For the life of me, I couldn’t say anything helpful or sympathetic to Rashi. Because we were partially hidden from other people in the park, I placed my arm around her delicate shoulders and held her tight. After a long moment of hesitation, she relaxed and threw her slim frame against mine. She silently sobbed into my hands till she ran out of tears and breath. I waited for her to say something but she wouldn’t say a word today, not today.
“I am with you no matter what you do,” I said.
Rashi sat still, as if trying to match her breath against mine. It grew darker and quieter in the park and the pole lights blinked on along the walking track, among the trees and beyond the vast park. The massive neem trees with their entangled branches above us threw strange shadows as a light November breeze caught on. The chill had begun to set in. Most people shuffled up from the slatted benches around us and made for the gate.
“Let’s go,” Rashi finally made up her mind and shook my wrists.
We walked swiftly out and climbed into her plush SUV. She drove straight to the hospital. It was almost dinner time, well past the official visiting hours, when she parked in the dank, poorly lit basement. The corridors along the special rooms were shiny clean and deserted as we walked out of the elevator on the seventh floor. Rashi held my hand and showed her Family Entry Pass to the security guard on duty. We entered the sound proof, air-conditioned room no. 708.
The hiss of the respiratory machine was low and rhythmic. The heartbeat monitor showed a regular pattern - two irregular spikes of different height and elongated, lazy waves in between. The catheter hanging from the stand, with its tube running under the patient’s blanket was almost out of IV fluid. Without realizing, I held my breath against the smell of stale urine, antibiotics and overpowering disinfectant sprayed in the room. Rashi pulled the curtains and switched on another light to dispel the gathering gloom in the room.
Rashi’s father suddenly opened his distant grey eyes and struggled to lift his free hand under the hospital blanket. The blanket slid down from the bed and the old man lay there exposed and crumpled, various tubes running into his frail body, and his cotton gown pulled down at an absurd angle.
Rashi quickly grabbed the blanket and covered her father as I heard a series of discreet knocks on the door.
“Must be the nurse,” Rashi said without turning as she adjusted the tubes to a comfortable position.
I opened the door and let the nurse in. She asked us to wait outside till she cleaned up, and changed the bed sheets and catheter. Rashi and I waited in the deserted corridor.
“Dad has pleaded with me so many times, but I don’t have the guts,” Rashi said. “He could never ask this to anyone else. Not my brother, certainly not my kid sister. Mom is way beyond this. I am his favorite, the cursed one.”
I looked up and down along the long corridor. We had nothing to say to each other till the nurse walked out and signaled us to go in.
“He is awake, but do not make him talk if he doesn’t want to," the nurse said and left in hurry.
Rashi’s father opened his eyes when we entered the room again. Rashi, the favorite daughter ever so gently removed the transparent plastic tube from his mouth and kissed his shiny, sweating forehead. She whispered something gently in his ears. The father’s eyes came alive for a moment and tears rolled down on his sunken, bluish cheeks.
“Water,” he tried to clear his throat and whispered after a moment of struggle.
Rashi reached for her purse and pulled out a fist-sized copper urn with Sanskrit engravings - the water of holy Ganges. She deftly broke the soft metal lid. I held my breath as Rashi poured a few drops into her father’s dry, delicate mouth.
“Thank you dear. I trust you and your judgment. Now and forever.” His voice was breathless, scratchy and barley audible.
Rashi held the old man in the crook of her arm and kissed his head again. Her face now totally devoid of any expression, she replaced the Oxygen mask on her father’s nose and looked at me for a second. She leaned on the instrument panel behind the head board. I stood still, unable to react in anyway. Rashi twisted the metal lever marked Oxygen to Off position.
In less than five seconds, her father convulsed briefly and violently in her arms. The heartbeat monitor let out a steady warning beep and showed a straight green line instead of regular oscillations.
Rashi twisted the lever again to On position and chose to wait for the nurse to make everyhthing legal and official. She gently closed her father's popped eyes and straightened the blanket over his lifeless body.