctor could say to her. Suddenly she realized that probably the doctor would be able to suggest her some solution. “Let’s go”, Tamal urged. Jhiri nodded.
Dr Hemalatha Rao was a slim and bespectacled person at her early thirties. She talked very softly and had a way with people that immediately earned her the confidence of her patience. Asking Jhiri and Tamal to sit on the ergonomically designed chairs she shifted her attention to the report.
“So, have you decided anything?” Dr Rao asked placing the report down on her neatly arranged table. “I want an abortion!” Jhiri blurted the words out so quickly that Tamal was taken aback.
“Calm down. You may know that excitement is not good for you right now.” The good doctor reminded her of some obvious facts in a tone that was soothing and firm at the same time. “But doctor I can’t keep this baby. No way!” Jhiri’s voice revealed her broken mental state. She was not the independent and confident woman anymore. Her mind was completely focused on the perils of becoming an unwedded mother. The more her mind pondered about this fact the more she could feel a chilling sensation down her spine.
While her head was throbbing, she could hear Tamal’s voice. It sounded helpless and somewhat confused. “We never thought we would have to encounter this situation. We took all precautions…”
Dr Rao gave a smile that could only be expressed by a gynecologist who had seen the harsh side of life. “Believe me, nothing is full proof no matter what the advertisements holler about.” She said. “I have seen this before and I can tell you yours is not the last case.” She added, quite ominously.
“Yeah, we’ve learnt that lesson, in a hard way though.” Tamal replied.
“What do you suggest doctor?” He asked.
“Do you have any plans to get married any time soon?” Dr Rao asked. “It will solve all your problems and of course the life of the baby. As a doctor I should not suggest abortion.”
Tamal remembered during the last conversation that he had with Jhiri they agreed that it was too early to get married. Who would have thought that the future would take such a twisted turn!
“I am not ready for marriage yet.” Jhiri joined the conversation. “I can’t marry just because I have got pregnant. If I go by your words then this was just an accident that happened due to the failure of so called protections.” Her voice had regained its calmness, and her answer had finality in it. Tamal knew that she had made up her mind. This was the Jhiri he loved so much; always sure of her desires. He knew right now they did not have the financial wherewithal to raise a child.
“In case you do decide to abort, I shall need to run a few tests to ensure that your body is ready for the procedure.” Dr Rao said.
“Does she need to go through an operation?” Tamal asked.
“Well, that will depend on the development. By the look of it I don’t think the embryo is more than a few weeks old, so we can probably go for a medication to get it aborted.”
“Will there be any side effect?” Jhiri posed the question.
“You may experience some heavy bleeding, but it’s not too severe, neither is it life threatening. But as I say there will be a few tests which will give me a clearer picture. In case you are anemic we may have to think about some mild drugs. So, are you okay with the tests?”
Jhiri and Tamal both nodded in affirmation.
On their way back home Jhiri remained silent. Tamal too didn’t poke her. But there was something that he thought he should put forward to her. Though he was quite certain of the answer still he wanted to take her opinion. ‘Not here. Let’s reach home.’ He thought.
“Do you want to call your parents here?” Jhiri was changing, and Tamal’s question freezed her midway.
“How can you even think about that?” She blurted it out with a force that had a mix of anger and frustration. “Please, let me know if you are not ready to handle this situation. I am quite capable of taking care of myself!” Jhiri said. The next moment she spun and entered the bathroom slamming the door hard behind her and locking it from inside.
Tamal remained transfixed for a while before making a move. He knocked at the door, slowly.
“What?” Jhiri’s voice was still harsh.
“I am sorry. I didn’t intend to hurt you. Please, open the door.” Tamal pleaded.
“I want to see you; I want to hug you. I want to be close to you, Jhirjhiri.”
‘Jhirjhiri’ this nickname given by Tamal had always signified a love so tender that Jhiri could not help but melt whenever called thus. It alluded to a drizzle that gives respite to the scorched earth. Tamal had always referred Jhiri as his emotional respite and anchor. Now once more she could feel the love and emotion that were combined in this one word. She opened the door and came out. Tamal hugged her tight and kissed her with passion. Jhiri too clung to her love, and she could feel tears rolling down her cheek as she heard him say, “I am here Jhiri. I’ll always be beside you.”
At night Jhiri could not sleep. She was thinking of the sudden turn their happy go lucky life had taken. Though what had happened to them was not a rare event but was suffered by many young people, they never thought that they could suffer such a fate themselves.
Suddenly she realized that she was moving her hand over her stomach. She suddenly felt calm and happy. “P-r-e-g-n-a-n-t…” she murmured softly and slowly turned her neck; Tamal was sleeping beside her. His face reminded her of a child. Jhiri smiled, “My baby’s baby.” As soon as she uttered these words a thought struck her. She was feeling a new excitement and thrill. She got up and started pushing Tamal.
“Tamal, Tamal. Please, wake up.”
“Ummm…” Tamal was still in slumber. “Get up you sleepy head. I need to talk about the baby.”
“The Baby. Please, get up and listen!”
Tamal opened his eyes and looked at Jhiri. It took the words some time to register. And as soon as it came back to him he was up in a flash.
“What’s wrong? Are you in pain?”
“Calm down…calm down!” Jhiri tried to sooth Tamal’s stressed nerves. “I have an idea.”
“Why can’t we get married? Why can’t we have the baby? Yes, there will be difficulties, but you and I can fight it out…right…together?” Jhiri was looking at him intently and hoping that he would agree.
Tamal looked at her eyes. They were intense and he knew that she meant what she said. Still he wanted to bury all doubts.
“Are you sure?”
“Five hundred per cent.” Jhiri smiled broadly.
“We have another appointment with the doctor when she will discuss the report. We will inform her first and then will ring up our parents.” Tamal said as he kept on kissing Jhiri. Jhiri nodded and held on to him tightly. She was at peace now.
Dr Hemalatha Rao’s face changed as she listened to Tamal and Jhiri. They had just informed the doctor about their final decision. They would keep the child and would get married. But to their surprise the doctor’s face looked grim. She was looking at the cute couple in front of her. ‘So young and so lively, they don’t know how critical the situation is.’ She thought.
“Where do your parents stay? Can they come here?” Dr Rao asked.
Tamal and Jhiri replied together, “They stay in Kolkata. We will like to get married there.”
“Can you please tell me how old the fetus is?” Jhiri asked.
“It’s just one week old, but do you really want to keep the issue?” Dr Rao asked.
“Yes, we do…but why are you asking…?” Jhiri trailed off, a doubt suddenly crept into her mind, and she suddenly started disliking this soft spoken doctor. ‘Is she trying to get me aborted at any cost?’
As if reading her thoughts Dr Rao gave a sad smile and said, “I am not forcing you to get aborted. I will love to see the baby born. But, it’s not possible.”
“Why?” Jhiri asked.
“Your reports puzzle me. Your ultrasonography report has come negative. There is no sign of the fetus. But your blood report proves that you are definitely pregnant.”
“Not visible in the ultrasonography? How’s that possible?”
“It is possible. It can only happen if the fetus is not in the womb but in another place. To be sure we have to keep on taking your blood samples every week.”
“Does this happen?”
“Not often. Five out of hundred cases are like this. We call such cases ectopic pregnancies.” Dr Hemalatha said. Then she saw the scared faces of the couple in front of her; she felt sorry for them. “But we need to confirm it first, so don’t get nervous.” She said to boost them, but she knew that if the reports were right then her diagnosis too was bound to be right.
“What’s the risk doctor?” Jhiri could feel herself going numb.
“We’ll talk in details once further tests are done. I want to be surer.” Tamal somehow felt that though the doctor was cautious she already knew how things would pan out.
“Let’s go. Thank you, doctor.” Tamal held Jhiri’s hand and gave it a light squeeze. Jhiri left the chamber in a daze. The developments were getting too much for her.
The next few weeks went like a scary movie. Tamal and Jhiri were a nervous wreck, and were expecting something bad every moment. Almost every alternate day Jhiri underwent a blood test, something that the doctor called Beta HCG. An internet search on the problem brought forward a lot of information on ectopic or tubular pregnancy. They came to know that the beta HCG hormone that would increase in the blood cells during pregnancy at a fixed rate would not rise as expected during an ectopic pregnancy. And the beta HCG reports of Jhiri confirmed that hers was indeed an ectopic pregnancy.
“We have to abort it otherwise the mother will be at risk.” Dr Rao kept her eyes fixed on Jhiri and Tamal as she uttered those words.
“Is there no other way?” Jhiri was surprised by her own words. It was not long back that she wanted an abortion herself, and now she was trying to grab the slightest opportunity to save the baby. Since that night when she tried to feel the baby’s minuscule presence she had come to think it as the symbol of their love. As if it had suddenly turned into the sign of a better future.
“I am sorry, in this case, no. We have to terminate the pregnancy; otherwise you may lose your life.” Dr Rao said addressing Jhiri.
The thought of losing Jhiri itself was unbearable to Tamal. His mind raced back to the past when Jhiri’s a day’s absence at office even would make him crazy. At those moments even coffee seemed tasteless and the breaks a pain. Losing her forever was unimaginable.
“Do whatever’s necessary doctor. I can’t lose her. Just tell me how risky the operation will be. Please, be frank with us.” Tamal said. Jhiri could feel the emotions that Tamal was going through at that time.
“As the pregnancy is still at its nascent stage the risk factor is negligible. However, please remember every operation has its own risks. We’ll do a check to see where the fetus is right now. I think it will be in the fallopian tube. That’s the place where ectopic pregnancies, most of them, occur. Once we locate the fetus, we shall surgically remove it. One more thing…” The doctor hesitated.
Tamal and Jhiri twitched at their seats. They could sense another ominous update. “I am sorry to say this but women who have had one ectopic pregnancy run the risk of suffering from another one. So, in future you may have to reconsider your plans for having a baby.”
The face of a smiling baby vanished from Jhiri’s mind. She could see a darkness engulfing that vision. She would never be able to bear a baby again, because an attempt to do so may end her life and leave Tamal all alone, a situation that would devastate him.
“I understand.” Tamal’s voice was calm.
“Tamal…do you understand…?” Jhiri mumbled. “Yes, I do. You are my life.” Tamal looked at Jhiri.
“Alright then, I shall set the operation date a week later from now.” Dr Rao informed. The couple nodded.
Jhiri and Tamal spent the next couple of days in managing leaves and hugging tighter to each other. Despite the doctor’s confident smile and assurances they were scared and insecure. There was the fear of losing each other…forever.
Jhiri got admitted to the hospital a day prior to the operation. At midnight his mobile rang and Tamal woke up with a violent start. It was from the hospital. They had his number and were supposed to call him in case of an emergency.
Once the voice at the other end identified Tamal as the intended person it spoke with calm urgency “Please, come to the hospital. Your wife has had a mild bleeding. She’s…” Tamal did not wait to listen to the rest. He rushed out of the house like a man possessed.
“Please come with me.” The nurse took a panting Tamal to the doctor’s chamber.
Dr Hemalatha was already at the hospital. Seeing a disheveled Tamal gave her a start.
“How is she?!” Tamal asked without hiding his agitated mental state.
“Calm down! She is fine. We have to postpone the operation by a couple of days. Jhiri suffered some heavy bleeding last night. The blood that we asked you to arrange has finally come handy. She is out of danger now, but needs rest.”
“Can I see her?” Tamal asked.
“You can have a look from outside her cabin.”
Tamal walked to Jhiri’s cabin and peeked through the glass door. She was sleeping while saline and blood were been transfused into her body. He shivered. He wanted to hug her tight. With the doctor’s permission Tamal spent the whole night at the lounge. The next morning a nurse came and told him that Jhiri was now awake, and he could meet her. Tamal spent some time in the wash room to make sure that he looked presentable, but as soon as he entered her room he knew he could not fool her. Tears rolled down Jhiri’s eyes. They hugged, and Tamal kissed her.
“It’ll be fine.” He murmured.
On the day of operation Tamal was again feeling a bit uneasy but he tried to stay as calm as possible. A monitor was showing the laparoscopy process. According to Dr Rao, the process would tell them about the position of the fetus. A paramedic was beside Tamal all the time explaining the whole thing. He was trying hard to focus on the screen, but his mind was somewhere else. “Strange!” The paramedic said.
“What is it?” Tamal asked in an anxious tone.
“The fetus is not visible in the fallopian tube!” The paramedic replied.
“What does that mean? Please, tell me what does that mean?” Tamal’s voice rose. He couldn’t take it anymore. Just at that moment the OT door opened, and Dr Rao came out. Almost in a flash Tamal was in front of her. But before he could ask anything the she answered his question,
“The fetus is not in any of the tubes Mr. Sen. I believe yesterday’s bleeding has caused a miscarriage. But still we shall keep a watch on the beta HCG level for a few more days. She does need to stay at the hospital for that. We shall release her tomorrow. She will have recovered from the strain of the operation by then.”
As the doctor spoke the attendants brought out Jhiri from the OT in a stretcher. The effect of anesthesia was still on her. Tamal moved towards her and a half-conscious Jhiri complained him about some pain in her abdomen. He looked at the doctor, and she signaled that it was quite normal.
Within the next 24 hours Jhiri recovered from her fatigue and was released from the hospital. However, next few weeks her beta HCG tests were conducted at a regular interval. After two weeks Tamal and Jhiri found themselves in Dr Rao’s chamber once again.
“The reports are now normal. And I think my diagnosis that fetus got aborted due to heavy bleeding was right. The danger is over.” Dr Rao informed them with a smile. Tamal and Jhiri heaved a sigh of relief.
“Thank you doctor. Thanks for everything.” They said together and shook Dr Rao’s hand.
Just outside the doctor’s chamber they hugged each other. Some of the other patients were left scandalized while some others found it quite amusing. Without a care they relished that passionate moment, and then left the clinic.
The auto they took had come quite a distance and suddenly Jhiri noticed something. She tugged at Tamal shirt and brought his attention to what she had seen. It was a big bill board with a message written in clear and bold fonts…
“SHOWER YOUR PARENTAL LOVE—ADOPT A CHILD”
Jhiri and Tamal looked at each other. Their mind echoed the same thought, ‘We don’t need to give birth to a baby. We can always raise one.’ As the thought took shape their grip on each other’s hand grew tighter. They could see a new turn in their road to living together.