The Giving of Hearts
by Tamoha Sengupta
When I was born, a portion of my heart was missing. Not a very large part, just a tiny fraction.
It worried my parents, naturally. It vexed the doctors. Of course, they didn’t know that I’d given that little part to my twin brother, in the womb. He wouldn’t have survived otherwise. No one could really find anything wrong with me. No complications due to that missing part. I was healthier than most girls, in fact, healthier than most of the boys in class. Contrary to my parents’ fears, I led a life like any other.
I was quite smart; at least that’s what I like to think. I liked defeating boys in sports; I liked to spend the whole day reading; I loved long conversations with my best friend, Neel. We were Neel and Aruna, the inseparables. Sometimes I felt that he was my twin, not Alok.
All this while, the size of my heart kept on decreasing steadily. I put little portions of it inside various people, most of who were on the brink of death. I just had to touch them, concentrate on my heartbeats and will a part of my heart towards theirs. It mixed with their failing hearts, helping them beat again. I didn’t tell this to my parents, as I didn’t think they would really appreciate me sacrificing my heart to save that of others. I myself didn’t know what would happen eventually, when the size became too small. Or when it would disappear altogether. But I didn’t worry. Everyone could help each other in different ways, and this was mine. I was glad for it. It was a gift I’d discovered in the womb, and I would keep it my secret till I went to my grave.
One sunny morning, we all waited for Neel to arrive. We were going for a picnic—Ma, Alok, Neel and I. Baba would be joining us later, after he had finished his work at the office. Neel’s parents were out of station and so he would be spending the day with us.
But the clock ticked away the hours and he didn’t come. Instead, Alok burst into my room, his face white.
“We just got a call from the hospital. Neel’s met with an accident.”
“An accident?” I felt as if someone had knocked the wind out of my lungs.
“Yes, while he was on his way here. His bike collided with a truck.” My brother’s voice was breathless. “We’re going to the hospital. You’re coming, right?”
I nodded, rushing after him. Ma was already at the wheel of our car, waiting for us. We were all quiet on the way.
“What about his parents? Did someone inform them?” I asked after a while, and my voice shook so badly that I wasn’t sure whether anyone understood my question.
Alok nodded. “The hospital called them up. It’ll take them some time to get there.”
I fell silent again, not knowing what else to say. I almost fell out of the car in my haste to get out when we reached. The three of us rushed in, and asked about him at the reception.
“His doctor will be here,” the receptionist informed us, after telling us his room number.
We nodded, and then hurried towards his room.
At the door, we came face to face with the doctor.
“Doctor. The boy in room 319. Neel. How is he?” My mother asked without preamble.
The doctor looked at us.
“Are you family?”
“His parents are on their way,” My mother said. “We are family friends.”
His face cleared.
“I’ll be straight on this,” he said, and I wished he didn’t look so somber. “We’re going to try our level best, but his heart is very weak. I’m not sure whether he will make it.”
I felt faint. “I want to see him.”
He hesitated. “We can’t…”
“Please!” I didn’t care that I was crying. My best friend was here, hurt and in pain, and I couldn’t leave him alone.
He sighed, and then gave a nod.
“Just a couple of minutes. And only one at a time, please.”
I managed a watery smile at him as Alok nodded. “Thanks, doctor. You go in first, sis. Ma and I will wait.”
As if I needed telling. I almost breezed into the room, and halted in my tracks.
He was lying there, covered in tubes and bandages and God knew what else. My eyes went towards the monitor. The line there was almost straight, and it sent my head spinning. The doctor hadn’t been lying about his condition.
I approached his bed slowly, coming to a stop right at the edge. The doctors might have given up hope, but I knew of a way to save him.
A small piece of my heart was still with me, the last part in fact. If I gave it to him, he would live. I didn’t know if I would. Could someone live without a heart?
I gulped. I had no time to be selfish. I could afford to die. Live with regret—that was what I couldn’t bear.
I touched his shoulder, remembering the many times I’d punched it playfully. I concentrated, and suddenly my heartbeats grew loud in my ears. I paused for a second, relishing the last time they would beat in my body, and then I willed that portion of my heart towards him. The heartbeats receded, leaving an echoing silence in their wake, and I knew that it had worked.
I hope you wake up, Neel were my last thoughts before everything went black around me.
Voices around me filtered through the haze, growing clearer with each word.
“Strangest thing I’ve ever seen…”
“What is it, doctor? Is she fine?” My mother’s voice.
“She seems to be; but I had an X-ray done, and we couldn’t find her heart…”
I heard my mother gasp. “What does that mean?”
“But, then, she’ll be fine, right?” My brother’s voice, low and nervous.
“I haven’t seen anything like this during my entire life. She seems to be fine…”
“I’ll go give Baba a call,” I heard Alok say, and then his footsteps faded.
I opened my eyes slowly, squinting against the brightness of the room. I was lying on a hospital bed, and I could see my mother with her back to me, talking to the doctor.
“Ma?” I called out.
“Aruna.” She was by my side in an instant, gazing down at me. “How do you feel, love?”
“I’m fine,” I said, frowning a little. From what I had overheard, I was very much alive. Without a heart.
A nurse stepped in just then.
“Excuse me doctor, the parents of patient in room 319 want to meet you.”
“Tell them I’ll be there,” he said.
The nurse nodded, exiting as quietly as she had come.
“What happened to Neel—how is he?” I tried to sit up, but my mother put her hand on my shoulder, pushing me down.
He paused at the door to turn and look at me.
“He started to improve around the time you fainted. It’s a miracle; I thought his heart had given up. Anyway…” He looked up at my mother.
“Mrs. Sen, you wouldn’t mind, would you? I’ll meet Neel’s parents and I’ll be back soon.”
“No, no, we’ll wait. Please go ahead. Thank God he’s recovering.” My mother said in a shaky voice.
The doctor gave her a nod, and then walked away.
My mother’s hand was still on my shoulders, and I could see from the way she was biting her lip that she was worried. I looked past her and met my brother’s eyes as he entered the room, pushing his mobile back into his pocket. He was clearly confused. I looked away from him, sinking back down on the pillows, closing my eyes with a smile. Alok, the first person I had saved. And then so many others. And finally Neel. I knew now why I wasn’t dead, even though I had no heart. My heart was theirs, and theirs were mine. We were all interwoven together in a bond that could not be broken. The doctors might not find a heart in that X-ray; the world might call me heartless, but they were all wrong. I had a heart, and as long as it beat in them, I would live.
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Tamoha Sengupta lives in India, but is happy to have visited many places on Earth and beyond at the expense of words. She wishes she could spend each second reading and writing stories. Her works have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Mad Scientist Journal and Acidic Fiction. She tweets @sengupta_tamoha.