My Life Choices: A Short Story from KonnectFlashFic Contest Winner Dr. Richa Saxena
Last year I held a writing contest, to raise money for a local non-profit, Konnect With Resources. Due to COVID, choosing the three winners for this contest was put on hold. But now I'd like to share their stories. Check out this story, from one of the contestants, Dr. Richa Saxena.
This story is specifically dedicated to patients suffering from a neurological disorder known
as multiple sclerosis. Approximately 2.5 million people are living with Multiple Sclerosis,
worldwide. The story highlights how the female protagonist overcomes her illness and emerges
out victorious despite her disabilities.
It was completely dark and there was a sound so shrill that it appeared to directly pierce through the darkness and into her eardrums. Encased in a metallic tunnel, Rachel felt as if she was being enveloped by claws of darkness all around and she felt herself slowly moving onto an unknown path. There was just blackness everywhere. Any other color had ceased to exist. It was followed by a piercing, high-pitched noise. She felt as if she was lying in a coffin, unable to move. Rachel closed her eyes and started thinking. Though she could not think clearly, she vaguely remembered being brought to a tube-like structure in a wheelchair. She remembered Sumit holding her hand and accompanying her, along with the other medical staff. Dr. Dixit had already warned Rachel about the darkness and the shrill, clanging sounds she may hear inside the MRI machine.
“Those sounds are the result of the giant magnets inside the MRI machine,” Rachel recalled Dr. Dixit telling her. He had comforted her by saying that she would be lying inside the tube for approximately half an hour to forty-five minutes.
And now there was just dark gripping blackness. As time moved on at a turtle-like pace, the blackness darkness started merging into greyness and her eyes gradually started getting accustomed to the surroundings. After some time, the envelope of greyness appeared to be shredded down as the rays of light started penetrating inside. When Rachel saw some light, she realized that she was no longer in that tube; she was in a room. Though it was not a bright sunny day, some light had managed to sneak inside the room through the large window directly in the center in front of her bed. Now she realized that she was back in the hospital ward. Sumit was sitting on the chair beside her bed.
“I was in that tunnel. What happened? What am I doing here?” she asked Sumit.
“Sweetheart, you fell asleep during the MRI examination. It is over now,” Sumit answered soothingly, trying to comfort her.
“What is the result?” Rachel asked, with a tinge of panic.
“You don’t have to worry about it, you will be fine soon,” said Sumit, unsuccessfully trying to hide the anxiousness in his voice.
“What is wrong with me?” Rachel asked Sumit, as she held his hand and feeling the softness of his palms. She tried to squeeze it hard. However, she was unable to do it. Only then she noticed a tube attached to her hand.
“The doctor had said that the weakness in your arms and hand is the result of some infection of the nerve cells,” said Sumit, while lovingly patting her hand. “They are giving you steroids to fight that infection. You will be fine after the infection has been removed. Don’t worry, I am with you,”
Sumit added while looking tenderly at Rachel with a weak smile. He realized that she was not listening to him and was already sleeping. He observed her face. There was such peace and tranquility emanating from her face that Sumit felt relieved for not disclosing the complete truth to her. He released his hand from hers and sat on the chair looking out of the window with a faraway expression in his eyes. He could not believe that this what was happening to Rachel, his sweetheart, the love of his life, who was only 22 years old. They had just been married for about 3 three months and their life was already had been engulfed by a catastrophe. He remembered Dr. Dixit calling him to discuss Rachel’s MRI report. Dr. Dixit had explained to Sumit that the results of the MRI examination pointed towards a lesion in her spine, which was the cause of paralysis in her hands.
Dr. Dixit had told Sumit, “To be more precise, I think Rachel is most likely suffering from a neurological disorder called, Multiple Sclerosis.”
Sumit was speechless! He fumbled for words. He had heard the name of this illness before, but mainly in books and magazines. For a moment, he had felt like everything had come to an end. Rachel, his wife, was suffering from some kind of dreadful disease which had resulted in paralysis!? Dr. Dixit, understanding that Sumit might not be aware of this illness, had quickly explained, “Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disorder caused by soreness of the spinal cord and brain due to malfunctioning of the immune system in the body. The thing which goes wrong in this disease is that the body’s immune cells start destroying its own tissues, nerve cells in this case, which was the main reason for the condition.”
“Rachel’s condition might further worsen further over the coming next few days. Presently, she is having partial vision in her left eye. This may worsen or improve over time. We shall have to observe. Also, the numbness and tingling is currently limited to her hands, but it may spread to her legs as well and may increase in intensity,” Dr. Dixit had informed Sumit.
“Will she ever be fine?” Sumit remembered asking Dr. Dixit.
“Sumit, it is difficult to say anything at present. We still need to get a few more tests done to confirm the diagnosis. Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable disease. The long-term progression and severity of the disease largely remain unknown. Only about one-third of people affected with Multiple sclerosis are able to attain full recovery. The remaining people may show either incomplete recovery or, in some worst cases, no recovery at all. Some and may even be left with life-long, permanent physical disabilities. But, Sumit, you need not worry at all because Rachel is young, and younger patients are more likely to have a complete recovery,” Dr. Dixit had tried to assure Sumit.
After staying in the hospital for nearly 6 six months, Rachel was eventually getting discharged to her home. Though there had been a considerable improvement in her health, some residual disability in her hands still remained. However, there was one more thing that was missing today from her life. She was all alone. Sumit, the love of her life had left her.
“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life becoming a carer for a disabled person,” Rachel remembered Sumit telling her this. And then, he had left her alone in the hospital.
Rachel remembered being absolutely heartbroken and shattered because she had once deeply loved Sumit. She had managed to collect and console herself after he left. Soon, she and had even learned to live alone with her disabilities. Nevertheless, she still missed him. Though she still wanted Sumit to be by her side today at the time of discharge, she was still thrilled to get back home. She was not yet sure about how she would manage all alone at home, but she was still very happy to leave the hospital. Standing near the doorway of her house, she felt as if all her troubles would evaporate once she would step inside. When she walked into her house, she appeared to be sucked up into the labyrinth of nostalgia. She found herself going, which took her down the memory lane to the time she had spent with Sumit after their marriage.
Prior to her illness, Rachel was a practicing architect by profession. Before her sickness, she had dreamt of reaching the pinnacle of her profession. However, her dreams of having a successful career had been long shattered by her illness. Now that she was back home, she decided to start concentrating on her career. She began by practicing on her sketchbooks every single day for a substantial amount of time. She struggled to draw even a straight line on the sketchbook using a pencil and a ruler. At times, she and found that it was almost impossible for her to do so. Her fingers were too weak to apply an adequate amount of pressure. Besides, the vision in her left eye had still not completely entirely recovered. She felt quite helpless and sad, but by now she had become used to all these experiences. She felt imprisoned in a cage with no way out of her miseries. By now, she had realized that she might never be able to reach that level of perfection which she had always aspired as an architect.
There were so many other small things, which Rachel was now unable to do. She did not want to delude herself. She knew herself better than anyone else. She knew her own perfections as well as imperfections. Before her illness, she had never accepted her imperfections and had always made an effort to improve them. But now, after having suffered from a near near-fatal and, dreadful disease, she had started accepting them as a part of herself too. She had realized that not being perfect or having a disability is not a curse. It is not an issue, and it's certainly not anything to be ashamed of. Carrying on despite her disabilities is simply a sign that she had struggled through her life battles and had emerged victorious. She had realized that she was just as human as everyone else. Three years had passed by since Rachel had been affected by Multiple Sclerosis. Though the strength in her arms had fully returned, she was still unable to do fine accurate movements with the fingers of both the hands. All this while, she had been trying hard to pursue her career as an architect, but all in vain. Practicing her architectural designs made her remember the trauma she had faced, her illness, her residual disability, and those countless unfruitful attempts at attaining perfection in drawing her designs.
Rachel had now started building up her own thoughts and expressing herself in unique ways and ideas by focusing on her singing. RachaelRachel had developed a passion for music ever since her childhood. She had now started diverting her mind by exploring her interest in music. As a child, RachaelRachel had learned to sing from her mother, Geeta, who used to take singing classes for small children in their colony. Eventually, all of RachaelRachel’s physiotherapy and medicines had been stopped. There appeared to be no scope for the recovery of her residual disability. Finally came the day for her last visit to the neurologist, Dr. Dixit.
“How do you feel now?” asked Dr. Dixit during the visit, looking at her with deep empathy.
“I don’t know, Dr. Dixit,” replied Rachel. “I think I feel lost and hopeless because I can’t take control of my career. My career, which had once been the most important thing for me, is still unset,” sadly answered Rachel.
“So what have you thought about your career?” Dr. Dixit was asking her.
“To be very honest, I don’t think I would be able to continue as an architect. I am interested in singing. I was thinking about that because my voice is one thing which has not been affected,” Rachel answered, slowly coming back to reality.
“So how do you plan on pursuing your career in music?” optimistically asked Dr. Dixit.
“Yes, actually, I have applied for the post of the lead singer in some local gigs. I am trying to seek some more professional help,” Rachel explained Dr. Dixit.
“Why don’t you try talking to my wife? Her name is Usha and she has been a music teacher all her life. Now she is retired and takes music classes for both adults and children in a local school. She might be able to help you out. I will give you her mobile number,” said Dr. Dixit thoughtfully.
“Definitely!” replied Rachel enthusiastically. “I would love to talk to her.”
Rachel left the clinic feeling happy and satisfied. Surprisingly, she was not missing Sumit today nor did she even think about him. Sumit and her love for him had always been there at the back of her mind. Even though she had now totally come to terms with the reality that Sumit had left her for good, and the reality that some weakness in her hands may remain for lifelong and the fact that she might never be able to practice as an architect, she was not sad today. She was happy to know that she could still have a way out of her difficulties with the help of Mrs. Usha Dixit, Dr. Dixit’s wife. As soon as she reached her house, she took out the mobile phone from her purse and called up Mrs. Dixit. As Rachel spoke to her, she realized that Mrs. Dixit was a very soft-spoken and helpful woman, her voice reflecting warmth and patience. After hearing Rachel’s problem, she invited Rachel to come to the local school where she normally took conducts her singing classes.
“I usually hold conduct my classes every Tuesday, 10 A.M. in the morning in the music hall in the old school building at the corner of the road. Tuesday is the only day of the week when school is free in the morning. So the place is almost unoccupied except for our music group. You can come there any Tuesday,” Usha Mrs. Dixit had informed Rachel.
Very soon, on a bright spring morning, Rachel reached the old school building, where Mrs. Dixit used to hold her singing classes. The school building, though beautiful, appeared old and desolate. As she started entering the school ground, she could hear the sounds of the piano notes coming from inside the hall. She peeked inside the room and saw a brown, wooden mahogany structure in the center of the hall. It appeared to be a large piano. An elderly lady, sitting on the chair, was playing this piano. Rachel’s eyes fell on the lady’s long, agile fingers as they flawlessly moved over the row of pure ivory-white keys alternating with the smaller black keys interspersed in between. The music was filling the air effortlessly similar to the sea waves sweeping and sealing the holes in the beach sand. Soon, the lady on the piano started singing verses of a hymn. She could see a group of men and women consisting of about 10 to 15 people standing in a group on the side of the piano who soon joined her in singing her song. Rachel stood there listening, to the song awestruck. Since she also knew the lyrics, she started softly humming the song herself. The music was pumping through her veins as she lost herself completely in the performance. It was, indeed pure harmony. The song finished, but Rachel wanted to hear more.
Rachel realized that the woman playing the piano must be Mrs. Dixit. She was a small, fair-complexioned, middle-aged woman. Her black hair was randomly streaked with strands of silvery-white hair and was neatly pulled back in the form of a bun. The lady’s high cheekbones and brightly shining eyes spoke of the beauty which she was in her younger age. Now her wrinkled face appeared to be hiding her beauty in its deep creases. Rachel had taken an immediate liking for the woman. She went to Mrs. Dixit and introduced herself. Mrs. Dixit was extremely warm and pleasant in welcoming Rachel and introduced her in turn to the group of her students.
Rachel sat after sitting down on a chair next to Mrs. Dixit and, said, “Well, Mrs. Dixit, I am basically an architect. I do not think I shall be able to complete my job as an architect after my illness. Music had always been my passion right from my childhood. My sickness has not at all affected my speech, hearing, vision, and cognition. and hHence, I want to make music my lifeline because I think it is the kind of job for which I can do full justice I, would be able to completely justify.”
Mrs. Dixit ran her fingers through Rachel’s hair and affectionately said, “Rachel, I want to hear you sing. Why don’t you start singing the same song, which I was singing when you entered the room?. The group will join you in the chorus,”
“Sure,” quickly replied Rachel.
Mrs. Dixit started playing the notes of the song on the piano. Rachel kept sitting on the chair and sang one stanza. For the chorus, the group joined. The whole scene was mesmerizing. Mrs. Dixit kept on playing the piano; Rachel kept on singing one stanza after the other and the group kept accompanying her for the chorus. Mrs. Dixit was playing the notes of the piano as if a beautifully- coloured butterfly was gracefully moving from one beautiful fragrant flower to another. Rachel’s singing appeared as if another fragile beauty was spreading her wings towards the blue skies to take whatever the life brings with it. The chorus appeared sounded as if a group of birds were was trying to soar higher and higher, exploring life and becoming something more than what one might have ever imagined. It appeared as if Rachel was declaring to the world that she would not be conforming to the worldly pattern, but would instead follow her heart and transform her world through it.
After the song finished, everyone clapped.
Other people present in the room congratulated and praised Rachel. Mrs. Dixit hugged Rachel. “Rachel, that was beautiful! You were excellent and you definitely have the potential. But, I want you to get even more refined in your singing. I would like to give you some lessons. Is that all right?”
“Definitely, Mrs. Dixit. I completely trust you in whatever you say, “ replied Rachel.
From that day onwards, Rachel started focusing completely on her music practice. She would get up early in the morning and start practicing her music. Rachel had realized that the only way to succeed was facing to face her fears and conquering them. This was the only way by which she could make true progress in her life. She realized that she was a warrior at heart and pledged not to be influenced by those who were disheartening her. She had now come to the conclusion that she had cried her tears by then, suffered her wounds, and walked the hardest of roads. Now it was her time to emerge out victorious. Rachel became determined and focused on continuing with her practice sessions regularly every day. She also continued to attend her training sessions with Mrs. Dixit every Tuesday without fail. During one of the Tuesday classes,
“Rachel, there is some good news for you!” Mrs. Dixit said.
Excited, Rachel asked, “Mrs. Dixit, what is it? Please tell me soon.”
“We are having the annual charity fair after 2 months for the festival of Diwali. Our group has been chosen to give a performance there. I want you to be the lead singer,” Mrs. Dixit said.
The group of singers cheered out loudly.
“Oh! That is great, Mrs. Dixit!” replied Rachel, excited.
Initially, Rachel felt enthusiastic at the thought of being the lead singer in front of a big audience in the Diwali fair event. However, soon she started thinking about the relevance of appearing for a charity event.
“But I really don’t understand how this shall help me?” Rachel asked Mrs. Dixit with confusion clearly showing in her voice.
“Look, Rachel, it is for charity, so you would have to perform for free. Though there would be no monetary benefit, you would be performing in front of a big audience, so there is a high probability for recognition. There is a very good chance that someone out there in the audience may recognize your talent and give you the first entry ticket into the world of music,” explained Mrs. Dixit calmly.
Rachel was excited and immediately called up her mother, Geeta, to share this news with her.
“Darling, I am so happy for you. I would support you as much as I can to help you succeed. As it is, I have always encouraged your singing activities.” Her mother said over the phone.
In the following days, Rachel focused completely entirely on her singing. She took regular training from both Mrs. Dixit and her mother. For her, the distinction between night and day had turned into a blur. She would practice her music most of the time, whether no matter if it was day or night. Whenever she would get tired, she would just grab 1 to 2 hours of sleep, get up and then start singing again. Rachel was so busy practicing her singing day and night that she never realized how the two months flew by and the summery warmth was soon replaced by the wintery dampness. The day of the event eventually arrived. When Rachel reached the venue of the fair, she was mesmerized. Though Mrs. Dixit had told Rachel that this was going to be a small charity event, the crowd out there was unbelievable. Besides Rachel’s performance, several other music performances and dance shows were also scheduled.
Soon it was time for Rachel’s performance and she heard an announcement asking her to come to the stage for her performance. Fear buried in Rachel’s heart came back racing to the surface, trying to panic her. Slowly, Rachel walked over to the stage like she was wading through treacle. Her legs felt heavy with the pressure building on her chest and hitting her face. She squinted her eyes to prevent the bright spotlight on the stage from hitting her eyes. As Rachel walked towards the mike, the palms of her hands felt cold and clammy; her head felt lightheaded and her legs felt tight. Her mind went racing and a vague fear gripped her that trying to make her feel like something bad was going to happen. Then as she heard the audience cheering and calling out her name, she tried to regain control of herself. As she held the mike in her hand, she was in total control of the situation. With a bright smile on her face, Rachel started singing the song, which she had been practicing all this time. The lyrics of the first stanza flowed in easily, just the way it had when Rachel had sung her first song to Mrs. Dixit. Her voice sounded heavenly as it echoed through the hall. Besides Rachel’s voice, there was a pin pin-drop silence in the hall and the audience sat motionless, listening to her, mesmerized. Even though the breeze air outside the hall was chilly, Rachel’s song floated on like a warm spring breeze causing the silky, shiny petals of the buds to open up. Soon, Rachel realized that she was on the last line of the lyrics. She had finally finished her performance, the performance into which she had put her mind, her soul, her spirit, her heart, her everything. After finishing her performance, Rachel stood on the stage for a few seconds to see the reaction of the audience. There was no reaction. No sound, not even a clap, no movement by a single soul.
A few years later...
Rachel opened the window of her room to let the broad rays of the sun to come in. The sunshine loomed in to form a bright patch over the duvet lying over a large bed. Huddled underneath the duvet was 5-year-old little Usha.
“Usha, wake up! It is time to go to school. You will miss your bus again,” Rachel said, trying to wake her up.
Rachel was now working full-time as a lead singer in a big music company in the city of Bangalore. She had rented a large apartment where she had been living with Geeta.
After many years of her illness, Rachel had gained control over her life and was happily living with Usha, her 5-years-old adopted daughter.
After a few initial minutes of throwing tantrums, Usha woke up and got ready to go to school.
While Rachel was accompanying Usha on her way to the bus stop, they both passed through a small pond. Little Usha stopped at the pond side and bent down to see her reflection in the water.
Rachel too stopped at the pond side and told Usha, “Baby, see those small pigeons sitting on the rope over the water. The last time I was here, most of them were perched on the rope and they were trying to fly. Today you can see that most of them are soaring up the sky, flapping their wings and flying so easily.”
“Mom, what does that mean?” Usha asked Rachel.
“This means that no matter what problems come in your life, you must keep going ahead with all your determination,” replied Rachel.
“Determination? What does that mean?” questioned little Usha in her small childish language, with a confused look on her face.
“Determination means keep trying until you succeed,” Rachel replied, suddenly realizing that Usha may be too small to understand.
“Never mind Usha, one day you will understand,” said Rachel in an audible voice.
Finally, they both reached the bus stop. As the school bus approached and Usha boarded the bus, Rachel handed over Usha’s bag and water bottle to her and waved her goodbye.
While returning back home, Rachel felt happy that her life had taken a turn and had transformed into something beautiful. She thought about the day, which had brought a significant change – the day when she had given her first stage performance for the charity event, several years ago.
Thinking about that day, Rachel looked back on that day with nostalgia. Rachel’s daydream took her back to the day of the charity event. Imagining the event, Rachel felt a frisson of joy, the same joy she used to feel when little Usha hugged her. Her mind started flowing in the form of vivid, clear-edged, colorful memories of that night, stirring her body as well as her soul. Though the song she had sung then had been long over, it was still living in her heart, echoing her mind and filling her with pleasant emotions. The music concert had really been a huge success. She recalled the events of, which had happened that day.
Rachel could not help but remember the initial stage fright she had while moving towards the stage. Then she thought of the way she overcame it and gave an extremely powerful performance. She remembered the immediate pin-drop silence from the audience following her performance. However, soon afterward, there had been loud applause from the audience. Everyone had, with everyone got up on their feet and started clapping, which continued for nearly 5 to 10 minutes and ended with the audience asking for more. Even after her performance was over, the melody of her song continued to linger on. It had touched the audience deep down in their souls. Rachel’s mother and Mrs. Usha Dixit appeared extremely happy with her performance. However, all three of them knew that this was not enough. Rachel still required someone to recognize her talent and give her a contract for some valuable singing assignment. None of them knew when it would come or whether if it would ever come in the future. All they could do at that time was just to sit back and wait. She remembered how days rolled by waiting for that big break. One day, Rachel was sleeping in the afternoon, when she was suddenly woken up from her sleep by the ringing of her phone. Still not fully alert, she drowsily picked up the phone.
“Is this Rachel?” the voice over the phone asked.
“Yes, this is Rachel speaking,” replied Rachel. “We have some good news for you,” replied the voice on the phone.
After keeping down the phone, impulsively, Rachel closed her eyes as if she was thanking her lucky stars. Instinctively, sShe looked out through the glass window pane and observed the clear bright sky as if thankingand said a quiet thank you to the skies above. She could not believe that she had just received a call from the HR manager of a welfare of a firm working for young adults with neurological diseases, - something which she herself had been a victim of and which had changed her life as well. The firm had offered her the position of the lead singer for the charity events organized by them.
The bright rays of the sun focused on her face. As she closed her eyes to protect them against the bright sunlight, she could hear the sweet, smooth, rich, mellifluous music flowing out gently through the glass into her soul. Though the mirror of her life had been broken into a million pieces, she could still hear the music coming even through the cracks. Those golden lyrical musical notes, honeyed, soothing, sweetly mellow, smooth, and euphonious appeared to seal down every crevice, every scar in her life. She felt that the truth was out and she had truly finally discovered herself as a singer. She realized that this was just the beginning and she still had a long way to go. Today, her singing has just been appreciated and she has got an offer as the lead singer for a non-profit organization. This was not her goal, but her first step forward towards achieving her aim of becoming a singer of international acclaim and probably serve as an inspiration for all patients with Multiple Sclerosis worldwide.
In the soft daylight and humid air of the present day, Rachel’s mind returned back to reality. She thought to herself, “It's my life and it depends on the choices I make.” Smiling at herself, she confidently walked back home and kept thinking…
“This is life. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. I lost because of betrayal, but at the same time, I never lost hope and continued, while counting my blessings and treasuring the things I always had. Nevertheless, my life has been beautiful. Today, I am proud of the choices I have made.”
Thank you for reading!