The Pinjor Gardens
Baby elephants and giraffes danced across the ceiling. The walls were painted a clinical white and two yellow curtains hung from silver poles down the middle of the room. Two other beds occupied the floor, empty and neatly made, with blue sheets and pillowcases.
‘How long?’ she asked.
He glanced at his watch and smiled at her before he answered. ‘It’s been six hours,’ he said.
She rested in the middle bed and did not move. Her face was flushed. The outline of her figure under the sheet was thin except for the bulbous center.
He took a glass of water which had been sitting on the table beside the bed and offered it to her. She picked her head up and drank at an incline. She took a few sips then nodded the glass off, collapsing back into the pillow. ‘How do you feel?’ he asked.
‘All right,’ she said, ‘very tired. I never thought it would be this difficult.’
‘I know,’ he said covering her hand with his.
‘I can’t even sleep, James,’ she said. ‘And there’s absolutely nothing I can do.’
They had married a few years before, moving into a residential suburb of San Diego. She had received routine work as an architect, but he had only started teaching at the state college recently. They had met a long time ago in high school. He had harbored a secret crush on her from the first time they met, and they had gone to the same college, remaining good friends throughout.
Perhaps the pinnacle of their relationship came when she decided to take a trip to Agra after her junior year. She invited him and he agreed, although he was not really interested.
When it came to Kavita, the woman before him, he was prepared to do anything to establish a link. He often remembered the hours he had spent in the library studying historical and mythological references before their travel together. If he could survive India, then he could show her that he could exist within her sphere.
They left the following month, and as soon as he arrived he quickly felt submerged in profound peculiarities. From meeting the burly and rude customs officials at the airport, to his first experience of being gang begged on the streets of Mumbai, he could not help but feel completely out of his element. The other students decided to go to Delhi and visit the Mogul forts. James accompanied Kavita and they set out for the Punjab. After entering the city of Chandigar, they rented a scooter and drove themselves the rest of the way. They saw the Golden Temple, various mosques and excavations. James began to enjoy himself and wished that they could go on forever in this prolonged enigma of lifestyles and events. Their trip ended abruptly however, one late night as they returned from the Pinjor Gardens. They were married the following year.
‘I don’t know why my TB shot came out positive,’ she said.
‘You never can be sure,’ he answered, ‘after all the traveling . . . ’
‘I’ve never really been sick though,’ she said looking at him carefully, ‘except for the occasional flu.’
‘I know,’ he said, ‘it is a little strange.’
He looked out the window. The evening was just beginning to set in and darkness hung over the clouds waiting to fall like a veil. He thought back to their past together. They had lived happily for several years in the suburb. Although they had wanted to travel more she had been extremely busy with her work. The years had passed quickly with few problems or disagreements.
‘I’ve always had a phobia of hospitals,’ she said, following his gaze out the window. She also was thinking of many of the same things, their years spent together, and how their past had left few plateaus or ruffles with which to judge time. Before her marriage it seemed that she had been free to roam as she chose, now it seemed that there were inextricable nets that entwined themselves around her. She turned her gaze to rest on James. She saw his stubble and drooping hair. My poor dear, she thought, knowing he had been waiting in the hospital since the previous night. However, from his silhouette against the faltering light he looked strange and unfamiliar, someone that she probably never would have known or cared for if not for the most rare of coincidences. It had not been difficult for her to adjust to their marriage, as her parents had warned her.
Some of his habits however were alien to her, most apparent of which was his penchant for drinking. He could imbibe large amounts of liquor with little effect. For the most part, he did not indulge in this habit around her. But stories grew around their circle of friends. Many stories came to her about his drunken brawls and parties and how he had been written up several times by the campus police.
However these incidents did not directly affect her at the time and she had made only passing remarks. Moreover, she did not cease to enjoy their moments together which grew increasingly exclusive. She did not know how much James admired her and how he had often sought out ways to make their friendship more meaningful and personal. But it came as a surprise to Kavita that James had immediately accepted her casual invitation to travel. She thought he would have little interest in visiting ancient temples and mosques. She did not regret asking, but she felt that the situation might prove awkward, as she had never been on an extended trip with him before. However, after discussing the plan in detail with him, she was assured that he would have no problems adapting to the environment and would make a good travel companion.
‘ . . . it's only a matter of patience . . . ‘ James had been saying.
Kavita turned her head and looked at his face, which was still turned towards the window.
‘You know, honey, I almost forgot. It has been exactly three years since we returned from India,’ she said.
‘I know,’ he said, ‘I was thinking the same thing.’
‘It’s been three years too since you gave up drinking,’ she said.
He turned to her and gave her hand a tight squeeze. She felt his affection but her mind was on more distant affairs.
‘James, do you remember that little hospital that I came to find you in, near Chandigar?’
‘Yes, of course, how could I forget? I still cringe when I think about it. I don’t think it was a hospital, more of a morgue,’ he said smiling.
‘You don’t mind me asking about it, do you?’ she asked.
‘No, not at all, why should I?’
‘It’s just that, it's been so long and we never really talked to each other about that time after the Pinjor Gardens. Especially now, since I think we should be able to speak about everything.’
‘What do you mean? You know exactly what happened, I never said that I didn’t want to talk about it,’ he said.
‘I know, but lying in a hospital bed like this with you at my side, it conjures up certain feelings,’ she said.
‘I can understand . . .’ he said. He had disengaged his hand from hers and was playing with the end of the sheet distractedly.
‘Do you remember Mohan?’ she asked.
‘Mohan? No, I don’t quite recall that name. Who is he?’
‘He was the driver of the car that night, remember . . . the one that hit us?’
‘Oh, of course, I remember that idiot. He must have been blind to have not seen our scooter,’ said James.
‘You still have that report of the accident in our files, don’t you?’ she asked.
‘Yes, I’ve kept it there, just in case,’ he said.
‘The one that gives the exact details of the accident, how the car came from behind at over a hundred kilometers and tried to pass us on the left median, but slid out of control in the rain and collided with us. How the driver was a gruff dirty looking man, about six feet tall and portly, with a long beard and a turban,’ she said.
‘Yes, but those details about his appearance were never written on the report. Where did you find them?’
‘I didn’t,’ she said, ‘I made them up,’ she raised her head so she could look at him eye-level. ‘There was no Mohan.’
‘What do you mean?’ he said, resenting the fact that she would bring up such a poor joke on this occasion.
‘You don’t know? Are you sure? I’ve been wanting to tell you James, but I never had the chance or thought it was important. However, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. If we are to have this baby, I want there to be nothing hidden between us. I want us to be able to speak about everything.’
‘We have already talked about this,’ replied James, ‘why do you have to bring this up now?’
‘Because I have a small confession to make,’ she said, ‘I remember that night. I remember everything leading up to the accident.’
She knew this would have a disastrous effect on him, hence she had not desired to reveal this knowledge to him even when it had sprung a certain sense of guilt in her throughout the years. The fact of the matter was, while returning from the Pinjor Gardens, she had been thrown from the back of the scooter and landed on the road headfirst. She was not wearing a helmet and scraped her head badly, losing consciousness. The next time she woke up was three weeks later in a hospital in Chandigar.
She did not remember where she was or how she had come there. However, her body was completely healed and there were no scars or visible signs of damage. During the next few days she was able to piece together what had happened from what the doctors told her and from letters and reports. She discovered that she had been recently transferred to this hospital where for weeks she had been staying in a hill station wing, sleeping on a cot with only a nurse to look after her. There had been a man who had come every day to spend time with her and finally was able to arrange for her to be transferred to the hospital in the city. The man then had checked himself into a detox center nearby and had not been heard from for several days. It was not long after Kavita woke up that her memory returned. No permanent damage had occurred, and she was soon on her feet and able to leave the hospital of her own free will. During her stay she had replied diligently to all the concerned letters that came from relatives and friends and assured them that she was fine and would meet with them soon.
However her first matter of business was to visit the detox center where James had been assigned. She called an auto, and it was only the second time she had gone outside since she had become well. Within about a half hour she was at the front desk of another medical building. The detox center from the outside was gray and appeared almost like a fort with its high windows and towers.
When she spoke with the doctor in charge, she was met with some unexpected news. She gave her name and told the doctor that she was a friend of James and had come to pick him up. However, the doctor was unwilling to release him so easily. The doctor explained that James had lapsed into an unusual state of paranoia and would not see anyone. He spoke of how in the first few days James had been violently ill and would not sleep but lay awake on his bed alternately screaming or whispering to himself. He had not touched alcohol in two weeks, the doctor assured her, but over the events of the accident, James would not speak nor let anyone question him.
‘He often speaks of you,’ the doctor said, ‘he assumes that you are dead.’
‘Then I must see him,’ Kavita said.
‘Soon,’ the doctor replied, leading her into another room. ‘But first you must tell me everything that happened, including all the events that led to the accident, and what happened afterward.’
‘I’m afraid I can’t tell you everything,’ she said sitting down on the offered seat. ‘I was injured in the accident and have just come from the city hospital. I don’t know anything about the past two weeks. I can tell you what happened before.’
‘I see,’ said the doctor. ‘From what I have read of the report and what little I have heard from James, it appears that he somehow blames himself for the accident. Was he drunk during the time of the accident?’
‘I don’t know,’ she explained. ‘It was raining and very dark. I don’t remember how many drinks James had at the bar, but he had a few, I’m sure. It didn’t concern me at first, because I know he takes well to alcohol and it doesn’t affect him the same way it usually affects others. It was already nighttime and the rain had begun, I suggested that we stay overnight in a hotel and leave the next morning. However, he was adamant about leaving that night, and assured me that he was well enough to drive. I did not argue with him, because I too was eager to get home and did not want to spend the night in a cheap hotel.’
‘Why didn’t you drive the scooter?’ the doctor asked.
‘I couldn’t drive the scooter, it was a manual transmission. I didn’t know how to,’ she said.
‘You were returning from the Pinjor Gardens?’ asked the Doctor.
‘Yes, we had spent the afternoon in the gardens and had our dinner in town,’ she said. ‘When we left it was about nine o’clock.’
‘And you were heading to Chandigar?’ the doctor asked.
‘Yes,’ she said.
‘That’s about a two hour drive down the hill,’ he said. ‘At what point did you meet with the accident?’
‘I’m not exactly sure of the time,’ she said, ‘but it must have been at least a half hour after we left. The road was very hilly and since it was dark, James was trying to avoid all the bumps and potholes. We were making a sharp turn around a bend when all of a sudden I saw out in the distance a large plank. It was blocking about half the road on our side. It was about this high,’ she said indicating a level at her knees, ‘and must have been very heavy because it hardly moved when we hit it. A truck must have dropped it on its way down the hill,’ she said.
‘The scooter hit the plank?’ he asked.
‘Yes, I remember the scooter flipped and I was thrown off. That’s the last I remember. I woke up in the Chandigar hospital. According to the nurse I spent a few weeks in the hill station wing before I was transferred. James came to see me every day over there, and finally had me transferred to the city. She said it had been difficult because although I was in a coma my situation was not critical, and I was at the end of a waiting list. There was a whole troop of soldiers before me,’ she said.
‘One thing is for sure,’ said the doctor, ‘you must see James, but I would request that you not discuss events after the accident for now.’
‘What if he asks?’ she said.
‘You must say that you forgot everything afterward for a while. Just tell him that you don’t at all remember anything about what happened including the actual night of the accident.’
So after seeing him she had not spoken or questioned him about what happened. When she saw him, she immediately recognized that he was in a pitiful state. She felt an immense sympathy for him that did not subside even when she reasoned that she was not responsible. The idea that he had waited by her bedside for those weeks and then paid for her transfer to the city hospital was something that she did not expect from him. Also there was the fact that he had checked himself into the detox center as an obvious countermeasure to any guilt he faced over the incident. This struck her as an altruistic decision which James committed to improve himself for her benefit. She felt an attachment to him, despite everything, and that she was somehow tied to his future by changing him.
Over the next few days she stayed at the center. James, after seeing Kavita, seemed to take a rapid turn for the better and began to answer questions from Kavita and the doctors. He returned to his normal state and spoke easily and clearly about his recovery. However, Kavita maintained her silence about the accident, telling him that she did not remember anything of that day nor the ensuing weeks, and had only woken up in the hospital a few days ago. She did not even bring up his presence at the hill station, thinking that it would be best to leave it to him to relate the matter and thus conduct the interchange at his own pace.
Through his swift recovery, they both grew extremely sensitive to each other in a way that made any separation painfully lonely. After James was released from the hospital and pronounced ‘cured,’ they both went to Mumbai and spent the rest of the summer and the following semester there. They seemed linked by a cord of survival.
James had been pacing the room for several minutes while Kavita alternately watched him and looked out the window. ‘There’s no need to be worried because I know everything,’ she said finally.
‘I don’t . . . but the report, how could you have written the report?’
‘I didn’t. The doctor wrote it and gave it to me, asking me to keep it just in case. If you needed proof that it wasn’t your fault, he wanted you to have it. He supplied all the details including the name Mohan.’
James stopped pacing and let out a large breath. ‘I always wondered who wrote that, I knew none of it was true. Despite what you think, I have a clear remembrance of that night. There was no other car,’ he said.
‘I know,’ she said. ‘You think I don’t, but I’ve always known.’
Evening began to appear outside making the edges of the window slightly opaque. The clouds and sky had been replaced by a reflection of themselves.
He had never considered that she would withhold this truth from him. The strange night in question loomed like a ghost in his mind now and could not be shaken away. It had been one of the greatest decisions in his life, and he had never regretted his choice. Either he could have told her the truth and risked losing her forever, or he could have let her forgotten memory cover the past and have the chance of salvaging their relationship. How could he face her now? He was sure that he had seen a plank that night. Could he have avoided the accident if he had not had those drinks before? Who is to say? It was like trying to guess when and where one’s death is to occur. He knew that this was the doubt that had kept him from returning to his drinking days. Often when he saw a bottle, he imagined within the glass a picture of Kavita sprawled on the road with blood seeping through her hair. The idea that he could have anything to do with this tragedy filled him with a remorse that would have made him commit any deed to save their relationship.
‘You don’t have to be frightened of what I might think,’ she said. ‘Keep in mind, that I knew even when I came to see you at the detox center.’
‘Why did you come? How could you have forgiven me?’ he said.
‘Because I knew it could have happened to anyone,’ she said. ‘It was very dark and both of us were tired. If I had been driving the same thing might have happened.’
‘But you were the one that got hurt,’ he said, ‘I couldn’t get over that.’ He sat down on the chair again and moved both his hands up and down his face.
‘Don’t worry about it, nothing happened to me. Besides,’ she added, ‘you atoned for anything you did wrong by staying with me and going to the detox center afterward.’
He didn’t say anything, so she went on. ‘You know, it’s funny, but that’s what really made me start loving you, how much you sacrificed for me afterward.’
‘What do you mean?’ he said turning to face her.
‘I know all about it, but I was told by the doctor never to discuss it. I could see why, you should have seen the state you were in.’
‘What did he say?’
‘He didn’t say anything except that. The nurse there told me a man had been coming to see me every day when I was in the hill station and that he had me transferred to the hospital only through his influence and patience. I would have been lost without you,’ she said.
‘What do you mean a man came to see you?’ he asked.
‘I’ve already forgiven you for whatever happened,’ she said.
‘I never saw you after the accident,’ he said. 'In fact, the first time I saw you was when you came to see me at the detox center.’
She raised her head so she could see his face clearly.
‘I don’t understand,’ she said. 'The nurse told me about how you came and laid out flowers and read to me and held my hand every afternoon.’
He began to reply and then paused.
‘What happened? Please tell me what you remember,’ she asked. She still had her head lifted and he could see the strain of the muscles in her neck. He moved the chair closer to the top of the bed so she could rest her head easily and listen.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘I wanted to tell you, but maybe afterward . . .’
‘No, please tell me now,’ she said, ‘I need to know.’
‘I never came to see you in the hill station,’ he said. 'That night I was thrown from the scooter just like you, but I landed on the other side and the bushes shielded my fall. I was unhurt for the most part and quickly got up to see how you were doing. I saw that your head was bleeding badly, and that you were unconscious. The scooter was damaged and I was unable to drive it back. I had no idea what to do. But then I heard the sounds of a truck coming down the road from above the hill. By the time I had bandaged your head the truck had arrived, and when the driver saw us he stopped and helped you into his truck. He drove us back to the station where there was a nurse on duty and she was able to give you a bed and stitch your wound. However, there were some police there and they began to question me. Giving me a breath test, they found out that I had been drinking, and the next thing I know they took me to a cell and told me to wait there until further notice. I think they were more suspicious because I was an American, and they thought I was trying to take advantage of you somehow. It didn’t help that I couldn’t understand what they were saying for the most part. I didn’t see or speak to anyone for three days then.’
‘But who was looking after me?’ asked Kavita.
‘The truck driver it turned out was more than a decent sort, because after three days he sent a letter to me. He told me that he'd transferred me to a detox center in the city, with the testimony he could give about the details of the accident. Then he told me that you were still in a coma and had not woken up. He said that he had gone to see you every day and would continue to do so until he had transferred you to the Chandigar hospital.’
‘Mohan,’ she said, ‘that was his name wasn’t it, Mohan?’
‘Yes,’ he answered.
‘What happened to him?’ she asked.
‘After I was transferred to the detox center I never heard from him again. But after seeing you several weeks later, I wanted to find him and thank him for what he had done, but I didn’t know anything else about him except what I’ve told you. I didn’t know where to search.’
She tried to picture the truck driver in her head. Was he fat, bald, handsome? She would never see or know him. ‘I didn’t realize . . .’ she began.
She looked at him for a while, studying his haggard features. She somehow felt that she could not blame James for withholding this information anymore than she could blame herself for being so willing to conceal this event from their relationship. But she could not ignore the fact that the closeness in their relationship after the Pinjor Gardens had not been motivated by herself, that she had not been directly responsible for his weeks in the detox center, that she did not change him. These thoughts were immediately accompanied by a tightening and a deep pulling back of awareness, as if she had been turned out into the cold evening without any clothes. Her eyes rolled back.
‘James . . . ‘ she said.
He looked at her face and immediately recognized the pain.
He rose and pressed the button above her bed. Then he sat next to her and smoothed her hair back with his hand. In less than a minute a nurse came in and checked the monitor and repositioned the IV line. ‘The C-section room has been readied; the doctor is waiting for you there. We’ll be moving you shortly,’ she said and then left the room.
Kavita and James waited in silence. James continued to hold Kavita’s hand and stared ahead. Kavita’s face was calm, but her eyes were wide and alert. Her forehead had become faintly scarlet. After a minute the door burst open. Several nurses came in and unhitched the wheels and the monitor. A nurse instructed James to wait in the lobby while she prepared the bed. James pressed Kavita’s hand tightly and gave her a kiss on her forehead. ‘Don’t worry about a thing, sweetheart’ he said. ‘Everything’s going to be okay. Don’t worry, I’ll be right here.’