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The Chronicles of a small town




The Chronicles of a small town

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ONE

The fall

We heard the news in the afternoon when Nilu didn’t come to play. Somebody said he fell down from a jamun tree and broke his leg. The hospital wasn’t far, so we rushed to it immediately. The visiting hour began at five; but none of us had a wristwatch.When we reached the main gate of the hospital, panting, we saw a few attendants standing outside.

‘What`s the time now?’Gautam asked a man, who, like us, had arrived early and was killing his time re-reading a rolled out newspaper.

‘Four-thirty,’ said the man with disdain. He had deep frowns on his forehead, which I suspected were permanent. A yellow visiting card popped out of the front pocket of his shirt.

I read out the visiting time written on a board hung above the gate. It said that the visiting hours began at 5 and ended at 6.30 pm.

The June sun was still spewing fire, and there was hardly anybody on the road, except an occasional cyclist or two.The bright yellow rays of sun glinted on the melting tar of the road. We waited in the shade cast by the red hospital building.

We didn’t have visiting cards, so when the clock struck five and the gate was opened to the crowd, the guard did not allow us to go in. He asked us for visiting cards, and when we feigned ignorance, he stopped answering us. We stood there, four of us in shorts and tees, like a troop of chattering monkeys waiting and talking about Nilu, taken aback by this sudden mishap. Gautam, the smartest one sidled up to the man in blue uniform, and I watched him from the corner of my eyes, whispering something to the gatekeeper. I couldn’t make out what he said, but the guard took pity on us and said that he would allow us to go in if we promised not to make any noise and come back in ten minutes.We agreed.

‘Take the stairs and go up to the second floor. If he has broken a leg, then in all likelihood, he will be in the fracture ward,’ he said.

However, the door of the fracture ward was shut. It was a heavy door made of solid wood — teak — or that was what I thought it was made of from its mahogany colour and wavy grains. The ENT and Eye wards were right next to it, their doors opening into a long corridor. I knew about the topography of the second floor because my grandma was here in the Eye ward last year. She had a cataract surgery which was a little complicated and took more time as compared to other surgeries. That was the first day I entered the hospital. . The cool deserted corridors evoked a strange, eerie feeling inside of me. Perhaps it was because of all stories I had heard about dead patients turning into ghosts. As I strolled along the corridor, discovering the nooks and corners of the dreaded place, I found out there were a few windows which gave a clear view of the road down, We often took a detour on that road while coming home from school. Rows of tall deodar and eucalyptus trees keep the windows of the hospital hidden from the street.

On the second floor, if you turn right and walk up to the end, you`ll find the corridor opens into a cul-de-sac. There are benches for the visitors. There are doors on three sides. Two of them are locked, nly one with blood-curdling signboard, ‘OPERATION THEATRE’ is the real entrance. As if the board wasn’t t enough, a red beacon of light placed just below it glowed from time to time, informing the visitors what was going on inside. If the red light was on, it meant the surgeons weregoing about with their business, cutting open the hapless patients, or stitching them up. I often imagined the inside of the operation theatre. Wasit something like a slaughterhouse, a little cleaner, obviously, because they deal with human beings? But in any case, I considered it to be the dreariest place in the hospital. Nilu once said that , after the sunset, when it becomes dark all around, the little ghosts play football in the wasteland behind the hospital.

Nilu`s ward was indeed called the ‘Fracture Ward’. It was written in yellowish-white peeling letters, on a brown board. The upkeep of the hospital was impeccable otherwise; the mosaic floor shone always, the banisters of the wide staircase gleamed. You could find the sweepers somewhere in their blue uniforms busy with their long brooms and a bucket of disinfectant. Somehow, the repainting of signboards was missed out on, or maybe, the job was too petty for get any contractor to bid on it. We used to hear anecdotes about how the Rail Company had enough money for its maintenance and could build tracks out of of gold, or at least that is what we thought. a little A whole ward meant for patients who had broken all kind of bones seemed pretty interesting to me. I had expected a lot of clamour inside, a noisy scene for sure with people groaning in pain with plaster around their hands, legs, and pictured some of them lying in their beds and some crouching or limping. I pushed the door gently and silently, opening it just enough to sneak a look in.

But the room was unusually silent. I saw rows of empty beds, crisply made, the white sheets spread neatly without a wrinkle and a single maroon rug folded and tucked halfway down, with a pristine white pillow at the head of the bed. There were only two patients; our very own Nilu lying down on his bed and another old man seated on his bed at the far end of the room, reading a newspaper.

A nurse, whom I had known since I was a kid, was sitting behind her counter, writing something. Every year, during summer, I used to get a cluster of boils erupting somewhere in my ....................