Death was certainly not in the air that morning. It seemed like just another day at the business management block in the university campus.
Her first lecture was still half an hour away. She was with friends, looking at the circulars on the notice board. One notice mentioned some missing library books, another about the new schedule for the computer lab. There was a flyer about an upcoming management meet. Mundane matters.
Their discussions wandered from the circulars. They talked about the assignments due that week, traded gossip, and then proceeded to the canteen for chai.
It was almost a ritual. Every morning she and her group hung out in the canteen and returned to the class just seconds before the professor walked in. The canteen boy knew them well; their order would be on their table even before they ordered.
As they sat drinking tea, she shhhed her friends, pointing to a sudden commotion. Some excited students had come into the building.
Whispers became exclamations. Something had happened near the main gate. Everyone was talking and rushing out. She ran with them.
At the gate, there was a crowd. A bus stood there, guilty and empty. At the centre of the crowd, she recognised her economics professor. He lay there, bleeding, unconscious.
It shook her up. The bus, it appeared, had paused near the gates, but not actually stopped. The university being his last stop, the driver had wanted to reverse before the passengers got down. But the professor had already alighted. The bus reversed, slamming into him.
Soon an ambulance arrived. The professor was carried in. The vehicle rushed away.
They walked back. Lectures were cancelled as most of the faculty members were at the hospital.
In another two hours, a senior student walked into her classroom to ask if anybody with the professor's blood group would donate blood. Some raised their hands. She found hers also in the air.
They were driven to the hospital. As she sat silently looking at the road, she was afraid. She felt heroic giving her blood to the professor. But she had never given blood before. She had the fear of death whenever she looked at needles. A simple injection would require two people to hold her still. She tried not to think of the needle.
The hospital corridors were bustling. There was a strong sterile smell in the air. She spotted some students who had arrived early. Their grave expressions conveyed the professor was in a bad shape.
Waiting in a hospital, it's a very distinctive feeling. There is a silence as though to maintain a respect for the sick and dying. The lull is so depressing. With nothing to do, one can only watch the others -- the tired patients, the anxious relatives, the confident, almost arrogant nurses, the all-knowing ayaahs, the sought-after doctors, the
The afternoon hours dragged by. A nurse came and asked one of them to step into a room to test blood type. Then another volunteer was asked to go in. She was getting tense; she was next in line.
Then an official-looking person walked up. He led away a couple of senior students for a serious discussion. When they returned, they had bad news. The professor was no more.
She listened numbly. He had taught them just yesterday about demand and supply. Today he was dead. And it had happened before her eyes.
She had spent practically the whole day at the hospital hoping he would be fine. Her eyes flooded with tears. The professor was not very old; he left behind a wife and two young children.
Then it registered she did not have to give blood. No needle would be poked into her veins. A great feeling of relief filled her.
Confusing thoughts. She realised what had just transpired through her. It made her feel guilty.
She tried to make sense of her feelings. She had actually felt relief when she realised she did not have to brave the needle. And it was only a prick of a needle...
She still owes the professor that debt of blood.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh