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Monday, November 23, 2009

Tutoring My Little Secret

Category: Issue 16

(This story is a true, real-life incident and I have changed the names of all the people mentioned in order to protect their privacy.)


Back in 2004, I left three jobs and decided not to join a fourth one. This earned me the title of ‘wayward’ (I had already bagged ‘willful’). To avoid another one of ‘dependent’, I started to work as a home tutor to kids at a couple of houses. This kept my pocket running and, more importantly, it kept my freedom-obsessed soul away from all those secrets of success in the suffocating office life. Tutoring had a little money, more freedom, and no secrets. My witty brother Deelan expressed his lighthearted envy of my tutoring business when he heard from me about the pleasantries and snacks that I relished at my students’ homes. Finally came the day when I stopped envying myself for tutoring; the day when I met a secret, far more mind-blowing and unexpected than any I could imagine, to keep.

It was in early winter 2005, when, at eleven in the morning daily, I went to teach Fanny, a college student grappling with English grammar and composition. While Fanny and I sat at a table in the veranda, in her house, her aged grandmother and aging, bedridden aunt would lay basking on cots, a few steps away. Fanny’s aunt Sarah was operated on, several months ago, for a deep spine injury after she accidently fell in her house. The operation saved her from complete paralysis so that she could even walk a little with support, albeit with much pain. Sleeplessness, lack of appetite, and unrelenting pain minimized her to something like a skeleton. It was natural for me to speak nicely and caringly to her while I asked her how she was doing and how she felt. The fact that her only family left with her was an autistic son wrested from me additional sympathy. I always tried, somewhat helplessly, to give the impression that things were still not that bad with her. But one day, she made me realize how much worse they were.

It was a sunny morning in late February. Incessant rain had confined people to their rooms for nearly a week and we were all relieved to see the sun was still there. I had just started with the lesson when Fanny had to take a short break for some house chore. As she went out of sight, Aunt Sarah furtively looked at her old mother. Finding her asleep (and the fact the she was also hard of hearing), she addressed me. ‘I wanted to say something if you could promise to keep it secret,’ she nearly whispered. The word secret kind of rang the alarm for my unease; I always disliked secrets. But I kept my countenance.

‘Yes, sure.’ I gathered my generosity to smile and look polite.

‘I cannot bear this pain anymore.’ The look on her face and the tone of her voice corroborated what she said. ‘Will you bring me a little poison? Death will end my pain.’ Her words shot through me with a pang, leaving me dumbfounded.

‘Oh no!’ I exclaimed in an automated manner. ‘Don’t think so please!’ It was a real challenge to make up something reasonable and helpful to speak there and then.

‘I’ve asked everyone in this house,’ she continued in her whispering tone. ‘No one is going to help me. What life is this that I have now? It’s worse than death – all pain. Some shops in the Amber Market have this stuff. I thought you would…’

‘Oh but why think so?’ I interrupted her speech. The little time that elapsed, while she spoke, was enough for my mind to match words from my erudition with a humanist feel that came to natural to me. It was time to speak, to say something helpful, and that I did as best as I could (though far from perfection).  The lady listened with care and I felt happy, with pride, to see my words working through the expression of her face. She exhorted me to keep the secret and I granted. On Fanny’s return to the study table, I felt relieved. My trial was over and I felt triumphant.

As the winter gave way to spring, our tutoring table was shifted to another veranda. I didn’t see Aunt Sarah anymore but I did come to know of how she was doing as I would ask Fanny about her health condition. a week or so later, I learnt that she had started eating fruit, asking for some out of her appetite and taste for food. This was something she never did while feeling bad and in constant pain. It was a sign of her return to life.

A couple of years later, I visited their house and came to know that Aunt Sarah had got much better and could now move about without support from her family. She also had put on weight and was eating better. Feeling happy for her, I am finally willing to rid myself of this burden of her secret, hoping it will inspire similar cases of helplessness to hang in and value life so as to live and enjoy more of it. I have let the secret out, hoping it won’t be unethical to do so, and at the same time hoping that the readers will keep it as long as they can.   
             

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