The Light At Midnight
The Light At Midnight
It was the day to leave for the camp. Another very cold morning and I had to leave earlier than usual because of some pending arrangements in the hospital before our team left for the place. I did not have time to wait for the bus which I usually boarded, hence I reached the hospital earlier.
There had been more volunteers than before but our team still lacked members. Dr. Reddy had appointed me as the supervisor of the team.
My task was to look into any major cases, assist my fellow team members, prepare a report on a daily basis with the available data, keep a record of the patients attended, assist the volunteers from the campaign as they had more exposure to the residents, provide any necessary help to them and of course my first duty was to look into any casualties.
Our team was very supportive and consisted mostly of interns like me, along with a few experienced seniors, who would visit the place frequently. Dr. Reddy was going to be there too, but he had some administrative tasks as well, hence I had to be responsible for much of it, and it was an honour for me that he found me suitable for it. Indeed, a proud moment which I found taking me closer to my long-cherished dream.
By 9 in the morning, we got our vans ready with the equipments and medicines. There were some vans exclusively for vaccines, and two for our team. Since, it was a critical situation, we had to stay at that place for a week, even though some of us were localites. This was a precaution for handling emergency chaos.
We left around 9-30. It was warmer than it used to be early in the morning. It hardly took us half an hour to reach there because those were not the peak traffic hours.
I found that the newspapers had not been exaggerating about the critical conditions faced by these people. It was more of a mess than a place where people lived, especially after this place had been ruined by unknown people as Mishti had explained that day.
Mishti. My mind had been busy enough since morning to think about her. She would be here too, I couldn’t help thinking that. Though, again I had many more tasks that were important than to see her. Moreover, it would have seemed so immature of me to go and greet somebody known, at an official place like this. It was not my kind of a thing.
‘Somebody known’. Yes, I knew her now, at least as much as she knew me, even if I ignore the hidden aspects of hers that I had caught a glimpse of in her diary. I’d never told her that it had been read by me.
I did not have the courage to tell her, at least not now, when she had hardly started to know me. Not that it was a crime, but it was personal, and I’d read it without her permission. Somewhere I was guilty for that.
A busy schedule lay ahead for me, accompanied by serious responsibilities. It was a chance to prove myself. Nevertheless, one part of my heart wished to see her again. I was hoping for a random possibility though.
The whole day went busy in attending patients. As expected, the toll was more than the official records. Not only were the things mismanaged but also, the residents had to be taken into confidence for further aid. At the end of the first day itself, I found myself loaded with extra work.
Updating the records and preparing reports for the first day was still left and it was already 12 A.M. I had to get up at 6 in the morning the next day. My colleagues were equally tired. But it was only me who had the extra documentation to be shown to Dr. Reddy the next day. I did not have a choice but to stay awake for the next two hours.
Tired of sitting at one place, I decided to take a walk outside my tent for a few minutes before getting back to work. Though it was chilly outside, much more than I had faced in any of my previous nights this season; yet I got the courage to face it because I had got blank sitting in my tent all day long.
I got to know that I had been correct about the chill as I stepped outside. I shivered even with two thick jackets. Our tents were at a distance from the accommodations, rather damaged accommodations of the residents.
There were no lights outside and in the fog that existed, it seemed more like a deserted land in silence. There was absolutely no sound except occasional barking of dogs and the consistent humming of insects.
A little away from the accommodations was another group of tents, much larger than ours. I understood that it was the base for the volunteers in the campaign.
I had been asked to assist them when required, but the first day had passed without any communication from them. Probably, they had been equally busy in getting to know how to proceed for the next five days.
I looked around for any more things to be known before I went back inside, as I had started feeling the chill running in my blood inside.
There in a distant tent, the lights were still on. I wondered if the campaign volunteers had almost the same load of work as we had. Probably, it was just one person with the load like me, still awake at midnight.
For a moment I thought of going and talking to the person, but I discarded the thought when I considered myself in the same situation. How awkward it would be to welcome an unknown visitor at midnight in a place like this. It was better if I take some time out in the daytime to go and meet them as a part of my assigned responsibility.
I went back inside my tent and started with the pending work. It was more than I had expected it to be. I kept writing and found there was more to be added when I finished doing it. This habit of doing things perfectly was proving to be a drawback for me. I had to keep my eyes open to keep up.
Occasionally, I had the urge to go out to straighten my legs, but I did not want to lose track of my work. Also, because I spent more than decided time absorbing the surroundings outside. There was nothing so beautiful about the surroundings. But the sanctity of the silence outside mesmerized me every time I thought of it.
Somehow, I remained inside till all my work was done. And it was good, because it was 4 in the morning by the time I finished it. Feeling drained out, I really wanted to sleep. But my instincts told me it was better to remain awake since I might not wake up in time.
I thought of taking a walk outside again. This time I knew it would be even more chilly than midnight. Yet, I couldn’t remain inside. After so many hours, it was kind of suffocating for me now.
As expected, the chill made me shiver all along. I loved the atmosphere around me. The breeze was chilly, yet it seemed mesmerizing. I looked around again. The surroundings seemed no different than they did at midnight.
I walked farther from my tent to get my drowsiness away. I went nearer to the accommodations. There was complete silence now. No barking of dogs and no more humming of insects.
In that silence, I tried to find soothing peace. There was still a long way to go and much more work to be done over here from tomorrow, rather today.
As I was thinking about what would be the tasks on the basis of priority, I noticed the lights till on in a tent. Strange. So somebody else had more work to do. It seemed the same tent which I had noticed at midnight. I was nearer to it. Out of curiosity, I wanted to have a look. Also, I feared if there was some problem or some casualty unattended at that time of the night.
I walked towards the tent. As I went closer to it, my idea seemed very intruding to me. I was going at this time of the night to see somebody who might not be in a mood to welcome me. It was very stupid on my part.
I decided to go back. As I was about to leave, I heard a sound of breath, as if somebody was crying. I wondered if that wasn’t my mistake. I tried to hear again, but there was no sound. I couldn’t resist my curiosity, but at the same time it seemed very intruding on my part.
I did not want the person to know that somebody else was present over there. As much as I could see from outside the tent, the person was a woman. A woman staying awake for the whole night, crying over something. I wondered what on Earth had been so distressing that she did not sleep, and was hurting herself.
I had the urge to go and ask but I realized it was very bad. Who was I to go and ask somebody I did not know about it. And what would have I asked ‘Hi, Were you crying the whole night? What happened? Can I help you?’
No I couldn’t do it. I wanted to get away from there as soon as possible. I did not want her to know that I had been there. I stepped back away from the tent.
Unable to locate plain land in the darkness, I placed my foot on a box by mistake. I tripped over it and that made a loud sound. Loud enough to be heard by somebody who was already awake.
I did not know what to do. I could not have run away, as it would have seemed I was up to something wrong. But I felt it was safer to run away.
Just as I was about to do so, I heard a familiar voice, “Who is there outside?”
No, it can’t be her. Never. How can it be her again. But the voice was surely hers.
“Who is it? Tell me or I’ll wake up everybody here”, she came out with a torch.
Yes! It was Mishti. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw her. She did not seem her usual way. Something was wrong with her. Her eyes seemed swollen and red. Her face was already pink, more than it used to be on a winter morning.
“You!”, her voice trembled. She stood in silence looking at me. I did not say anything. I was feeling very bad to be caught up like this.
“I was not expecting you here like this, at this time”, she said bluntly without any rage. But something in her voice made me feel she had not liked it. She had not wanted somebody to intrude in her space and see her that way.
Yet, I knew my intentions had not been wrong. I was wondering how to explain when I suddenly had a thought. She might not know that I had heard her crying. I could still explain.
I tried to swallow the lump of guilt in my throat and replied in a casual tone, “ Oh Mishti. I did not know it would be you. What a coincidence. Actually I had to stay awake the whole night and I had seen the lights of your tent on since midnight. When I finished my work sometime back, they were still on. I just wondered if there is a problem and had come to help.”
She did not seem convinced. I explained her everything that had happened since midnight. I did not mention what I had seen before I had decided to leave. Just like I had never mentioned that I had read her diary. I also skipped the part of running away with the fear of being seen.
When I finished with my part, I saw her expressions change from plain to the usual ones. In the end, she smiled. Although her smile did not hide on her face the remains of what had happened that night, at least she smiled.
“Oh really doctor. What a coincidence. I had completely forgotten that you would be here too. Though in the morning today, our teams had discussed taking assistance from the team of doctors here for more vaccines and the possible emergency, but I simply forgot under the work load. There is so much to be done over here. And then I have to continue working on my story too so this was the time when I could do so. I did not realize it went on for the whole night”, she added.
“I understand. I have been under the same work load.”
“Hmmm. Are you not planning to sleep doctor?”
“I fear I won’t get up then. It is better I stay awake”, I looked at my watch,” It is already 4-45 A.M.”.
“I was thinking the same”, she replied.
Silence. None of us spoke. She kept staring in distance with that same lost look but the mysterious smile was absent. She seemed to have forgotten as if I was there. I tried to glance at her, but I could only see swollen red eyes, pale pink face. I had no idea what she was thinking.
I wanted to know what was troubling her so badly. But I did not want to interrupt her course of thoughts. Nor did I want to mention to her that I had noticed it.
But I interrupted again. I couldn’t stop my sneeze. She looked at me as if waking up from her thoughts.
“Oh I am so sorry. I was thinking about my work and forgot that you are here. This will make me go mad I suppose”, she laughed trying to hide her state. I did not say anything, wondering how strong she was.
“It must be very chilly for you doctor”, she smiled at me,” Do you want a cup of coffee?”
“At this time?”, I wondered how, but did not ask.
“Oh yes, my tent has all those facilities. Exclusively by me. You see. I am very innovaitve”, she laughed. I joined her.
“Thank you so much. I really needed it at this time”.
She entered into her tent. I did not.
“Doctor”, she called from inside,” Don’t think I’ll find it against etiquettes if you come here. I would have liked you to come inside and see my tent. It is very innovative you see. But has limited space. Still, I would like you to take a look once I am done”.
I did not say anything. Was she reading my mind? I hoped not.
Five minutes later, she came outside with two cups in her hands. She handed one to me.
“Etiquettes you know”, she rolled her swollen eyes like a naughty child. I smiled.
“As promised, you can go inside and have a look at the creativity I did. Not praising myself, but anyway it is cold for you outside”.
I hesitated at first, but then had a second thought that she might want to stay alone.
I smiled and walked inside it. She was not praising herself anyway. It was beautifully kept despite the limited space. Pieces of newspaper clippings and lines beautifully written and put up at appropriate corners. Everything neatly kept.
I wondered how mismanaged I was when I thought of my spacious tent, in a haphazard manner.
Yet, she was in distress, I could not help thinking about it.
I came outside and noticed that she was lost again. I did not want to interrupt her but I could not read her mind either.
I tried to contemplate on reasons, but all of them seemed vague. Probably, something personal, I couldn’t stop thinking. I kept standing like that for another ten minutes. She was staring in distance and I was staring at her. She turned around.
“Oh you are here. How is my place?”, she said as if coming back from her thoughts.
“It is so neatly kept. I feel ashamed when I think of my own place”, I laughed this time and she joined,” And perfectly placed belongings”.
“Thank you doctor”, she acted like a child receiving compliment from a teacher.
It was light around us now. I checked the time. It was 6 A.M.
“I think now I should leave. There is another busy day ahead”, I said, “Thank you for the coffee”.
“Anytime doctor. By the way, I hope this routine would not continue further. It doesn’t seem to suit you and there is one week to go”, she said.
“Let’s see”, I smiled,” Have a good day”.
“Good day, doctor”.
I left from there. I had already intruded much. Yet I could not stop wondering what had she been undergoing. It was not my obligation to know, but I wanted to know what was troubling her, as I wondered what else I’d come to know.