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It had been a long hard day.
Shashi was the only nurse who was working both day and night shifts today at the local clinic in her small village. She had tended to at least thirty patients today which was unusual in her last seven years of experience at the clinic. She had not even found time to eat the lunch she had packed for herself that morning. Four cups of sweet chai and a pack of glucose biscuits was the only fuel her now grumbling stomach had kept her going on all day. She was glad this day was finally over.
She checked her wrist watch, it showed forty five minutes after nine. The last patient she recalled had left forty minutes ago. It was a young girl of seven who had burnt her fingers while cooking rotis on the hot griddle. Shashi had bandaged her fingers after applying an ointment for burns and asked the young girl to stay away from the griddle for a day. The little lady seemed happy about the break she had earned from her daily chores.
Shashi decided to call it a day. She called out to the ward boy who was working night shift and instructed him to inform her of any patients that come in thereafter. She went in the tiny on-call room to lie down and rest her eyes. She had no apetite for dinner. All she needed was a couple of hours' sleep. She opened a copy of 'The Magic Faraway Tree' as she lay on the small bed. She had loved the novel and read it frequently since she was nine. It was her route to escape from her mundane grown up life and enjoy the simple joys of childhood. As a little girl she would secretly wish to discover a similar faraway tree and live in the enchanted woods from where she would never want to return.
It was a little past midnight when Shashi woke up to a loud knock on the door. She did not remember drifting off to sleep. The novel lay open by her side. She opened the door stifling a yawn. The ward boy informed her about a patient at the clinic. She nodded to him and went to the ER cum reception room. A young woman in advanced stage of labour sat moaning on the bench. An elderly woman holding a small travel bag sat beside her. Two men wearing pink colored turbans on their manes stood at the entrance of the clinic. The elderly woman, introduced herself as the pregnant woman's mother-in-law and that the men were her husband and her son.
Shashi was an expert midwife. She had helped deliver a number of babies at the clinic. It was her favorite job. She examined the woman in labour, who looked in her teens, in the examination room. Then routinely called out instrutions to her team of one ward boy and one junior nurse. The woman was taken to the labour room where she gave birth after an hour. Shashi happily declared the birth of a beautiful girl child. As she expertly swaddled the newborn in a clean and soft pink turban cloth given by the mother-in-law, Shashi thought it was the prettiest baby she had ever seen. The baby had big black eyes and thick black crop of hair on her tender head.
After a while, the fatigued young mother had dozed off with a smile on her face and her baby by her side. To witness such precious moments was a reward of her job, Shashi thought. This is what it must feel like to be in the enchanted woods she thought and silently walked out of the labour room, closing the door behind her. She met with rest of the family, congratulated the father and asked them to rest in the waiting area for the night. The registration of birth and doctor's visit was arranged in the morning, she informed them.
Thinking that this was a perfect end to her shift and a great start to a new day, Shashi went in the on-call room to rest for a while before dawn. Back in bed, she fell asleep for an hour dreaming of tall trees and misty mountains. She woke up, freshened up and gathered her stuff to leave. On her way out, she paid a visit to the labour room. She was stunned to see it empty. For a moment she tried to remember if she had dreamt about swaddling the newborn a few hours ago.
She strode to the waiting area at the entrance expecting to see the young mother's family. They were nowhere to be seen. She bumped into the ward boy returning home from previous night's shift and expressed her concern. He told her how he had last seen the family ride away on their bullock cart at dawn. At least she was confident it wasn't a dream after all. On asking why wouldn't they wait for the doctor, the ward boy added that the family had travelled from a faraway village and would probably visit their local clinic. Shashi sighed and thanked him for his help and bid him goodbye.
On her way back home, she thought how she would've loved to see and hold the baby girl once again. She walked by the roadside soaking up the sunlight, imagining the last sight of mother and child together in the labour room. She reached the street by the village canal and noticed a group of people gathered by the canal side. They seemed to be fishing out something from the water. Intrigued, she went close to look at the object of interest when she noticed the pink turban cloth. Hoping against all hope she ran to the spot and managed to squeeze herself ahead of the group.
Her doubts were confirmed when she saw thick black hair peeping out of the pink turban cloth, her hands had used to wrap the baby girl born few hours ago. Her heart sank. She squatted on the wet mud to check on the prettiest baby she had seen. She tried hard to find a pulse, a beat, something, anything. Hot tears rolled down her face when she realised she had lost even before trying. She clutched the pink turban cloth and cried her heart out.
PS Sadly, this story is based on an unfortunate but true incident.