Mother’s world converged into her right toe. It knocked against the hardness of the washing stone. The skin broke and a little fleshed peeped out. Mother felt the wound looked like a smile. Nowadays no one smiled at her. She sat on the rough chest of the washing machine and cried. Even otherwise tears have been pricking inside her eyelids for a long time. Mother cried for the wounds uncried for.
Mother knew that nine stitches could be avoided if the doctor put one and applied iodine. She would need a dose of antibiotics also.
Instead, she had to plunge into the never ending stream of housework. All she could allow the wound was a dressing with a rag which got soiled soon.
“Everybody in this house is careless.” Father roared and gave a sermon on the need to be cautious. Money did not blossom on mangotrees if she thought so. He withdrew into the security of the reading room. Mother’s feeble hope lay in her son’s weekend visit. He was doing MBBS.
The son came in the car loaded with friends, the car stereo in full volume. Mother limped into the sitting room from the kitchen.
“Look at my toe, son”
“Five glasses of coffee please” the son said “and something to eat also.”
Ignoring the throbbing wound and the aching, swollen glands in the groins, mother crept back.
The next day mother took a rikshaw and got down in front of the big hospital. She had high fever and her face was swollen. Getting down from the rikshaw, she stood, unable to put a step. The driver hesitated to hold her since she was still young and beautiful. Otherwise, he felt like carrying her up the steps. He stood there,ready to catch her if she fell. Then the wheelchair came. “get well soon mother”, the driver murmered in her ears.
The nurse in the OP removed the rag on her toe. The toe was having a green colour all over it.
Until five years back, mother was a lecturer in a women’s college. If the doctor thought she wouldn’t understand the word amputate, he was mistaken. Mother had acquired a big house in the city and enough vehicles for all of them. Then, father decided that she need not work any longer.
So the peaceful job in the College in the valley became a memory. She became an ordinary house wife and gradually, a house maid.
The wheel chair moved about. In the chart on her lap was marked high blood sugar, pressure, pus cells in the blood and damaged kidneys. On top of all the nurse put a cardiograph of uneven heart beat. Now the wheel chair rolled into the emergency ward. Suddenly, mother realized that the throbbing pain on her toe was gone.
“The pain is gone, Doctor. Now let me go home.” she said to the Doctor.
“Please wait madam, let someone from your house come.” He took out medicine in a syringe and the nurse rolled up her sleeves. She heard someone murmur to the surgeon who had just arrived, “a case of gangrene, Doctor”.
Mother lay on the stretcher, waiting for relatives to sign the consent for operation. Her mind was numb, just like her toe. It was not easy to trace out Father who could be at any bar in the city. Then she heard the Doctor, scolding her son, “So this is the way you care for a minor wound of your mother? How will you treat your patients?By allowing a minor wound to end up in amputation?”
Mother opened her eyes. Her son snatched her chain away and walked off,giving her an accusing glare. He must have signed the papers. The nurse made her wear a loose gown. Then she combed and plaited her hair.Now she remembered how her hair was combed and braided by her own mother in childhood. Her mind filled with the soft touches of childhood. Her mother used to apply Cuticura powder on her face and kiss on the forehead. Then she would hang the schoolbag on her back and run towards thee rikshaw that took her to School.
As the nurse tucked up her sleeves for another injection, mother was thinking of the achievements she made as a student and lecturer. The stretcher rolled into the theatre. Perhaps this may be my last journey. Thank God, I have no one to say Goodbye. Mother thought of the clothes soaked in soap water in the bathroom. She had to switch off the stove without finishing her cooking. She hadn’t swept and mopped the marble floor. She had forgotten to switch off the exhaust fan in the kitchen.
Her son would be selling her chain with ‘thali’ to pay the Hospital bill. When she remembered thali, she felt she heard the music and fireworks of her marriage. While sinking deep into unconsciousness, she mumbled, “what will I sell to cut off the rest of my toes, Oh God?”