“What is your name?” asked the doctor.
Hoping to get an answer, the dutiful doctor watched her lips for any sign of movement but to no avail. Her eyes buried a deep sorrow, deep enough to entertain the curiosity of passers-by.
“Do you remember anything from the accident?”
There was no sound from her. Her heartbeat played a slow rhythm. The smell of medicines poked through her nostril and, as though swept by a breeze, she looked at the doctor.
Her head was bandaged. A thin line of fresh blood flowed amongst her hair, sliding to her right ear.
The doctor sighed.
“A taxi driver found you unconscious by the road. Your car caught fire. You must have hit into a divider or a pillar.”
“This morning, when it was still dark. He brought you to the hospital.”
She stared in silence. Her eyes were looking for something abstract- a collection of memory passed her mind in flashes of pictures. Everything seemed vague enough for her, what more for being in a stranger’s body.
“What is my name?” she asked. “I don’t remember anything.”
“We found your IC. Your name is Rekha. “
She frowned at him.
“Do you remember anything prior to the accident? Do you know the name of your closest contact?”
“So, you don’t remember anything, am I right? Your home, family, friends – nothing?”
Rekha gave a head shake.
“Alright, do not worry. The policemen will arrive in a short while. They will be able to identify and contact your family using your IC.”
There was no response. Rekha stared at the floor. She examined her feet. They were dry and green nerves were bulging through her skin. She brought her palms closer to her face. They had scars – burnt scars.
She then felt a pang of pain while moving her shoulder.
“We found marks on your body. However, they did not originate from the accident. They were cigarette burns and blue-black swells. Looks like you have been severely abused.”
Rekha shifted her gaze to the painting on the wall on her right, paying no heed to the doctor’s words. It was a piece of Raja Ravi Varma’s art — a portrait painting of a woman, holding a fruit with a seductive look. The woman was holding on to her saree which was half-slipping from her shoulder.
Rekha tilted her head to look further.
The doctor looked up from the record file, “Rasam?”
“I remember rasam.”
The doctor was taken aback. He knew what rasam was. It is a traditional spicy-sweet-sour soup of the South Indians, prepared with a variety of spices.
“What do you remember of rasam?”
Rekha scanned the face of the woman in the portrait painting. She looked young but fragile.
“An old lady used to feed me rice with rasam. She would scoop the rasam with her bird-shaped fingers.”
“Do you remember how she looked like?”
“Yes, there is a picture in my mind. An old lady in saree. She must be my grandmother. I was three years old then.”
The doctor thought it was strange of her mind to gather memories of an undeserving past, but not a slightest recollection of her current circumstances.
“She must have been a very kind woman.”
“Do you live with her now?”
“Yes, she died when I was… three. They placed her under a flight of stairs in a house when she had cancer. She laid there for a few months, speechless. Someone carried me closer to her face. She then stretched her hands and caressed my cheeks. That was the last moment I had with her before parting. She teared.”
The doctor listened attentively.
“I can remember the smell of rasam and the texture of her fingers. She must be my late grandmother.”
“That’s strange…” thought the doctor. “Seems like she played a very important role in your life. Your mind seems to remember her and her only.”
Rekha looked at the floor.
“I don’t know what role she played, or if she was really my late grandmother – I don’t know. Some people walk into your life, leaving a glimpse of memory for you to keep. You just don’t think about them every day when they are gone, but they are there – in your mind, buried deep down.”
The doctor did not reply. With a brief nod, he then flipped the record file close and walked to the door.
“Do you need anything?” asked the doctor while reaching for the door knob.
He turned around and looked at her fragile, bruised eyes.
“I want rasam.”
He replied with a smile and nodded to agree. That is the least he could do for a lost patient. He took a deep breath and walked out of the ward.
Rekha adjusted her position slowly. Her body ached. From the doctor’s details of the accident, she sensed that she was attempting an escape, but she was unsure what she was running from. Rekha could only feel a familiar sense of fear – fear of being found, but she did not know the source of it.
She was dressed in a blue hospital gown. She pulled her gown at its collar slowly and peeped into it. She wasn’t wearing anything underneath. However, what she saw under the gown brought tears to her already scarred eyes.
She stared at the painting again. There was something about the painting that made her shudder within. The naturalistic depiction of the young woman in saree, combining eroticism with innocence heightened her tenderness towards the painting.
Rekha forgot to mention something important to the doctor. She knew the history of the painting on the wall. This, she had omitted from her conversation.
“What significance does it play, anyway?” she thought.
There was something peculiar about the woman in the painting. It’s her romanticised eyes, perhaps. The woman was painted in soft pink and brown tones. The colouring was enhanced by a string of red rubies against her silky throat.
“You are beautiful,” Rekha murmured. “But what are you hiding underneath your saree?”
The woman in the painting returned her gaze, smiling.
Cover image by ArtZolo.