Vimala had landed from London in the wee hours of morning. By 9 am she was in the hospice. The emaciated figure lay in what appeared to be a bed larger for her size. The hair was white and disheveled and the cheek and eyes were shrunk and hollow. The woman in her 80s was still dozing under the influence of tranquilizers.
The kindly nurse cautioned Vimala not to wake her up. Any small irritation it seemed gave rise to bouts of uncontrollable anger and foul mouthing, but was assured that was not uncommon among advanced Alzheimer patients. She added for good measure that the woman was in very advanced stage with practically very little memory of current events. But what bothered the nurse more was her inability to swallow food, to communicate her needs like wanting to drink water or go to toilet. Her continuous wringing of her hands to the point of hurting herself was worrying the nurse. The old woman was hardly able to identify anyone except on very rare occasions for a flicker of a second and suspects others as cheats out to rob her though she had nothing with her. She was not even aware whether she was fully covered. But she repeated occasionally some names, may be her children’s.
Vimala could not suppress her tears. The nurse put her hand on her shoulders and said “Do not cry. Her misery may not last for long and possibly end in a couple of months or even earlier. But we try our best to make her comfortable. I will go now to other patients. Wait patiently till she wakes up”
Vimala sat thinking of what her brother had warned.”Vimala, you would be shocked when you see her plight. She is not recognizing me and manni (his wife) and is very abusive especially to manni.Infact our presence makes her agitated and that it took considerable time for her to quieten down that we were requested by the doctor not to appear before her. I go there once a week and have a look through the window. I had her admitted after much hesitation here only when things became unmanageable.”
Vimala could hardly believe that the ailment could alter so significantly a very gentle and soft spoken lady who had nothing but appreciative words for everyone. In the three decades she lived in Bengal, she was noted for her affability and was popular among her neighbours. It was her dad that was very impatient and angry. Her dad had left her mom in financial comfort and she was not dependent financially on her children.
It was then she heard a shuffle and found her mom turning her face towards her side. Vimala saw her staring vacantly at her devoid of any recognition. Vimala smiled at her that was responded with a twitching of her eyelashes and twisting of lips that showed suspicion and uncertainity.She did not reply when Vimala asked ”Amma,are you able to recognize me?”The silence dragged in what seemed eternity.
Then suddenly Vimala heard her bellow “Who are you? Who allowed you inside my room? Have you come to pilfer things from here? Get out before I call police”
Shaken by such violent and insensitive response, Vimala could hardly stop from crying for a few moments. She wiped her face and said again ‘Amma, can you not recognize your own daughter on whom you showered all affection? Just utter my name once and I will be greatly pleased.. I have come just a few hours back from London and will be with you as long as you wish. Won’t you please call me once by my name?”
The nurse entered the room and arched her eyebrows at Vimala as if to ask how things were going. Even before Vimala could reply, the old lady shouted ”Why did you allow this young woman in the room. She has come to strangle me, I am sure, as she came near the bed and pretended to caress me. Ask her to get out this moment. She is an evil woman“ and began throwing the pillow at her.
Inconsolably sobbing, Vimala started moving out of the room when she heard the ailing woman mumbling to herself “She resembles my Vimala, my Vimmu” Surprised Vimala turned towards her mom and told her in Bengali “I am your Vimmu, amma”
Hearing this there was a sparkle of 1000 watts in old lady’s eyes even as she broke into a smile and replied in Bengali “Vimmu,come near me. I miss you so much” When Vimala gently hugged her and caressed her head, her mom started screaming again ”I am being strangled by an evil woman”
The nurse understandingly led the sobbing Vimala out of the room.