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DateLine Sunday, 30 September 2007

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Short story - The best gift ever...

It was just about two months ago that I started my career as a physiotherapist. I got my first assignment to a rural hospital in Anuradhapura. It was extremely hard for me to leave for work giving up the loving company of my dearest parents, even just for a year.

But the moment I saw the innocent faces of the villagers, I thought that it would be much better to attend to those people's needs than to live comfortably with my parents. They were so poor and innocent people centred to such hard plights owing to their abject poverty.

The hospital I had to work in was some kind of a desert. The only medical practitioner present was a dentist. He had been attending to the villagers' needs to a certain extent.

There were four nurses and one attendant. Though isolated with no sign of human habitation around, the hospital was well-organized and neatly kept. And also it was well stocked with the necessary medicines, medical equipment, beds and such other things.

All the workers were very co-operative and gradually I got accustomed to the new surroundings.

There were eleven patients in the ward on the first day, I was doing my daily inspection of the patients with a nurse beside me. The patient on the third bed was fast asleep. I was just about to wake him up when the nurse stopped me.

"Madam, there's no use of trying to wake him up. He won't answer."

"Why is that?" I asked, amazed at what she had said.

"This man was taken to the hospital about three months ago by his neighbours. He had met with an accident. It was just a slight injury on the leg. We did the necessary treatments and the wound healed. But he refused to leave the hospital.

When we tried to explain him the matter, he beat the attendant hard with his fist. We all blamed him but he did not care. We got fed up with him and thought that he is suffering from a mental disorder.

So, we left him alone. But, since he was in the hospital, we gave him regular meals. Since then he has never spoken a word with anyone, not even with his neighbours who has been here to see their hospitalized relatives.

I felt curious about the strange old man at the long description given by the nurse. But I postponed further inspections until I had examined the other patients. At last, when it was over, I sent away the nurse and went to see the old man.

"Uncle, please wake up. I want to examine you" I said as benevolently as I could. There was no answer. I put my hand on his shoulder and gently shook him. After many attempts, he made a move. I continued to shake him. He turned his face and looked at me.

That was the most rude face I had ever seen. There were cruelty, disappointment and hatred in those eyes. I met with a shock at his attitude. But I didn't expose my inner feelings to him.

"What do you want with me, you little nuisance? What did you mean by waking me up? Go away and leave me alone, or else you will have to regret later."

I was stupefied, but I kept on looking at him for a few more minutes and left him to himself without another word.

The next day when I had finished the daily inspection I went to that old man. Before I woke him up. He himself turned his head and looked at me as if he had felt my presence.

"Are you trying to make fun of me? What is the meaning of this? Don't you have anything else to do other than pestering me? You are a real pain in the neck. Go away. I don't want anyone here."

Amidst all this, I remained silent. I just gave him a kind smile and turned to go. "Wait" I heard him say. "I want to ask you something" There was a long pause.

"Why didn't you shout at me or blame me when I did the same? Why did you keep silent? Are you deaf?"

I was alarmed at this and in an instant I understood the reason for his strange behaviour. I had to give a carefully chosen reply to this amazing question of his.

"Why should I blame you? There's no use of doing so. It just makes us unhappy. I know that hatred never ceases by hatred."

With that brief, benevolent reply I went away leaving him dreaming and gazing into the thin air.

Since then I didn't visit him for three days I meant my reply for his last set of questions to produce a considerable effect on him. It worked actually. On the fourth day, when I was passing his bed, I heard him calling me.

"Madam, why didn't you talk to me for three days?"

I could understand what a pressure had been forced upon him by my absence, since he had been counting the days on which I had not visited him.

"I thought you didn't want anyone near you. You said so the other day". he remained silent for sometime.

"I want to talk to you a bit."

"If so, I'll come to you right after the inspection".

I kept the promise and went to him. There was no need to wake him up. He was sitting on the bed. Even at length, I could discern a certain difference in his nature.

"Please bring that chair and sit here for a moment," he said, pointing to a distant chair. It was most alarming to hear the word 'please' from his lips. I concealed my surprise and did as he had told. He kept on looking into my eyes for a while and broke the silence.

"You are a strange youth" I was a bit surprised for it was the same I had thought of him. Then I found my tongue.

"Why do you think so? I'm just a human being like you."

"But you are different from the nest. They all did the same when I shouted at them. But you kept on looking at me on such times. I think it was "kindness" that was in your eyes. I feel quite different and I think I like you daughter. I have never liked anyone before. I had no parents and I was brought up by my aunt.

They were never kind to me. So, I grew afraid of people. That's why I didn't marry anyone. I didn't know what kindness was. the villagers also began to dislike me. As they did so, I began to hate this whole world. But now....

He paused for a moment and took a deep breath. Everything was quiet around. I could hear the sound of his heart pounding continuously amidst the incessant cry of two birds, feeding the little ones.

But now, I think I understand what kindness is and even feel a stinge of that already. I feel a merry man myself for the first time ever, in my life."

I left him to the relief of an outpouring to someone whom he confided in. When he had finished his long confession I talked to him.

Can you feel the difference between your past and the present? Can you understand the reason for your misery? If you let me, I'll help you to obtain a good living."

He said nothing, but looked at me with pleading eyes, searching and yearning for KINDNESS.

Dinusha Madhubhashini Perera, 160, Katuwawala, Boralesgamuwa.

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