“ ….damn it! There is no empty cabin in the hospital. We will have to adjust in the general ward with others”, grumbled Pashi, my friend. Pashi had gone to Taktsang that day in early hours only to learn that I was sick with back pain and hospitalized. So she hurried back to the roadhead and drove straight to Phuentsholing. When she reached Phuentsholing, she was yawning for rest and the fact that there was no empty cabin in the hospital irritated her. I had nothing to say. I was carried by the ward-boys from observation room to the ward in a wheeled bed so it was kind of adventurous "Alladin’s magic carpet" kind of ride for me. Over lot of convincing, Pashi left for my home to rest and take care of my son. My parents had left for Gelephu for some work and I needed someone to take care of him. The painkiller that they gave me in the hospital worked to great extent and I went into painless sleep for few hours only to be woken up by screaming sound from the next bed in the middle of the night.
Well! My neighbor didn’t seem alright. His legs were swollen and it looked more like a tree trunk than his legs. He was experiencing an excruciating pain and I was only watching him helpless. There was no one to look after him. The nurse on duty made her appearance after very long time. All the eight patients in my ward had woken up by the time the nurse had come. The nurse delved a long syringe into his bottom and he groaned ever more until he got tired and went to sleep again. Well! The guy had gone to sleep but I could not. There was a long painful silence within myself wanting for the Sun to rise so that even if I died, I don’t die alone and in pain. There were fears in my mind that someone including myself may perish away without having seen the people we so much loved during the last minutes…there was a fear of everything. Well, I guess that’s what Buddhism taught you all along for 2500 years.
To ease my backache and also to put myself to sleep I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the time of Cholera. It was addictive. I usually cannot read more than three chapters at a stretch. This time I did and I nourished every line of it. When it was nearing dawn, I closed my eyes and shut down my engine to sleep. I guess that’s what I was required to do when nothing else worked.
When I woke up in the morning, it was past nine and my six years old son had arrived with my friend Pashi and other relatives. The Doctors were doing round of the patients and my son was watching the doctor. When the Doctor left, my son went to my neighbor and asked him to show his swollen legs. He asked him if a very big bee had stung his legs. My neighbor could not help but laugh at his innocent inquisitiveness. But what happened after that left me to wonder about my neighbor. Over five days that I stayed in the hospital, my son became his friend. He also became my bridge between me and my neighbour. I learned that my neighbor was a lonely man whose wife left him for another man with his two children. He had left his civil service job to pursue orange and cardamom exporting. By the time he realized that he was not cut for business, he had lost everything that was of value to him. Interestingly, he was an optimist. I could see his eyes glitter in the darkness when he talked about beautiful moments he lived through. His business messed up as much as his personal and social life. He said that he wrongly believed that successful man can stand on his own feet and live through it at good and bad times. He hardly attended any social function in his community or his neighbourhood. There was nothing as give and take for him. It was just plain… mind your own business. He said he was too drunk with his attitude and self importance feeling. Then his life came crashing on him when his cardamom and orange business left him knee deep in debt. He didn’t have anyone to look upon for help. When he said this, he was silent for a very long time. And then he said that he was rebuilding the walls of his broken life all alone one brick at a time. I felt numb when he said this. It reminded me of lonely ember story where a priest walks into a house of man who stayed away from community. The priest finds a seat near the lonely man who was warming himself over a coal fire. The priests picks up one of the burning embers and keeps it on floor, away from other burning embers. The lone ember loses its heat in a short while and become cold coal again.
I guess I had learnt my lesson too from the man. After I was discharged, I took my son to meet him again couple of times. We became good friends although I was not much help in curing his legs. Later, when he left the hospital, I was in Thimphu so I could not meet him but he left one beautiful book for me to read and on the first page he had left a note saying, "...thank you for reaching out to me. I will value it ever more."
I guess, friendship can also begin from pain.