Sunbeams danced over the crystal vase on my windowpane, reflecting a kaleidoscope of colors on the wall. Something exciting was going to happen today. I could feel it in my bones. I jumped out of my bed inadvertently humming “Yours is my Heart alone.”
“Not on this wonderful morning,” I thought, “Oh No. I’ve got better things to do.”
The clock on the mantel showed 7.30 a.m. I was due in theatre in half an hour. A tendon transplant on a disfigured hand would take hours.
“You’ll make my hand functional, won’t you Doctor?” the young man had asked, hopeful of a positive answer.
“I’ll do my best,” I had reassured him.
The tune refused to go away, prizing open a closed chapter in my life, and exposing a raw and tender spot that wouldn’t heal. Rudy had simply walked out of my life, and nobody knew where he had gone. It was my insensitivity and doubt that had driven him away. But on this bright morning, I wanted nothing to dampen my spirits.
In Medical School we were a snobbish lot. We considered ourselves a notch above the non-medicos. We had our own forms of recreation, and those with talent of any kind either in music, singing or acting, were the most popular girls on the campus.
And so when an anonymous note which mockingly said, “I bet you a movie, you cannot sing,” was dropped into my pigeon hole it rankled, more so because it was unsigned and gave no scope for revenge.
“Cannot sing?” That was a real ego-buster. I was the singing sensation of the college. At that point in time, I had no rivals.
“Could be the work of someone green with envy. A coward who won’t give her name.”
The fact that I couldn’t retaliate was frustrating.
“But I’ll keep my eyes peeled. Sooner or later, I’ll discover the culprit.”
We had just celebrated our Women’s Hostel Day with a variety entertainment. The auditorium had been jam-packed and the applause thunderous. Earlier in the month the Men’s Hostel Day function had turned out to be a damp squib. Perhaps some of those guys were jealous.
“Forget it,” said my friends, “We’ve got tests coming up one after another. Let’s apply ourselves to our studies.”
A couple of months later, I was called to the Principal’s office. Too many extra-curricular activities had played havoc with my grades. The man was taking his time and was making me sweat it out in his secretary’s office. The occupant was not in sight, so I settled down in his chair. My eyes wandered over the contents of the table. Then suddenly, I bristled up. Pinned under a paper weight was a chit with the writing I recognized. The very same writing on my anonymous note!
Even the principal’s reprimand for falling grades didn’t bother me. The mere thought of revenge gave me a high. My chance came a few days later, when I went to the canteen for a mid-morning cup of tea. Rudy strolled in, whistling merrily to himself. He settled down with his tea and snacks at a corner table. He didn’t hear me approach.
“Mr. Rudy Allen,” I said, putting on my sternest look, “You should have had the courage to sign your name to the note. I didn’t realize you were a music critic.”
After his initial surprise, Rudy gave me a mischievous smile and pointed to a chair.
“Madam, do have a seat. We can discuss things better that way.”
“No. Just came to tell you to keep your unsolicited criticisms to yourself.”
Before I moved away he retorted, “Anger becomes you Ma’am. Your face has taken on the color of sunset. Isn’t it a fact that you altered that aria because you couldn’t hit the high notes?”
“I did not,” I said, knowing I had made my own alterations to Bach’s “Sheep may graze,” so I wouldn’t have to stretch my vocal cords too much.
I stomped off in a rage, but not before I saw his bemused face as he bit into his sandwich. Soon however, the episode was forgotten, and life went on as usual.
At a friend’s birthday party, I bumped into Rudy again. I was surprised when he was asked to entertain us on the piano after dinner. He played a medley of Hawaiian tunes. When pressed to play on, he switched to a haunting gypsy ballad soft, tender and sensuous.
“Yours is my heart alone….”
He had us spellbound. It was time to bury the hatchet.
“Congratulations Mr. Allen!”
The mischievous smile was back, and his dark eyes twinkled as he said, “Not just a critic Ma’am, but a bit of a musician too!”
It was difficult to avoid Rudy. They say, ”He who has a thousand friends has not a one to spare. But he who has an enemy will meet him everywhere.”
Because of his skills on a variety of instruments, he was invited to many parties. Rudy was also a good mimic, and had a wonderful sense of humor. The male medicos just loved him.
It took months for a thaw in our relationship. Rudy walked up to my table one morning, and struck up a conversation. It soon became a daily mid-morning routine. These brief sessions soon extended to marathon ones at the expense of my classes and his work, until the Principal decided that enough was enough.
So we met after duty hours. He had an endless fund of humor, and could send me into splits of laughter with his jokes. We were slowly falling in love.
I had my fair share of criticisms – Rude comments, tactless predictions!
“It’s one thing to socialize with Administrative staff. But to go steady is sheer stupidity. You’ve got a wonderful career ahead.”
I ignored their comments, and our affair continued till the end of my studies. My final exams were only a few months away. Rudy had secured a good job in the Capital. We had tentatively planned our marriage for June, after my results were out.
On the eve of his departure, Rudy looked nervous and depressed. I was surprised that he could get so emotional over a brief separation. We went for a stroll together and found a quiet place to sit. Rudy took my hand in his and said, “Yasmin, what I have to say may alter everything between us. I should have told you earlier, but I was a coward.
I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you.”
What could it be? Had he fallen out of love with me? Tears welled up in his eyes.
“Rudy, if it’s a confession of some old love affair, I don’t want to hear it. It’ll make no difference to me”
But Rudy was impatient to finish. I could see it was very difficult.
“I realized that if we are to marry, it must be founded on honesty,” he said.
When he was in college, a peculiar discolored patch appeared on his cheek, which gradually started spreading. The local doctor had pricked and prodded it suspiciously, then said, “Son, I’m afraid this looks like Hansen’s. In simple language, this is an early sign of leprosy. It’s not the virulent kind, but treatment must start now.”
The doctor wrote down the name of an institution.
“Go there right away. The sooner you start treatment the better.”
Rudy walked out of the doctor’s room in a daze. Part of him wanted to reject the truth, but he was wise enough not to ignore it. He sat in an isolated corner of a park, and wept like one demented, cursing God for the misery that had befallen him.
It was very late when he reached home. Now the ordeal of breaking the news to his parents! But if he had hoped for sympathy, he got none. His mother visibly shrank from him. His father had no words of comfort. Seeing their reactions, Rudy knew he would be better off in an institution. He left early the next day.
“The agony of those days is difficult to explain. I remained there for two years. At first, I refused to mix with the others and spent hours feeling sorry for myself. The psychological damage was more disastrous than the disease itself. Thanks to the untiring efforts of the doctors and their kindness, I soon snapped out of my self pity.”
“You’re lucky to have come at this early stage,” said one senior doctor, “You have no disability and you will be fully cured. You have a good education. So use the time you spend here profitably. You can do a secretarial course. You can also develop your musical talents.”
So what started as occupational therapy, made Rudy master of both keyboards. Gradually the pain and tears were forgotten, and at the end of two years, he was declared fully cured. The job at the Principal’s office came through strong recommendations from his doctor. With his diligence and sincerity, he soon won the heart of his eccentric boss. His story over, he turned to me.
“Yasmin, you better think over what I told you, and decide if you still want to marry me.”
I hardly slept that night. The fear of the unknown haunted me. After all I was only a young medico, still ignorant of the marvelous advances made in the treatment of the disease. I pretended to be ill and didn’t attend classes for three days. Then I sought out a senior dermatologist who lived on the campus. He allayed all my fears. It was not only curable, but Science had knocked away the stigma of that once-dreaded disease.
The next day I couldn’t wait to see Rudy and tell him that I was ready to marry him. But it was too late. He had waited for two whole days, then left. His friend handed me a note.
“I understand, Yasmin. I don’t blame you for being afraid. I will always cherish the happy times we’ve shared together. For me there will be no other. I must walk through life alone.”
Rudy had gone away thinking I had rejected him.
After my house-surgeoncy, I won a scholarship to study Reconstructive Hand Surgery in Australia. My parents and friends have never understood nor forgiven me for this choice. It is five years since I have come back. This is a large rehabilitation centre, and
I am Chief of Reconstructive Surgery at the attached hospital. I have never regretted my decision.
The sprawling campus is home to over two hundred people, some still under treatment, some fully cured. Here they live and work together, teach and learn, laugh and cry as one close family. This is the only family I care about.
After work, these inmates gather at the Recreation Club. There are books to read and games to play. Television sets and musical instruments have been donated by well wishers.
There has been a lot of excitement in the air. A new Director was expected this morning. He was to take charge of the rehabilitation unit, and marketing of the products manufactured here. I could not make it to the “Welcome” program in his honor, as I was held up at the hospital.
The lights were still on in the Recreation centre, when I walked back to my quarters. As I approached, I heard again the tune that had been ringing in my ears all day.
“Yours is my heart alone…..”
I peeped in through the window. As he raised his head, I saw the far-away look in his eyes.
He looked older and thinner, but it didn’t matter at all. He was here and I knew I had something to look forward too.
I tip-toed away with the song in my heart.
“Not just yet,” I thought, “Tomorrow I’ll pay my respects to the new Director.”
The silver moon smiled down on me as if to say “Will do!”