Story: The Bond

Story: The Bond

The Bond
Someeta Das

Strange are the ways which ties one kindred spirit to another. Age rarely plays a role in bonds that are formed between an elderly with a small child of seven. Bonds of attachment are difficult to break-even when one attains maturity, the other being eldery. lt a story about the strange bond of interdepence formed between a small child and an elderly college teacher.

Shruti a retired college teacher, taught history in a college for many years before retiring, a spinster, living alone, in a block of flats. One day, while hurrying to close the window next to her bed, since it had begun raining , she slipped and fell next to the bed fracturing her femur bone. Her immediate thought was to inform her two friends Pratima and Deepika who lived in the same block as her and the fear in her voice was palpable. They were a group of three friends who lived in the neighborhood. All of them had been living in the same locality for the last forty years and had formed a firm friendship, which stood the test of time. Like many other elderly couples, Deepika and Pratima lived alone with their husbands in the same cooperative society, the children of both couples working outside the city. Pratima, was a cancer survivor, whilst Deepika’s husband was a heart patient. In these times of need, they stood by each other for mental and emotional support. But while the others were still wondering how to manage the situation, it was Deepika’s common sense the day.

It took a while for both to reach Shruti’s flat, as it was situated in a different block altogether. On reaching, she found Pratima was trying to console Shruti who trying desperately to lift herself from the floor. She was groaning in pain while Deepika was trying her utmost to console her. Seeing Pratima, Deepika heaved a sigh of relief. Quickly explaining the situation, Deepika left Shruti to call the caretaker of the building. The caretaker arrived in a few minutes, and together lifted Shruti to the bed, next with Shruti’s consent they decided to take her to the nearest hospital.

It was while they were waiting for the ambulance from the hospital, they saw a pair of curious eyes peering at the door. Seeing the question in their eyes, Shruti explained, that it was Aliah, a child of seven, whose parents had rented the flat next to Shruti’s. Before further details could be divulged, Shruti was whisked away in the ambulance. The two friends worried stiff, did not enquire further about the family and quickly followed Shruti to the hospital.

Much later after the operation, during a conversation, Aliah’s name came up. “Aliah,”said Shruti “was a child with special needs, she is an intelligent child, but cannot speak.” This surprised them as Aliah eyes were extremely expressive. It was a sad but sobering thought, as both Pratima and Deepika had children and could feel the pain which Aliah’s Mother was subjected to. They were moved by Aliah’s plight, for they were aware that Aliah’s inarticulate sounds could be only understood by her Mother. So far, she was being home educated and Aliah being a bright child, would pick up whatever was taught. But now, the time had come to admit her to a special school, and since such a school was present in the neighborhood, her parents had relocated to this locality.

In a few days Shruti was discharged from the hospital, and the two friends with Shruti’s consent had arranged for a caregiver to look after her at home. The Doctor had arranged for a physiotherapist to help Shruti ‘walk on her toes’, and then slowly graduate to a walker; and this made Shruti extremely depressed. Earlier, she had been fiercely independent, engaged in a number of activities, forever on the move. Now, being confined to hearth and home, made her sad, impatient and restless. Moreover, the Doctor had particularly stressed on bed rest for a three week period, and that sounded the knell to Shruti’s movement. She had never been ill before, never been hospitalized, and was therefore inconsolable. The two friends tried their best to cheer her up, stating that three weeks would pass off in a flash, but Shruti refused to listen to reason. A change had come over her. The normal smiling, cheerful and positive person had undergone a sea change, to one wallowing in self- pity, subjected to occasional and emotional outbursts of temper. However, for the moment Deepika and Pratima tried to cheer her up, giving her a few books to read and trying to explain that being on the wrong side of sixty, her bones were fragile, and would take time to heal, but it was easier said than done. Nothing seemed to comfort her, and she had become an emotional wreck. Her independent spirit rebelled and she became more and more morose.

Aliah in the meantime, would dart in whenever she found the next door open. Her Mother busy with household chores would sometimes not be vigilant enough, and Aliah seized these opportunities to venture into Shruti’s open door. It had started with curiosity, when Aliah peeping from her balcony saw Shruti being brought home in an ambulance. Hiding behind her Mother’s sari, peering with frightened eyes, she watched the men coming to the apartment and carefully putting Shruti on her bed. The following day finding the door ajar and her Mother busy, Aliah came visiting. She looked at Shruti with large frightened and curious eyes that spoke volumes; Shruti seeing her, gestured her to come closer. Aliah looked at her doubtfully, ready to run away and then seeing Shruti’s friendly expression ventured a little closer, still extremely unsure when her Mother rushed in. With an apologetic smile she tried to drag Aliah away as Shruti said “ Please let her be, she is not disturbing me.” Once again, a huge smile on her face, she beckoned to Aliah who, after an encouraging look from her Mother, taking one step at a time, ready to retreat, very slowly advanced to Shruti’s bed. Shruti held out her hand, and the child breached the distance in a moment and rushed forward.

It took a few more days however, for Aliah to get over her initial suspicions to accept and trust Shruti. A strange bond had developed between them. Deepika and Pratima entered one day found Aliah seated on a chair next to Shruti’s bed, listening intently to what was being said, and nodding vigorously. From the various sounds which she made while listening to Shruti , it was easy enough to understand that the child was following Shruti carefully.

In a few days it became apparent to both Deepika and Pratima that Aliah held a special place in Shruti’s heart. Gone was the self- pity, the smile had returned; and the next time when her two friends visited, Shruti asked them to get some coloring books for Aliah. Within a few days, Shruti became so engrossed in the task of keeping Aliah engaged in her new found passion, that she was barely aware of Deepika and Pratima’s entrance and absent mindedly asked them to sit down, without noticing when they left. Aliah had captured Shruti’s interest; and Shruti. primarily a teacher, loved having young people around, and thus in Aliah, Shruti had found her true calling.

Slowly from coloring books, with Shruti’s help, Aliah graduated to following picture story books, her keen interest devouring whatever she was told. Books of mythology, replaced historical stories, Shruti adapt at the art of story- telling, had captured Aliah’s imagination as she clamored for more and more. The books were bought mainly by Pratima and Deepika at Shruti’s request, and more often than not, by Aliah’s father, whose earlier doubts, was replaced by disbelief and finally happiness seeing his daughter’s excited face. A strange sense of understanding had developed between the adult and the child. At times, Aliah, would gently tug at Shruti’s hand, and Shruti would understand exactly what the child wanted, whether it was by intuition or her sixth sense, for now Shruti was aware that though the child could not speak , her other senses had become more intense and keen. She would at times repeat, or explain, just what Aliah wanted her to do. Even Shruti’s Mother who seemed a little apprehensive and visibly tense at first, had started relaxing.

By this time, with the help of the physiotherapist, Shruti had started ‘walking on her toes’. It was a gradual process and seeing the bewilderment and joy at Aliah’s face, Shruti’s feeble attempts gave way to stronger efforts, and finally she managed to use the walker to go to the washroom by herself. At first Aliah was a little wary of the walker, but soon overcoming her fear would rush with it to Shruti and help her. Slowly with time, the walker was replaced by a stick, but always with Aliah’s extended hand. Shruti now, had gained so much confidence that she left the caretaker, as she felt she could after herself. Deepika and Pratima were a little doubtful at first, but Aliah’s Mother reassured them that she would keep an eye on Shruti. It was thus with her new found confidence and the child aiding her, Shruti took the lift downstairs into the common driveway. Shocked at first, but filled with happiness, both Deepika and Pratima rushed towards Shruti. Aliah’s happiness knew no bounds. She skipped merrily around the three of them, making various sounds, her face full of glee and laughter.

It has been now six months since that fateful accident, but no one could deny Aliah’s contribution to Shruti’s healing process and her speedy recovery. Aliah’s peals of laughter, and Shruti’s accompanying smile, brought a sense of joy to the other two. The friendship and bond between a child of seven and an adult-their silent companionship, was remarkable. It was extremely heartening to see an elderly lady walking with a slight limp, hand in hand with a small child. Smiles of joy and pure contentment was there for anyone who cared to watch. As one spoke animatedly, the other listened intently, both nodding their heads vigorously, a look of understanding and pure happiness at each other’s company. Probably in Aliah , Shruti had found the much needed youth, vigor and energy which her two friends could not provide. Moreover, the positivity and exuberance which Aliah exuded, transcended all the attempts made by her elderly friends to revive her to her former self. Age, they knew was just a number, as they saw Aliah and Shruti revel in each other’s company. In Shruti, Aliah had found a kindred spirit. The bond woven was so close, that the last time Deepika and Pratima spoke to Shruti , they found that Shruti wanted them to help in getting Aliah admitted into the school which catered to children with special needs. Truly, Aliah was not only special but remarkable, for it sometimes takes a stranger to fill in the void of one’s heart. Aliah had managed to bridge the gnawing emptiness and loneliness, and created a hope for a more meaningful and brighter future.