In 1992, which seems a long time back now, I was a very junior doctor, fresh out of college. It was a rural area and the hospital was the only one that served at least 20 hamlets around. Patients were few and those that came preferred to come at the dead of night. For that is when they fell ill. We junior doctors were on duty most nights- to be spared the night shift was a privilege of the senior doctors.
One dark night, it must have been in late October of that year, I was on duty. Our shifts were for 24 hours at a time. At around 1 am, I got called to go to Emergency and fortunately the case did not take too long to look at. I could get back fairly quick to bed- that I remember.
Shrieks and huffs and puffs woke me up. The time on the luminescent dial of my watch declared it close to 2 am. The sounds seemed to come from my neighbouring room. Shuffles and pushes and pulls were heard. Words like “let me go” or ” let it go” were audible through the thin walls. And then loud sobs and doors slamming. I buried myself in my blanket and my sorrows. I was newly married at that time- just a month or so and I was planning my escape from that hospital to join my husband at the hospital where he worked.
A few moments later, a knock sounded on my door. I opened the door to find my neighbour there. She told me a thief had gotten into her room through the open door and had snatched her gold neckpiece. At the end of the chain was a small cross, one of the two symbols of being married in that part of the world among Christians. She told me she fought the thief, the only thought in her mind being, to save the little cross. A costly gold necklace could be replaced but the little cross ordained by the priest could not be- could never be. The thief spared the little cross and ran away with the gold chain.
I wonder if the chain was ever returned to its owner, my neighbour. 26 years later, I was reminded of this incident because my younger daughter went to dinner at the house of this very same woman, yesterday. And she recounted this incident to my daughter. I remembered the scolding I got from this woman that night – I should have gone to help her fight the thief. I would have heard the shouts and struggles. Together we could have overpowered the thief. I don’t think so. I have never wanted to fight a thief- it is not one of my bucket list things. Live and let live is my policy. October 31 was my last day at that hospital. I went on long leave. It was a coincidence that the thief incident and my leaving the hospital were all consequential though totally unrelated.