(For the following story, I used a prompt from the Write India campaign. The bold-italicised paragraphs were mandatory to use.)
‘Are you sure, Rhea?’ asks my mother.
‘Of course I’m. Survival of the fittest, mother. I’m not going against Darwin. Also I don’t want unnecessary scars on my body.’
It’s a known fact that we are all born to die. And frankly, I don’t understand why it has to be made into such a big deal. If it were not for my mother I would have said that to the bunch of people outside my house, some of them with young kids, shouting slogans, waving placards, literally wanting me to cut one of my beating hearts out. “Save A Life. Donate!” they shout.
For someone who is one in billions, 7.125 billion to be exact, I expect to be treated better. Scientists are still befuddled regarding my condition that gave me two hearts in my mother’s womb. But years of research and sticking needles into me have led them nowhere, and they have labeled me as a freak mutation. It’s so rare – literally one in all humankind – that they didn’t even name the anomaly (as they call it, I will call it awesomeness). I wanted to name the condition myself, something on the lines of Rhea’s Heartsawesome but the doctors aren’t thrilled with the suggestion. Instead they want to cut one of them out and save a life. Huh?
An IQ of 180, increased concentration, exceptional athleticism and a phenomenal metabolism rate – are just the few boring benefits of an increased blood circulation. Why would I ever give that up?
Well, here’s the thing. I have my own doubts. The doctors and researchers haven’t done satisfactory research on it and they don’t have answers to my questions. Like, what if I have two hearts because neither of my hearts is strong enough to survive on it’s own? Granted, together they make me strong. But, isn’t it possible that if one removed, it might put a strain on the other? That would kill me. Well, I don’t want to die. Or, it would mean in and out of hospitals for bad health. Don’t want that either!
‘Rhea, Adi is here.’ said my mother.
Her voice broke my reverie and Adi’s name brought a smile on my face.
‘Adi, come inside. I am in my room.’ I shouted. He entered, fingers in his ears feigning his annoyance at my loud, high-pitched voice. I threw a pillow at him. He sat on the bed, cross-legged and pulled out his assignment.
‘I am not doing it.’ Of course I knew what he wanted.
‘Oh, come on. You know you’ll do it quicker than I would. It won’t be a pain to you because you are the blessed, brilliant one. Moreover that would give me time to eat which I don’t get so often and you have the best cook in your house. I think it’s much better to have your mom than having two hearts.’ He laughed.
‘Shut up and go stuff the food. But, don’t you try stealing her from me.’ I tried faking an angry tone but failed miserably.
‘Thanks. I love you!’ He said.
I loved Adi. I could do a thousand assignments like these for him. I could even stay in the kitchen all day and all night, cooking for him. But he was blind. I was his best friend. He was my everything. I sighed, and got to work. It took me 20 minutes to finish it. No, precisely 18 minutes and 46 seconds. Yes, I timed myself. I could only compete with myself. To be fair to others, with just one heart. Do I sound mocking and snobbish? I am not, I promise. Just tired of being put on a pedestal. All. The. Time. The jokes never get old.
The doorbell rang.
‘Hi Aunty!’ I said. It was Reena aunty. My mother’s best friend. She had become a part of the family after my father passed away. I don’t know what would have had happened to my mother if she hadn’t been around.
‘Aunty, mom’s in the kitchen.’ I said. She smiled and went to the kitchen. She looked really weak.
‘Adi! It’s done. Take it and leave.’ I shouted, going to my room. Yet again, he entered with fingers pressed to his ears.
‘It’s not funny anymore.’ I said, straight-faced.
‘Of course it is.’ He laughed. ‘By the way, why do you always want me to leave? Can’t I stay after my work’s done to spend time with my friend?’
‘Why can’t you come spend time with your friend when you don’t have any work for her?’ I said. This time, the anger was real and he knew that.
‘You know I am busy. It’s hard to find time to sleep. With all the preparation for my entrance and college work. It’s tough juggling both.’ He explained.
‘That’s why you should leave and go back to your work!’ I was being unreasonable. But he was so stupid. How could he not see that I loved him? With both my hearts! And that’s twice the love a normal person with one heart is capable of. I laughed, inside my head. It was hard not to bring in the two-hearts-jokes in any and all situations. The jokes had become a reflex, kind of.
‘Why are you being so weird?!’ He asked. Oh right, we were having a conversation.
‘Because I love you. And you are so naive that you never realised it. I want you. And it aches when you don’t know how much I love being with you. You enter the door and bring a smile to my face. When you say I am doing it right when I fight the neighbours and the people outside protesting, it helps me. You make me strong. I look at you and I see my future with you. How can you not see that?’ I said. All my welled up emotions were out on a display.
‘But I can. I love you. More than you know. But I never thought it was supposed to be said or clarified. It was implicit. Who do I run to when I have problems? Whose place do I come when I want food? Where do I come when I am agitated? In whose room do I sleep when I want peace? All the answers point to you. I think you are stupid never to have realised this.’ He said, calmly. I was stunned.
‘I love you. You stupid, stupid girl.’ He whispered, inching closer to my face. He held my face and kissed me. Gentle and fierce, at the same time. My knees were weak as water and my hearts were bursting with love. I kissed him, with a promise of never letting him go.
‘Do I hear crying?’ He said, bursting the bubble we had created so beautifully.
‘Mom?’ I panicked, finally the voice of someone crying penetrating my ears.
‘What’s happening?’ I asked. Reema aunty and my mother were sobbing, hugging and consoling each other when none could be consoled.
‘Reena’s body isn’t responding to any of the treatments.’ My mother said, sniffing.
‘Greek to me.’ said Adi.
‘Reena aunty was diagnosed with Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The myocardium, the muscle of your heart gets thickened. It is fatal, if not treated.’They have tried catheterization and ventricular pacing, but it’s not working.’ I explained.
‘What do they suggest now?’ Adi asked, concerned.
‘They said they need to talk to the doctors in Fortis Escorts regarding this.’ Reena aunty said in a tiny voice.
I knew how hard this was for aunty and my mother, both. They were inseparable and a rock to each other. Reena aunty never married and the financial burden was killing her. We suggested her to rent her place and move in with us. That would help her with the bills and my mother could take better care of her. It was amazing to see my mother manage everything. The house, aunty, me and the surly, insensitive neighbours.
The noises outside were growing louder. The doorbell rang. My neighbour, Madhu uncle stood with a placard that said, “Why not donate what you have in abundance?”
‘Are you kidding me?’ I snorted, loathing for the man very much evident.
‘My wife needs a heart transplant. The boy from the next street has a weak heart. In spite of having two hearts, you don’t seem to have any! You are insensitive and selfish! How can you not care? How can you be so thick-skinned? You are so unemotional. You feelingless spoilt brat!’ He shouted, regardless of the fact that I was just three feet away. After all, the things he said were honestly for the others behind him. To instigate them and truly, the words did have an effect. The slogans that were specifically written for me rose in the air. And with that, so did my impatience.
‘Do you give an insurance to me and my mother that nothing would absolutely happen to me after I give my heart to your sick wife? Or the boy from next street? Or for that matter, anyone in the hospital? Do you take responsibility? Aren’t you selfish asking that of me, completely ignorant of the after-effects? To be honest, I am better than you people. At least I don’t demand other people of what’s not mine.’ I said, slamming the door.
I sat on the bed, tired. I didn’t realise that I had dozed off until I felt Adi’s arms around me.
‘Those insensitive jerks. Sorry I wasn’t around. Anyway, go to sleep.’ He murmured.
‘It’s okay. I can fight my own battles.’ I said, hugging him. I smiled and kissed him. He kissed me fiercely. I could sense his anxiety. He was more worried about me than I was.
‘I love you. And I am here for you.’ He said, hugging me tighter. The warmth emanating from him calmed me. His presence was so soothing. I kissed him. His hands left a lingering touch all the way from the nape of my neck along my spine to the small of my back. I shivered. He nibbled my ear and his hands found their way under my tee-shirt. I l knew I could kill and die for this man.
‘I have something to tell you.’ said my mother.
‘Umm hmm?’ I replied, munching on burger.
‘I love Reena.’ she said.
‘I love her too. She has always been amazing to you and she has always been there even when I couldn’t be. She fills the void papa left.’ I said.
‘Yes, that’s true. But you aren’t getting what I am trying to say. I love Reena …like…I loved your father. Do you understand?’ She was unsure of my reaction and was fumbling for words.
‘Mom. Are you saying that you are a lesbian?’ I said, after what seemed like an eternity.
‘I am a bisexual.’ she said.
‘Okay. It’s..umm..difficult to grasp but I think it’s fine. It’s your life mumma and you need to make yourself happy.’ I said, hugging her and she burst into tears. The phone rang, making us jump. Reena aunty was admitted to the hospital. Her breathing was laboured and she was critical. The doctors said the last resort to save her was to have a heart transplant.
‘I’ll do it. I’ll be the donor if the conditions match.’ I said decidedly. A tear slipped from my mother’s eye.