I have a vague recollection of her — just a blurred image. I do not remember any other details. But, the boy she had come to pick up — I knew well. The mother had come to pick him up because, they were leaving that night for yet another trial of treatment. The boy seemed a bit lost and his lips trembled.
As I said bye, I held his gaze for a split second. “Are you nervous?’, I asked. The boy nodded as he watched a boy run towards the gate. I reached out to his hand and patted gently. “Hang in there”, I said in my heart but I didn’t have the courage to say it out aloud. Vishal, the little boy, all of 10 then, would go in search of yet another miracle to help his twisted limbs.
He continued to smile. Something told me that, he was enjoying all the attention — after all, he was easily Sid’s favourite student. Vishal was the real chess whizz-kid
I had first met Vishal on a hot and humid afternoon, a year before. Vishal was seated on his wheelchair and he leant towards a small table where a chess board was spread. Sid, my son, who was 12 at that time, sat on the other side. A bunch of kids had gathered around. It was then that I had noticed Vishal’s limbs — all curled up.
“I am going to mentor him”, Sid had declared the next day, “he is just natural and we should do all that we can to groom him”, Sid seemed determined.
A year later, when I met Vishal, I noticed there were no remarkable changes. If any, I saw him slouch a bit more. The treatment obviously hadn’t worked. But, Vishal smiled the minute he saw me. He sat by himself while the other kids pranked, laughed and screamed. He continued to smile. Something told me that, he was enjoying all the attention — after all, he was easily Sid’s favourite student. Vishal was the real chess whizz-kid.
And then, one late morning, my phone lit up with a sad news. Vishal, all of 13, was snuffed out of his life. I read the message and wondered how I would break the news to Sid. The boy with whom Sid spent many happy hours had simply left and I had the difficult task of handing him the news.
Sid stood still as he took in the news. I saw no trace of tear or sadness. I gave him a hug but Sid seemed lost, in another world. I didn’t know how to reach out to my boy as he lugged his school bag to his room.
I didn’t see Sid for an entire hour. He was locked away in the shower for a long time and then he appeared briefly before he disappeared into his room.
Tug of heart
Last summer, when we landed at Sevalaya, the school we go to every year, I was acutely aware of Vishal’s absence. When I saw Sid’s chess class, my heart tugged because the wheelchair was missing. “They are not as natural as Vishal”, Sid said one evening, “that boy was different”, his voice quivered.
After a weeklong workshop, it was tournament day. “I am going to call it Vishal Memorial Chess”, Sid said as his eyes lit up. Something about Sid changed after that. He was happy. “We should not forget Vishal”, Sid nodded with a tinge of smile, as if finally finding the one best way to remember the boy.
Now, as we get back to our lives, I cannot decide what is heart-rending — Vishal’s search for hope or my son’s search for peace. But, deep in my heart, I often wonder how the lady in my blurred memory would react upon hearing a tournament in her son’s name. I don’t know if she will be pleased. But, the one thing, I am sure will please her the most is — there are others who love her boy equally. Isn’t that the one thing all of us want?
— Sudha Subramanian is an author and freelance writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @sudhasubraman.