Green Hills Literary Lantern

Epilogue

 

When I saw the unfamiliar email in my Inbox, my first inclination was to immediately dispatch it to the junk folder as I normally do with all my emails that come from senders unknown to me. But on this lazy summer afternoon in 2004, driven partly by boredom and partly by curiosity, I violated my own rules and opened it.

A desperate appeal from one Mr. Baran Bose, a retiree living in Mumbai - that’s what the email was all about. His wife was in a local hospital stricken with advanced stage of colon cancer and the treatment would cost a substantial amount of money which he didn’t have. He was ashamed to ask for handouts, the email explained, but if he didn’t, his wife would soon die. The email was going around the U.S. from stranger to stranger, and by happenstance, it landed in my Inbox.

“Yeah, sure,” I said to myself.

The familiar email con, attempting to exploit public trust and compassion, and I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. But in this particular case, for reasons still unknown to me, I read on. It contained the contact information not only of Mr. Bose himself but also of the hospital where his wife was admitted, and of the doctors who had been treating her.  It mentioned the names of Mr. Bose’s two daughters, Debi and Pompy, both of them in their early 20s and unmarried, who lived with the family.

I read the email once again, and when I was done, I stepped away from the computer and plopped down on the sofa in the living room. I was all by myself in my Austin home. Earlier, I had drawn the drapes to one side of the window so that the lilacs and the chrysanthemums in the backyard were in full view from where I was sitting. The leaves on the willows were dancing in the gentle westerly breeze, and the gathering clouds were slowly extinguishing the lingering daylight. It looked like it was going to rain. As I heard the first raindrops on the roof of the pergola, my memories transported me back to a day in November the year before when my wife, Chhoton, passed away after a two-year struggle with colon cancer. 

What if Mr. Bose’s story is true? I wondered. He had certainly opened himself up for a close scrutiny.  Should I respond, knowing fully well there was still a possibility I might be setting myself up to be duped?  

Next day, a money order was on its way along with my prayers and wishes for his wife’s speedy recovery.

Early one morning a couple of weeks later, my phone rang.

“Hello,” I said.

“This is Baran Bose from Mumbai,” the caller said after a brief pause on the telephone line.

“How’s everything there?” What else can one say?

“Thank you for your generous help,” he said.

Telephone calls from India were anything but inexpensive in those days 

“You’re welcome, but you didn’t have to call to tell me that,” I said.

“No, no, no, I wanted to personally thank you.”

“How’s your wife?”

“It’s too early to tell, but she’s undergoing chemo at this time. She’s a fighter. I’ve no doubt she’d fight her way out of it.”

“Great,” I said.

I used to feel the same way about Chhoton when she started undergoing her chemo treatment.

There wasn’t much more to say, so we ended the conversation.

 

 *  *  *

 

I made it a point to call from time to time to see how Mrs. Bose was doing. According to her husband, she was withstanding the treatment well and had not lost much energy or weight. I was very happy to know chemo didn’t interfere with her eating habits either. Chhoton had to make major adjustments to her diet soon after her treatment had started.

 

 *  *  *

 

So far, Mr. Bose was the only one of his family who spoke to me. I thought that was rather odd. During one of my telephone calls a few weeks later, his daughters introduced themselves. I could tell they were a little shy and sheepish in the beginning. They called me Uncle and told me I could call them by their nicknames, Roshni (Debi), and Piu (Pompy).  Roshni was the older of the two by a couple of years. They both worked for the same accounting firm in Mumbai and often had to work long into the evenings.  They were curious about me and my family. I told them my wife was deceased, and I had a daughter who lived in California and practiced medicine.

I didn’t tell them what my wife died of.

Though I wanted to talk to Mrs. Bose, I had not had a chance to do so yet.  Whenever I called, she was either at the clinic for treatment or was on the phone with her doctors. After a few weeks we finally connected.

“You’re like an angel to me,” were the first words to come out of her mouth as she started to speak.

“How are you doing?”

“Very good, thanks. I’m feeling much better.”

I was delighted to hear that, and I said so.

“I’ve started going to parties again,” she said. “I’ve been telling my friends I’ve a brother in Texas.”

“And what do they say?”

“They chuckle and want to know more about you.”

I laughed, and she laughed with me. A brother.

We talked for almost half an hour. She seemed very happy, relaxed and full of warmth.

“Next time when you come to India, you must come visit us,” she said.

 

 *  *  *

 

I didn’t talk with the Boses for several weeks. Since Mrs. Bose was doing well, I didn’t feel the urge to call them as often as before.

In the meantime, Christmas rolled around. I packed up my bags and headed for California to spend the holidays with my daughter. I told her about my newfound connections in Mumbai. The loss of her own mother from the same disease was still quite fresh in her mind.

“I hope she makes it,” she said under her breath.

 

 *  *  *

 

I called Mr. Bose after I returned to Austin.

“How is your wife doing?”

“Not good, she’s back in the hospital.”

“Why, what happened?”

“Last week she fell in the kitchen and broke her leg. She often feels unsteady.”

“What do the doctors say?”

“They want to do a battery of tests before they would know for sure.”

“Let me know if I can do anything to help,” I said.

 

 *  *  *

 

The doctors found evidence of tiny lesions on Mrs. Bose’s liver.

By the time Chhoton’s cancer was detected, it had already spread to her liver, and because of that, she often felt unsteady -- just like Mrs. Bose. But I wasn’t about to share this knowledge with them.

Mrs. Bose started a fresh round of chemo. Her husband was dejected at this unexpected setback. Earlier, he had been led to believe his wife was on the path to recovery.  The daughters too had been elated at the doctors’ previous diagnosis. It had meant they could go back to whatever little social life they could squeeze into their busy schedules. But now their lives were turned upside down once again. The continued burden of household chores on top of the long hours at work would leave them with no time for themselves, and they were upset about it. They put on hold their plans to celebrate their mother’s comeback. 

Once again, Mrs. Bose coped with the treatment well. Towards the end of 2005, after several weeks of chemo and radiation over two years, the doctors declared her free of cancer. Mr. Bose was relieved, and Roshni and Piu resurrected their plans to celebrate their mother’s recovery.

“She’s well enough to lead a normal life,” Mr. Bose said to me.

I was surprised but very happy. 

Towards the end of the second year of Chhoton’s treatment, her energy level had taken a nosedive. She could not manipulate ladles or spoons to move food from one place to another nor could she walk for more than five minutes without taking a break. She needed help in walking up the stairs and getting onto her bed. Her social life had come to a standstill. Her phone calls, even to her sister in India whom she loved very much and with whom she often exchanged reminiscences, stopped.

It certainly looked like a miracle had happened in Mrs. Bose’s case.

 

 *  *  *

 

It was Christmas time again, and as usual, I headed for California.  My daughter remembered Mrs. Bose and wanted to know how she was doing. I gave her the good news. 

When I returned to Austin, there was a message on my answering machine.

“Uncle, could you give Dad a call when you have a minute?” It was Roshni’s voice.

I called immediately. Roshni answered the phone. There was a silence as she handed the phone to her father.

“Hello,” Mr. Bose said.

“How are things?” I said.

“Not good.”

“What’s up?”

He didn’t respond.

“How’s your wife?”

“She’s -- not here anymore,” his voice cracked.

“What do you mean?” As if I didn’t know.  But one asks.

“She passed away.”

“You said she was well enough to lead a normal life.” As if there was something to be argued here, a point to be carried, and doing so might bring back a dead wife.

“Yes, that’s what the doctors had told us,” he said.

I closed my eyes. Who knew? Perhaps Mr. Bose had not quite understood what the doctors had said. Sometimes people choose not to understand.

Neither of us spoke for the next few seconds.

“I’m so sorry to hear this,” I said. “Can I speak to Roshni and Piu?”

I heard their squelched sobs at the other end of the telephone line.

“Remember what your mom said about her having a brother in Texas,” I said. “Don’t ever hesitate to let me know if I can be of any help.”

 

 *  *  *

 

Mrs. Bose died at the age of 55, the same as Chhoton, and on January 24, which happens to be my birthday. I pointed out the coincidences to Roshni and Piu. Mentally, they must have made a note of this -- as would be obvious to me later. 

I never got a chance to visit Mrs. Bose as she had asked me to. I talked with her only a few times.  Had I seriously hoped my financial help would save her from the jaws of death? The two extra years my help might have given Mrs. Bose’s family was, of course, no bad thing, but no, it wasn’t exactly why I had embarked on this journey in the first place.

 

 *  *  *

 

The story had run its sorrowful course. Yet I couldn’t conceive of disassociating myself from the Boses. Our relationship had gone far beyond the point of my monetary help, where it had begun. Their loss was also mine. In so many ways.

 True, the telephone calls became much less frequent. Most of our conversations were mundane: how many more years I planned to work, what I planned to do after I retired, and what it was like to live in the U.S.? I inquired about Mr. Bose’s health, and how he was holding up.

The motherless daughters had become quieter.

 

 *  *  *

 

Months passed. One day it occurred to me I had not talked with the Boses for quite some time, so I called.

“How’s everything?” I said to Piu who had answered the phone.

“Okay.”

“Work going okay?”

“Yea,” she sounded somewhat subdued.

“Is anything the matter?”

She didn’t respond.

“Can I talk to your dad?”

“What?”

“Can I talk to your dad?”

“Don’t you remember?”

“Remember what?”

“Dad passed away.” Did I remember, she had asked. Had I been told? And then forgotten? Do such things happen?

“What? When?”

“A couple of months ago.”

“How?”

“From a heart attack.”

“How come you never told me?”

“I thought we did.” Had they? Had they?

First the mother, and now the father. Both parents within a matter of a few months. I had heard stories about spouses dying within a short time of each other.

 

 *  *  *

 

 I have stayed in touch with Roshni and Piu. I call them whenever I get a chance.  They remember my birthday because forgetting it would be forgetting their mother’s death anniversary.

I do not know what their parents looked like. I never saw them. I never even asked for their photographs. They often ask me to visit them when I go to India, but I have not been able to do so yet. I do not know if I ever will.

I find a certain peace and serenity in remaining invisible from each other.

 

 

 

Shiv Dutta has had essays published in Hippocampus Magazine, Eclectica Magazine, Epiphany, The Evergreen Review, Silk Road Review, Pilgrimage, Front Porch, and other journals. He has an essay forthcoming in the The Evansville Review. He is also the author or co-author of 45 technical papers and two technical books. One of his personal essays, "Melodies from his Youth" (Silk Road Review) was nominated for a Pushcart Prize this year. By education and training, he is a physicist and computer professional, but his interest in literary writing goes back to his middle school years. He lives in Austin, Texas, and works for a major multinational IT company.

You can read more of his work online:

"The Physicist" (Hippocampus Magazine)

"A Magical Evening" (Eclectica Magazine)

"A Judgment for Tomorrow" (Epiphany)

"Whispers from Another World" (Front Porch Journal)