A Breath of Fresh Air

By sweetarva All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Drama

Chapter Twenty One

“Please Nirmala Aunty, tell me what happened to her? Which hospital is she admitted in?” Neil asked in a single breath.

He began pacing in the room, repeatedly running his hands through his hair. He had a two day stubble on his face and with the messed hair, he looked rugged and exhausted.

“Neil, just sit down. You anyway cannot go and meet her right now. Visiting hours are in the evening.” Nirmala requested him.

Neil stopped pacing and looked at his watch. It was still ten in the morning. He would have to wait a good 6-7 hours before he could meet Alisha.

“No, aunty. I cannot wait for so long. I really need to see her once. Which hospital is she in?” He again asked Nirmala.

“She’s in the Rainbow Hospital. Which floor and room, you will have to enquire out there, as they keep shifting her.” Nirmala said looking at him.

Neil quickly hugged her and said, “Thank you so much aunty! You made my day.” He smiled at her and then walked out of her house.

He knew where the hospital was. It was quite famous in this part of the city. He started his car and headed for his destination. He reached there after a good thirty minutes, thanks to the bumper to bumper traffic.

After parking his car in the designated parking for the visitors, he entered the lobby. He went to the reception and was greeted by the receptionist.

“Good morning to you too.” He said. “I’m looking for Miss Alisha Merchant. Can you tell me which room is she in?” He gave his trademark smile to the receptionist. He was lucky that nobody recognized him owing to his rugged look, otherwise there would be an unnecessary media frenzy.

“Sir, she’s in room 405, 4th floor. But, I’m sorry you wouldn’t be allowed there without a pass as these are not visiting hours.” She explained.

“Oh. Never mind. Thank you very much.” He left from the reception and entered the lobby. He knew there was no point in arguing with anyone. They were very strict with the security and the rules.

He sat on one of the plush sofas and decided to call Alisha. If he was lucky, maybe she would answer or may be someone from her family would answer and he would request for a pass. So, he dialed her number. But, as usual, it was switched off.

Sighing, he wondered what to do. May be I should go back and come in the evening. He thought.

But, he still did not move. He was watching the news on the huge plasma screens that were strategically placed in the lobby. The news channel was showing reviews and ratings about his show. He looked around to see if anyone was really watching it for the fear of being recognized. He did find a few people looking at the screen, but they were just looking. Each was lost in his or her own thoughts.

'Hospitals are like that only,’ he thought. One can find a mixture of emotions in a single place. A few mourning the loss of their loved ones, a few delighted to take their loved ones home, a few couples leaving with a bundle of joy in their hands, a few scared to find about the new disease they were suffering from; he saw them all.

He did not know which category he fell in. He was scared when he learnt about his good friend’s hospitalization, but he was also delighted to know that she was out of danger. The receptionist had just told him the room number, she did not mention that Alisha was in the intensive care. That was kind of reassuring for him.

As he looked around at all the people and their varied temperaments, he realized that Alisha’s job was really tough. In fact, all the doctor’s jobs were tough. How could they deal with so many different kinds of people and their varied emotions was beyond him. He knew he would surely go mad if given such a job even for a day. But he wouldn’t mind playing a doctor’s role in some new show if he ever got the chance.

He knew he could train from his very dear friend for that role. Thinking about friends, he suddenly remembered Minnie. He tried calling her, silently praying that she would answer. And she did answer.

“Hello?”

“Hey Minnie, Neil here. How are you doing?”

“Hi, Neil. I’m good. You say.”

Neil just wanted to get to the point. So he said, “I need your help Minnie. I’m waiting in the lobby of Rainbow Hospital. I want to meet Alisha.”

“You just wait there, I’m on my way down.” Minnie whispered.

Exactly five minutes later, Minnie was standing before him.

“Why have you come here, Neil?” She sounded pissed when she questioned him.

“What do you mean ‘why’? I want to see Alisha, that’s why.”

“Mr. Neil Basu. I will not let you meet her after breaking her heart so badly.” Minnie whisper-yelled. “Let’s go in the coffee shop across and talk about this in details.” She commanded.

Neil followed her obediently and absolutely clue less about what Minnie was saying. They sat in a booth in the far corner of the café and Neil started, “I did not understand what you meant about breaking Alisha’s heart.”

“Really Neil? You did not understand?” She said in a disgusted tone.

“Please enlighten me.” Neil suggested.

“You are a jerk.” She said. “First you kiss her and then send her a text saying sorry for the kiss? What kind of gentlemanly behavior is this?”

“Look Minnie. I know I shouldn’t have done that when I was not ready for commitment. And I’m really sorry about it. But I have to meet Alisha to clear all these things.” He said.

Just then the waiter came to ask for their orders. He apparently recognized Neil from his widened eyes and nervous demeanor. “Just a cappuccino for the lady please and plain water for me.” He said. “And Mr. Anirudh,” He read his name tag and continued, “I’ll give you as many autographs and selfies that you need later, but right now please keep mum about seeing me. Understood?” Neil said gently.

Anirudh nodded an affirmation and went back to get the orders.

“I think I’m going to leave now Neil. You can have my cappuccino too.” Minnie suddenly got up.

“Whoa. Wait up Minnie.” Neil urged her to sit. “I know you all are angry with me, but I really need to meet her to clear the air. Please Minnie.” He requested.

“Frankly Neil, I’m not in a position to stop you from meeting Alisha. I don’t have any passes on me. They are with her parents who are currently with her. So you can see her during visiting hours. Not before that.” Minnie said.

Resigning to his fate, he finally said, “I guess I’ll have to wait until evening then.”

Anirudh came with their orders and smiled at Neil before he left.

“At least tell me what happened to her.” Neil requested Minnie.

Minnie sighed, had a sip of her cappuccino before she started. “You know about that fire tragedy that happened here a few days back, right?”

“Yes, I know. I was in Kolkata at that time.”

“Oh, Kolkata? We thought you must be in Jaipur.” Minnie said in a surprised tone.

“No, I couldn’t bring myself to attend their wedding.” Neil shrugged and ran his fingers through his hair.

“Impressive.” Minnie said beaming at him. “Anyway, back to your question,” she shrugged, “Alisha was very tired with all the emergency work at the hospital. She had this dull pain in her stomach for two to three days, which she ignored and just took some painkillers. Then, one night about five days back, she was home alone. And she apparently had a day off the next day. So, she put her phone on silent and switched off the door bell, which by the way, is the only dirty habit of hers, and went to sleep.

The next morning, Adhira maasi came home. She wanted to surprise Alisha. So she hadn’t called or texted her. She began ringing the bell, but there was no response. She asked the neighbors too, but they did not seem to be knowing anything. Finally, she called me up and as I have the spare keys, I rushed to her house. We were shocked at what we saw the moment we entered the house. Alisha was lying on the kitchen floor, absolutely pale with shattered glass all around her.”

Neil gasped at that and urged Minnie to continue.

Minnie fixed her gaze on an imaginary object above Neil’s head and said, “At first, maasi thought that Alisha had committed suicide. But when I turned her over, there were no cut marks anywhere on her body except for a few scratches on her hands that were maybe because of the broken glass. I managed to calm maasi down and we rushed her to the hospital.

After running some tests, they wheeled her to the operation theatre. She was out after four hours, Neil.”

“Oh God. Four hours? What was wrong?” Neil enquired.

“According to the doctors, Alisha had a ruptured appendix and all the pus had spread in her abdomen because of which she went into shock. And they had to cut open her abdomen and clean up everything.”

“Shit! That’s just so horrible.” Neil uttered.

“You should have seen when they had wheeled her in to the intensive care. She had tubes all over her body! There was one in her nose, one coming out from the stomach and so many intravenous lines as well. She was in the ICU for two days.”

“How is she now?” Neil asked.

“Oh, she is much better Neil. Much better. The tubes from her nose and abdomen are gone now. They have started her on oral food today. If everything goes well, she would be discharged in a day or two.”

“That’s good to know.” Neil sighed in relief.

“Do they know?” Neil asked Minnie.

“Come again? I did not get you Neil.” Minnie replied.

“I mean, do Alisha’s parents know about our fake relationship? How should I behave around them when I go to meet her?”

“No, I don’t think so Neil. It’s not my place to tell. I don’t know if Alisha has told them anything. I haven’t asked her too. She looks so weak and fragile. And I’m sure that would be the last thing on her mind.” Minnie said sarcastically.

“I know I have made a huge mistake. And I’m willing to go to any lengths to revive our friendship back.” He said.

“You don’t have to convince me Neil. Talk to Alisha today. See what she has to say.” With that she stood up to leave. “And good luck to you.” She spotted Anirudh walking towards their table, so she stopped again and said, “Neil.”

Neil looked up at Minnie and she said, “Good luck with those autographs and selfies too!” She pointed her thumb discreetly towards the waiter and then she left.

As Neil had promised the waiter, he obliged and quickly posed with him for some selfies.

All the while, he was only thinking about Alisha. He was now feeling nervous to meet her. He left from the coffee shop, took his car from the hospital parking and went to his brother’s place. He needed to talk to Rachana bhabhi about this matter.

Finally, in the evening, he entered the lobby of the Rainbow hospital with a spring in his step. He only knew how difficult the last few hours had been. Even his bhabhi couldn’t calm his nerves. He was literally biting his nails contemplating Alisha’s response on seeing him. He stood in the visitor’s queue, expertly disguising himself with a hoodie and aviators.

Finally, on the fourth floor, he walked slowly towards room 405. He did not see Alisha’s parents anywhere around and he was thankful for that. He really did not know what to tell them. Minnie came out of the room and gestured him to go inside.

“Her parents just left for tea. You are lucky. Go and sort this matter out.” She said.

Neil knocked on the door tentatively and entered inside when he heard a faint ‘come in.’

He stepped in and finally saw Alisha. She was engrossed in reading a magazine. She looked so fragile and tiny in the oversized gown and sitting on that huge bed. Her hair was neatly plaited and there was a single intravenous line on her left forearm.

He cleared his throat before saying, “Hey Alisha.”

He smiled when she looked up from the magazine. He saw a look of surprise on her face which she quickly masked feigning indifference.

She closed the magazine, placed it on the table next to her and removed another one, before saying, “I don’t want to talk to you right now. Please leave.”

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