Soma tries hard to ignore the dull hammering in her sides, as she walks to catch the bus to the doctor’s clinic. Even then, she cannot resist a wistful glance at the mannequins in the saree emporium that peddles rainbow dreams, in iridescent silks, floral organzas, shimmery satins, the likes of which Soma has never possessed and never will. Soma will wake each morning in the modest bedsit where she has lived alone since her mother died. She will dress sensibly in starched, muted voiles, tie her hair in a tight braid, and take the overcrowded bus to work. A childless single woman with a modest clerical job at a primary school, she has and will pass through everywhere largely unnoticed.
At the clinic, the doctor pores over her reports for a very long time. An abdominal aneurysm, he says, that has acquired prohibitive proportions, and is in imminent danger of rupture. It could be today, tomorrow, or at best, a couple of months later. Soma listens wordlessly. Those sudden spasms, the unexplained bloating, that she had ignored over the years, she thinks, bitterly. There had been no time.
“We can operate, Miss Roy. We see some irregularities in your heart that will need sorting. But you have a fair chance, if we act fast.”
“ What are my chances?”
“ Fifty-fifty I would say, provided you lead a regulated life afterwards. ”
Soma was twenty five when her mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. It had started with mild tremors, sudden stumbles. Over twenty long years, she lost her motility bit by bit, till she lay on bed like deadwood. Soma washed and dried her, fed her, listened to her garbled speech. At night she dreamt of a vacation by the sea. Then one day, Soma returned from the crematorium to the empty room, and found herself alone and past her prime.
Soma collects herself. “Give me a day to think, doctor.”
Soma does not go back to the hospital. Instead that evening, she walks into the saree shop. She points at the sari on the dark-skinned mannequin in the far right, and says,” I want that.” The shop assistant spreads the sari before her; the room fills with the rippling colours of a billowing sea, topaz blue and emerald green, tiny silver sparkles shimmering in it like flecks of sunlight. The price of it constitutes the better part of her yearly earnings. This is the kind of sari my principal, Mrs Ghosh might wear, not I, Soma thinks. When Mrs Ghosh, in her silver cropped hair, her back ramrod straight, stands up to speak, her voice low but firm, everyone listens. Soma pays for the sari. She had made a large withdrawal in the morning in anticipation of hospital expenses.
Next morning, Soma wears the sari to work; where else does she ever go? As she approaches the bus stop, familiar faces turn to stare. Soma hails a taxi; she can afford one for a few days. It will not be very much longer.
Nandini Gupta is a professor of Electrical Engineering by day, and a writer and translator (of modern Bangla poetry) by night. She loves and works in India.