“Will you still take him…?”

Short story of 1000 words for the platform, Artoons Inn.

Theme: ‘Beyond the obvious: sometimes questions are complicated and the answers are simple’

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“Will you still take him…?”

I stared down at the cul-de-sac corridor even as Naina’s grip on my arm tightened. Apprehensions loomed large over the polished neatness of the pediatric unit. I thought I was accustomed to it all but in the tapestry of life everything seemed futile

The cacophony of the pediatric OPD across the corridor was getting to me and I wanted nothing more than to run away from this predicament. But that wasn’t on the agenda, right? I couldn’t unravel the tender threads of my vulnerability especially before my family’s archaicism bursting at the seams.

“Mr. and Mrs. Sharma?” A fresh voice broke me out of my reverie and as if on autopilot, we walked towards the assessment room.

“It’s… going to be fine, right?” Naina’s voice quivered and I held her hands. I had to be strong… for the two of us.

‘New-born and pediatric hearing screening’ read the fading letters on the nameplate, loosely attached to the door.

Naina and I huddled close to each other in a dark outer room as the audiologist began the test. Naina began to pray hard, the flurry of whispery drawls thickening every second. There was a thick file next to the audiologist, filled with medical reports from the past month. And this was an extended check-up born out of a spectre of uncertainty.

I couldn’t dare to look inside the assessment chamber; instead, I only stared uneasily at the file where the sliver of light from the inner chamber fell on the cover.

The name column was blank.

The address was ‘Miracle Orphanage’

The file belonged to the cherubic toddler seated with the social worker in the inner chamber… the child who already had a piece of our hearts. The child squirming with unshed tears swimming in his beautiful brown eyes… eyes, similar to Naina’s. I knew in my heart he was looking for us…

I yearned to cry out loud; to unleash emotions raw enough to reverberate through the annals of time. He was my ‘son’… my Devashish….

Well, not yet.

I couldn’t bear the surge of emotions and left the room. I sighed, my gaze drifting towards the posters of little children adorning the gleaming walls. A palpable sense of disquietude crawled over my skin.

I was thrown down memory lane, retracing the steps of bygone moments outside the obstetric ward in this very hospital. I paced uncertain steps while the love of my life, Naina faced the painful IVF turmoil, our hearts intertwined in a dance of hope and longing. Our archaic Marwari lineage demanded progeny in the early years of marriage. Our desires too echoed in harmony with those ancestral expectations. We yearned for the pitter-patter of tiny feet to grace our shared existence.

However, our fairy tale came to an abrupt halt as two years down the line, we couldn’t conceive; all treatment models and surgeries proving futile. In pursuit of improving the physical parameters, delicate tendrils of her mental anguish were shadowed into an abyss of oblivion. Taunts and epithets rained down like arrows on my poor wife, each barb a venomous sting on her fragile spirit. She bore it in stoic silence while I only watched her further wither away with every failed insemination cycle…

In a moment of resolute clarity, I declared to my family that the problem lay in their scion, their pride. That reduced their tumulus whispers and baring the initial sermons on the inconceivable notion of male infertility, I was spared the torment. Naina could finally breathe easy. Yet the insidious void remained especially when children frolicked in the world around us.

The embers of hope stirred yet again when a suggestion to embrace adoption arose.

“But that won’t be yours…” Naina had spoken with unshed tears.

“The child will be ours” I had proclaimed.

Despite family protests, Naina and I registered with CARA* immediately.

Lady luck beamed her grace and the counsellor soon called to check out a ‘match’

Two months ago, that morning, we watched in wonder as he flaunted his toothless grin, his drool glistening as he stood on wobbly legs, clutching the edges of his baby cot in the orphanage. In that moment, it became clear to us… he was meant to be ours. Our Devashish… the embodiment of countless prayers we had fervently offered to innumerable gods.

We visited the orphanage daily to be with Devashish and our family eventually gave in to our boy’s charms. Yes, he was ‘ours’ already.

Everything sailed smoothly till the BERA* test was positive and they suspected hearing loss…

 

I was called back inside the testing room and the audiologist confirmed our worst fears after the behavioural audiometry.

“The reports indicate that the child has severe to profound hearing loss…” The audiologist continued her tirade about the rehabilitation measures…that could help his development.

The world faded away and I held Naina’s hand dragging her out even as she protested. I needed to breathe… The walls were closing in…

I walked oblivious to my surroundings, into the hospital gift store. Was it providence?

I wouldn’t know.

“Will you still take him, Ria…?” A man at the corner of the store asked his little daughter. She held a wooden doll with a broken leg. “…he is broken”

“So what Daddy? I can fix him and he will be just fine…” She hugged the doll.

Something tugged at my heartstrings and suddenly, the complexities clouding my mind dissolved into nothingness. I now had the answers to my unasked questions.

I looked back at a teary Naina and at that moment our solemn nods affirmed unspoken decisions binding our fates together.

“He… is ours… our son.” Naina cried.

In that testing room, that boy embodied more than just a diagnosis; he was our Devashish. Our emotional connection transcended mere blood relations. Nothing else mattered now… family, society et al.

Hand in hand Naina and I walked back towards the assessment room; to sign the final set of papers and bring our son home.

 

Author notes:

*CARA: Central Adoption Resource Authority is an autonomous and statutory body of Ministry of Women and Child Development in the Government of India. It was set up in 1990. It is a statutory body under Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.

*BERA: Brainstem Evoked Response Audiometry is an objective test used to determine how electrical waves are sent from the eighth cranial nerve to the brainstem in response to click noises delivered through the ear

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