Sumona Hospital

Being the youngest of six children proved to be both a blessing and a curse for me. By the time both of my parents were old I was only stepping into my twenties. As I was free of responsibilities the real world so generously offered, I had time to tend to my parents. Not that they needed any severe attention other than during common ailments, but I could thankfully be there when the need arose. Especially for my mother.

The beginning of 2023 was slow and I was cautiously optimistic for a good year after how good 2022 had been to me. However, my naivete came close to being shattered when my mother had to be hospitalized. She was not sick from any severe condition (though she had been a diabetic for a better part of a quarter of a century), she only needed strict medical attention for a few weeks as her body had depleted its reserve of potassium. A byproduct of having type 2 diabetes which was genetic, having paan for three decades, and her presently problematic liver and kidneys.

The hospitalization itself caused no fear. It would only help her get better and stronger. She was strung to IV bags full of every kind of mineral salt; potassium, sodium, magnesium. Problems in her urine and dehydration were what led to the discovery of insufficient salts in her body. The doctors said her body would need an entire week to fully replenish the mineral salts. However, my father saw the opportunity in this and promptly seized it. He booked a double-bedded cabin and got admitted along with my mother. My father did not have any underlying condition, but he is an overtly health conscious man. He saw my mother and followed suit; he also wanted to replenish his bodily mineral salts. He also wanted full body scans to stay on top of any potential symptoms. He claimed that doctors paid special attention to admitted patients.

Duty to go and spend time with my parents was spread between each sibling and their wedded counterpart. I rolled a bad dice and drew a Friday morning shift. I say shift as if it was a chore. And to be frank, sometimes it was. But it was not that bad, and I still loved these shifts. However, why this particular shift especially sucked was because it was on a Friday and right after a hectic week. That semester I was doing four courses which amounted to five days of classes courtesy of a lab class; two tuitions, one three days a week and the other five days a week; and preparation for my upcoming IELTS exam. I basically did not have a weekend as my first day off was Friday and the other on Tuesday, each equidistant away from the other. Neither off-day felt like an off-day, just a slow day to catch my breath before going back to the thick of it.

That Friday I was supposed to get to the hospital by 10 and have breakfast with my parents. I was late and ended up going after Jummah with barely four hours of sleep. I arrived at the stuffed hospital ward my parents were sharing to find that they had already had breakfast. I was thankful they had not waited for me. I spent some time with them and talked to the nurses. Soon it was already time for lunch. My parents started bickering with each other about what they wanted to eat. Since it was Friday they did not fancy the dull, monotonous hospital food. While they decided I sat on a sofa that was at the far corner of the room.

The room had a wardrobe, a few cabinets, a rack for clothes, a few table counters for medicine, the two beds my parents occupied, a wall-topped television, and an attached bathroom. The sofa was a two seater with oblong shaped pillows that cushioned the bottom and back of each seat. With enough bending, one could turn it into a pseudo bed; albeit a bed that caused a lot of discomfort to the back. I doubled down on the sofa while they decided between kacchi¹ and morog polao². They argued for a while, each giving a good thesis on why they should choose their choice over the other’s. This went on for quite some time before they finally settled on kacchi. Then they argued a while over the drink; borhani³ or lassi⁴. My father used my mother’s diabetes against her in this round, and swiftly they landed on unsweetened borhani.

The hospital was at the heart of puran Dhaka⁵ and as such, getting good kacchi and borhani was going to be simple. I took a rickshaw to Haji’r Biryani⁶. Despite it being a Friday, the streets of Puran Dhaka were brimming with the beating hearts of thousands of people, all clad in white panjabi, their heads covered with white or black Taqiyah⁷, fresh out of Jummah prayer. I regretted taking a rickshaw instead of just walking. This part of the city was particularly more crowded on the weekends, especially Fridays, for its Mughal food and its extremely sweet delicacies. These foods were the pride and heritage of the puran Dhaka people. I myself lived in the outskirts of puran Dhaka, so I felt doubly annoyed at myself for not foreseeing this.

After fighting for my life at Haji’r Biryani, I finally got the food. When I came back, my parents were ready for lunch. The nurse had already served them plates. All three of us sat to eat, the television atop the wall serving as background noise. As usual, my mother found something to gripe about regarding the kacchi and my father lashed out with his short-temper to shut her down promptly. These arguments were always harmless and sometimes even playful. But nonetheless they were annoying to sit through.

That day was especially annoying because it was one of my only two precious off days, and I had already had a long week. But I persevered, knowing my shift would end before dusk. After we had finished eating, I helped my parents to water as the nurse took away the plates. Then we had the precious unsweetened borhani, the one thing I was looking forward to the most. Even this was done with squabbling between my parents as one complained that despite labeling it as unsweetened, it was the sweetest borhani they had ever tasted. To this the other parent added that perhaps I had made the mistake and got the sweet stuff. I ignored their remarks. Growing up with brown parents made you develop thick skin. Their words became white noise, radio chatter, static in the background. I learned to tune them out. Respectfully, of course.

After the drinks my parents rolled into bed. My father took the television remote and started mindlessly coasting through the channels. My mother had her paan while she complained about the nurse doing this thing or that the wrong way. I minded my own business and lied down on the sofa. I rested a back cushion on top of the armrest on one end, and splayed my feet over the other end. My body did not quite fit the small width of the sofa but I was stubborn. I still had two to three hours before another sibling came to take over and I was not going to sit stiff backed on the sofa that long. My feet were awkwardly dangling off the end, and my head was bent in an ungodly angle. But it was honestly not that bad as I am in the habit of slouching halfway down wherever and whenever I sit.

I tried using my phone but my head hurt due to the angle. So I put it down and looked out the window. It was to my left and was the only window of the ward, letting in the February afternoon sun. There was not much of a view as it was obscured by trees. However the foliage did provide respite to birds, whose sweet singing periodically flew over to the ward. Not being able to see out of the window from my lying position, I looked around the rest of the cabin while entertaining mundane thoughts. To my right was the rest of the ward; at one side were the two beds, opposite to which was the wall mounted television and the cabinets underneath. Directly opposite to me was the entrance of the ward, and to its right was the door to the bathroom. The wardrobe and clothes rack stood right beside the sofa.

In the hullabaloo of my own thoughts while I was observing the ward room, I was late to realize something was amiss. Both of my parents were quiet. My brain had been late to register this change but it was aware enough to make note that they had been quiet for some time, I had just failed to pick up on it sooner. I peeked my head to my right and saw both of them lying on their respective beds. Their bodies were gently, rhythmically, moving; soft and shallow breathing from my mother, and a slow but rumbling snore from my father. They had both fallen asleep after their carbo overload accented by a sweet (even more carby) drink. My brain scrambled trying to figure out when this happened. But my heart was doing something else entirely.

I was suddenly taken over by a strange emotion. I was not quite able to understand it, but I could tell what was causing it, and what it meant. Other than the low hum of the television, the room was still, only periodically giving air to the breathing of my parents. The constant noise of their bickering had become so second nature that I was able to reduce it to a background noise. But that led to this; I could not tell when the noise died down. And now I was perplexed on why I could not tell, why I could not notice it sooner.

And all of it hit me together. One day my phone would no longer ring with my mother’s name on the OLED display. After picking it up, she would no longer caution me to keep my phone in my pocket when I was riding the bus, completely missing the point that she herself was contradicting her message. One day my father’s name would cease popping up on my phone accompanied by “10 missed calls”, and I would miss the existential dread that it causes me when I am out with my friends a bit later than usual.

The words আববু⁸ and আম্মু⁹ would one day stop blessing my phone screen. Would I miss it then as I did that day? Or would I not even notice the absence, busy inside my own head? Too busy in this desensitized, hyper-materialistic world to notice that my mother had not called to check up on me that entire day, or that my father failed to make it a point to antagonize me for wanting a social life.

With these dark thoughts, I myself dozed off to a restful, dreamless slumber. Perhaps I woke up as a changed man. Or perhaps that day had no effect on me. I could never tell. I will never be able to tell until it happens. Until the day my phone stops producing a graphic for my parents’ incoming calls.

¹ A special kind of Biryani made from Basmati rice, and mutton

² Chicken Biryani

³ A traditional yogurt-like drink popular in Bangladesh

⁴ A yogurt–based beverage with a smoothie-like consistency

⁵ Old Dhaka

⁶ A popular Biryani establishment in Dhaka

⁷ Short, rounded skullcap worn by Muslim men

⁸ Father

⁹ Mother