Short Fiction: Moonlight

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When she was young, Chetna made a deliberate decision not to marry. She has always felt uncomfortable in the company of men. However, when her mother is rushed to Batra Hospital, Chetna finds herself sharing a taxi with the handsome cardiac surgeon and hospital director Dr. Batra.

‘Moonlight’ is a ten-part multi-author serial set in contemporary India.  My contribution is Chapter 7. You can read the other chapters here.

Chapter 7 

The taxi driver chattered incessantly all the way from the airport. Chetna was relieved. Every muscle in her body was taut as she sat silently in the front seat, feeling the warmth of Dr. Batra’s breath every time he leaned forward to answer the driver, his quiet tones competing with the deluge outside.

The harsh lights of the hospital flooded out into the night. Dr. Batra opened the cab door for her, pulling out a black golf umbrella which was instantly blown inside out. As Chetna climbed out, the rain stung her bare legs. She glanced upwards. Seven storeys of windows rattled in the wind.

They scurried into the reception where a tight queue wound all the way down to the gift shop.

“What’s your mother’s name?” Dr. Batra asked gently.

“Mikali Iyer.”

Chena blushed as he skirted the queue and picked up one of the phones on the reception desk. Moments later, he was back by her side.

“Your mother’s had another heart attack.”

“Another?” Chetna felt her knees buckle. Dr. Batra gripped her arm and steered her over to a chair.

“Her first visit was four months ago.” He sat down beside her.

“She never told me.” Chetna’s face burned.

“That’s not uncommon,” he said kindly. “I’m afraid this time it’s more serious. One of her arteries is permanently blocked.”

Chetna grasped the sides of the chair, her thighs sticking to the hard plastic. A wave of nausea engulfed her.

“Will she…?”

“She’ll need bypass surgery.”

Chetna saw him glance discreetly at his watch.

“I’ve got a few minutes before my next appointment. Why don’t I take a look at her?”

He offered her a hand. She didn’t dare accept it, standing shakily on her own. As the lift doors opened, an orderly exited, pushing an elderly man on a bed. Dr. Batra greeted them both by name and they beamed back at him.

He’s nice to everyone not just me, Chetna told herself as they entered the empty lift and glided slowly upwards. She studied her wet feet.

“It’s because of the jalebi,” she murmured. Ma was always buying them at the market or making them herself, coating the bright orange pretzel-shaped sweets in extra syrup. “I should have…”

“You cannot think that way, Miss Iyer,” he said, his voice suddenly hard. She looked up in surprise, but now it was his turn to examine his shoes. “My father was also a cardiac surgeon. He never let my brothers and I eat sweets when we were growing up. Every morning, regardless of the weather, he would run five miles before breakfast.”

“He must have lived to good age.”

Dr. Batra shook his head. “He died in a bus crash when I was fourteen. Sometimes we think we’re doing the right thing for our heart, but…”

Their eyes met for a moment. Then, there was a loud, sparking sound above them. The lights flickered and went out. Chetna clutched the wall as the lift jolted to a sudden stop.

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