“Why is he always angry? Would it hurt him to smile more and frown less? In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smiling in the four weeks that I’ve been here."
These were thoughts running through Maria’s head, as she watched her boss and eminent ophthalmologist, Dr. Rajan, sign off his patient notes from the morning rounds. Of course, she knew that the fact that she had somehow managed to bungle up four appointments in the short time that she’d been here, wasn’t helping either. But still, how could a doctor be constantly broody, angry and just give off such unapproachable vibes?
“It doesn’t matter because he’s damn good at what he does!” chirped a little voice in her head.
A loud knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. She saw Dr. Rajan look up at her accusingly.
"Have I not told you that I do not like to be disturbed while I’m filling out these reports? Or have you screwed up more appointments ?” he asked, getting ready to tell her off again.
Before Maria could respond, there was another knock on the door.
“Excuse me, Doctor. May I come in please?"
The voice that had posed the question was timid, almost to the point of being barely audible. But a mere glance at the expression on Dr. Rajan’s face, and Maria was certain that he knew who the visitor was.
‘Come in, my dear Nila and Geeta!’ exclaimed Dr Rajan, his frown magically transforming itself into a wide smile.
Maria, shocked by the doctor’s sudden change in demeanour, glanced towards the door that was now open. A girl of perhaps 9 or 10, cautiously walked into the room, with a beautiful woman right behind her. The girl was dressed in a frock that definitely seen better days, while the woman’s saree was plain and faded. As Maria watched, the girl walked up a chair and took her seat. The woman was with her, did the same. Maria was surprised to note that despite having no sight, the girl knew exactly where to sit.
‘So, how are you today, Nila?’ asked Dr. Rajan, carefully closing the lid of his pen and putting it back into his pocket.
‘I’m fine, Doctor’ answered the girl, her voice slightly louder now.
The woman who’d accompanied Nila, remained silent. But Maria noticed her legs shake restlessly. While the doctor and Nila indulged in a conversation, Maria observed the woman. She was beautiful, but not in the stereotypical classical way - no flowing black tresses, no fair-skin or piercing eyes. She was taller than average and a bit voluptuous. But in her ordinariness, she was stunning.
Suddenly, the little girl broke off her conversation with the doctor and patted the woman’s arm, as if urging her to say something. The woman looked at Nila and then smiled. Even from the distance, Maria could see that woman was starting to tear up. As the tears started to flow from the woman’s eyes and down onto Nila’s hand that was still clutching her arm, she spoke.
‘Thank you, Doctor’ she said, struggling to hold back the tears that were now flowing freely. ‘We’ve paid the entire amount for the surgery.’, she continued, ‘Would you be able to fit her into your schedule?"
Dr. Rajan let out a loud laugh.
“How does the day after sound, Geeta? Let’s admit her tomorrow and we’ll do the surgery the next day,” he said, getting up from his seat and walking over to the little girl and the woman. Resting against the table, he took Nila’s hand in his and gently gave it a pat. ‘Don’t worry, Nila. You’ll get your eyesight back in no time. "
Standing a short distance away from them, Maria wore a confused look on her face. She knew that Dr. Rajan’s consulting fees were very steep - in fact, most of his clientele included the rich and famous. She wondered how the pair of them had managed to pay not just his fee but also the entire amount required for an eye surgery. What surprised her even more, was how Dr. Rajan was behaving with them - not only was he pleasant and all smiles, Maria could sense an almost-family like attachment with the little girl. For a moment, she wondered if there was more to Dr. Rajan and this girl than met the eye.
‘Maria’, Dr. Rajan said, turning back to look at her. ‘Can you please get the receptionist to schedule Nila in for admission and surgery at the earliest? This is her patient ID,’ he continued, passing her a small note with some numbers scribbled on it.
After expressing their gratitude to the doctor a few more times, Nila and Geeta left the room.
‘Why are you still here, Maria? Do you want me to spell out what I just asked?’
The sudden change in Dr Rajan's cheery disposition alarmed Maria slightly. It had taken less than 30 seconds for his old, cranky self to reappear. Yet, when the girl and the woman were in the room, he was cool as a cucumber. She needed to find out why he was so nice to them.
‘Doctor, what’s the deal with Nila? The moment she came in your mood changed. I’ve not seen you be so understanding and kind to your patients before? Is she related to you?’ Maria blurted out the questions on her mind before she could stop herself.
Dr Rajan stared at the nurse. In all his years of practising medicine, he never had anyone ask him any questions about his behaviour with patients. But he had to give it to Maria - the woman had the courage to ask him what others did not. It was this spunk that he’d liked which led him to hire her as a replacement for his previous nurse.
‘Did you see them when they entered the room?’ he asked, gesturing for Maria to sit on one of the chairs.
‘I did’ replied Maria, wondering where this conversation was leading.
‘What did you think about them? You can be honest'
‘Well, honestly Doctor, I looked at their clothes and wondered what they were doing here. I know I sound stereotypical, but that’s what I thought. They look nothing like most of the patients who walk through those doors.'
Dr. Rajan chuckled loudly.
‘That’s what everyone in the hospital thought too when they first came to see me a few months back. In fact, the receptionist took one look at them and refused to give them an appointment. Do you know what they did? The pair of them were so adamant that they wanted to see me, that they waited outside till I finished my hours. And then they spoke to me. Honestly, I was very impressed by their determination and agreed to see Nila. '
Maria raised an eyebrow, wondering where the doctor was going with the story.
"But here’s the thing, Maria. You saw how emotional and overwhelmed Geeta was when I agreed to schedule Nila in for surgery. But what you don’t know is the fact that Geeta is not Nila’s biological mother. She is not even related to Nila. Their only association is that Geeta rescued Nila from a group of thugs who were trying to sell her off to the brothel."
As Dr Rajan uttered the words, Maria felt her mouth drop.
‘But why would she do it for someone she doesn’t even know? And how are they going to pay for the operation? You may have excused your consulting fees, but the hospital surely won’t agree to a free surgery. It must be at least Rs. 3lakhs for the surgery.’
‘I don’t have an answer to your first question, Maria’ replied the doctor, ‘ As for the operation, do you know what Geeta does for a living?
‘I don’t. But whatever it is, I’m sure it can’t be paying that well.’ replied Maria, a tinge of sarcasm appearing in her voice.
‘You’re right, Maria. She’s a bar-dancer. She spends her nights dancing on tables and other shady clubs for paltry sums of money.’ said Dr. Rajan, as he started to put on his coat.
" But here’s what you don’t know ......." he continued, as he started to walk out of the room ‘….yesterday, a mystery visitor to the dance bar paid Geeta a very handsome sum of money.'
With a sly grin, Dr. Rajan shut the door as Maria looked on startled.
Today is Day Two of the Bar-A-Thon and the prompt is 'what you don't know'