This story was originally authored by Naguman in Balochi. Fazal Baloch has translated it for our English readers.
He was perplexed.
It had been half an hour he sat contemplating at the canteen for medical students of the Sandemen Hospital. Nothing significant had happened. Just a nurse, passing him by, ran down her hand and scratched a certain part of her body that stunned him so much that he stopped walking. When the nurse kept walking itching herself unassumingly, he also strolled towards the canteen, asked the waiter for a cup of tea and opened his book. As he started reading, the image of the nurse scratching a certain part of her body flashed in his mind.
“What if she scratched herself? Anyone can feel the urge to itch. You too yourself. Why do you think differently if someone else do the same?” He asked himself.
“Indeed. But why she did it right in front of me?”
“Just because she felt the urge at that very moment”.
“No. Not at all. She actually wanted to pass on a message”.
“Come on, dear, be fair! If she wished to pass on a message she must had looked and smiled at you or had made some gesture. She did nothing of that sort. She was not even thinking about you. You’re overjoyed without reason that she did it for you.”
“It doesn’t matter if she was not thinking about me. She is a young girl, after all; doesn’t she hanker for the company of men? She is at most 19 or 20. I will go and place my heart before her. She is a human being, not a stone. It will obviously touch her heart.”
“Stupid! She might be a chaste girl. What if she gets offended?”
“What this damn girl from Punjab can do? She might yell a curse or slap me across my face. What else she would do? Come hell or high water, I am going to see her.”
After much anticipation, he stood up and walked towards the medical wards to see the nurse. He looked for her in every ward and finally found her sitting in the staff room of the Special Ward. Another nurse was standing by her, but she took the thermometer and left the room.
He was about to enter when a middle-aged man stepped in before he could.
He was an attendant to a patient and had come to ask the nurse about the dosage of medicine. He mustered up courage and entered the room, exchanged greetings with the nurse and stood by there. She signalled him to take a chair. From the book, stethoscope and white coat, the nurse knew he was a medical student.
She was talking to the middle-aged man and the young man was wandering how to start a conversation with her.
“Should I ask her why did she scratch herself? No, no. That’s not polite.”
“Then I will ask her if she enjoyed the winter of Shaal being alone.”
“Is it a question to be asked? It is not your headache if she enjoys it or not.”
As the middle-aged man left the room, the nurse looked at the young doctor.
“Oh God! I don’t know what and how should I ask her?”
The nurse arranged some papers scattered on the table and looked at the young doctor. He lowered his head.
Even on a cold day, driblets of sweat appeared on his nose.
“I just tell her that I love her”.
As the nurse found him calm and confused, she asked: “Yes doctor! How can I help you?”
He tried to say something but words melted in his mouth. He was shivering and at the same time sweating from every pore of his body. He was like a cornered proud man forced by pressing circumstances to ask someone for a penny for the first time. He looked at the nurse. Suddenly, he felt that he had seen her somewhere else as well.
Soon he recalled that a month back he was diagnosed with malaria and was admitted to the Special Ward. And she happened to be his attending nurse who used to visit him twice or thrice a day to note his temperature and administer him the medicines.
Now he was more confused but the thought that he had already encountered her gave him a sense of satisfaction that the old acquaintance may open up a door to a fresh relationship. As the nurse saw him sweating and shivering, she got worried.
“What has happened to you, doctor?”
“I am……I am all right. I have just come to see you. Do you remember me?” He barely managed to utter those words.
Nurse thoroughly looked at him and said: “I am sorry but I don’t remember anything.”
“A month back, I was admitted here. I had malaria.”
“Oh! Yes. Now I remember you.” She looked at him. “I think you’re all right now. Aren’t you?”
He wanted to tell her that he had gotten rid of the previous illness but suffers a new one which can’t be cured by medicines. Only she could heal her. Instead, he said, “Yes I am OK now.”
“You were sweating and shivering and I was worried for a moment about you,” the nurse chuckled and he felt a bit of shame. She ordered a cup of tea for him. He was mute with downcast eyes.
The nurse, while looking at him, asked: “May I know your name, doctor?”
“Name?….My name is Naguman,” he replied in such a way as if he was standing before a judge in a court of law.
“I have a brother. He is your age. He studies at home in Faisalabad. His name is Naoman. His name is quite similar to yours and his demeanour matches to that of yours as well. He is shy and quite like you. He always feels like a guest even at his own home. In this modern age, even girls are not that shy,” she broke into laughter.
He said nothing. Just smiled.
“So she thinks I am like her brother. No it will never happen. Relationships are not formed by mere words of mouth.”
“True, but as she takes me like her brother, how can even I think of something otherwise”.
“Doctor, your tea has gotten cold,” the nurse jolted him out of his thoughts. He quietly lifted the cup. His hand trembled and a drop of tea fell onto his coat. In two long sips, he gulped down the entire cup of tea. Again he was sweating and shivering.
“Are you Ok, doctor?” The nurse was concerned. She strolled towards him and placed her right hand on his forehead. He was numb like a statue.
Suddenly, he moved his hand and in the next moment he was holding her hand. He placed his hot lips on the back of her hand and took a long kiss. Then he took his book and stethoscope and hurried out of the room. The nurse was dumbfounded. For a while, she stood there and looked at the back of her hand and thought about the strange young man.
A smile played on her lips.
“He is exactly like Naoman!” And she walked towards the ward scratching a certain part of her body.
Fazal Baloch teaches Urdu at Atta Shad Degree College, Turbat. He is the first regular translator of Balochi literature into English.