Fiction: Uncertainty

Nilamadhab Kar

He is one of my best friends, since my childhood days. He has a beautiful family, his adorable wife and their two children. His daughter has just completed masters and searching for a job. His son just joined college.
He has around three years before retiring. He was trying put together money to finally bid farewell to his life in rented house all the working years, to have something of his own before retirement. He had another lingering worry like any father of a daughter at marriageable age. He hates to verbalise, but he knows that finding a 'boy', a suitable match would be difficult; with her dark skin and weight, she doesn't fit into, what people are looking for in arranged marriages in today's standards. His wife is ailing for a long while, diabetes, hypothyroidism and many others that he doesn't comprehend. She had just a little fever for two days, cough since yesterday. When he too developed sore throat yesterday, his daughter suggested getting the COVID test. He wasn't convinced; except him none in his family had gone out, and he takes good care, mask, sanitisers; social distancing is hard, in office or on the bus. But he had tried. COVID would be unlikely. Daughter pleaded. They went out to get it checked. Today morning the results came, both positive. It was a bit nervous atmosphere at home. They sent children for testing too.

By afternoon, his wife was feeling breathless, her oxygen saturation was dropping. He decided to call ambulance. There were engaged lines, no answers and automated messages. He knew someone higher up in the government; he messaged him, begging for an ambulance. He knew the implications of the cough and breathlessness, too well. Two of his colleagues have passed away just last week. His message worked, someone contacted him, and an ambulance will come. There was a long wait, two hours, three hours. His cough was becoming more frequent.

The ambulance team called, ‘Which hospital would you like to go?’ Tariffs are so different, services probably. ‘We are not sure about the oxygen availability, decide and tell the ambulance crew.’ That was a short message. But he had to do some math and chance taking. He looked at the children, and decided to go to a nearby centre, so that they can visit, if needed.

By the time the ambulance reached, he himself was tired, and worried; his cough had worsened. He packed his bag too.

When both of them got into the waiting vehicle, results of his children came, positive. He looked at his daughter and then son. How he wished to say 'don't worry, everything will be alright' but couldn't. No words were spoken.

On the way, a thought flashed past, will he be able to come back, to see his children again. He tried to brush it off and be positive. His wife's mask was misty, eyes closed, she had not communicated for a long time.

At the hospital, he felt lucky to find beds for both. His wife was moved to a different room, as there was problem in oxygen supply in the ward they were in. He was bit unsure. There were many patients in his ward, some coughing, some are restless, others still. No doctor has visited him; they were probably busy attending more seriously ill.

Amidst the chaos outside, he grew quieter inside. As if his whole life was in front of him, he reflected. Like a fast backward, his childhood, struggles, holding on to a job to put food on the table, marriage, children, his dreams somewhere, and now retirement, a whole life has passed just to make both end meet.

And now this night, in the hospital, with COVID.

He wasn't sure, of anything, least of the sunrise tomorrow.

He thought of talking to a friend. That's when I got the call. From his hospital bed, his voice was feeble, broken. He felt he would become more ill in this hospital atmosphere. There was as if nothing in control, no one was sure. An unspoken fear was gripping him. He looked at me. He hardly talked. His eyes were seeking an assurance. I am not sure what, everything was on the plate.

Uncertainty was becoming heavy, as the night grew deep and silence unbearable. We both knew, we are not sure if we would be talking tomorrow. 

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