I was looking through my daily mail when the distinctive Skype ring tone sounded and the pop-up came up on my screen with the words “Vinil John calling” came up on my screen. I smiled involuntarily and answered the call. We had lot of catching up to do.

Vinil is my brother. No, we are not biologically related. But Vinil is all I ever wanted in a brother that I never had. I have only a younger sister Sapphire and I have always wanted a big brother. In fact, I used to almost always ask my mother for an elder brother. But I stopped it when she told me as-a-matter-of-fact that it was too late for me to get an older sibling. Well, one could always hope. And I never stopped hoping. Even though the Lord up above did give me moments of sorrow and dark nights when my mother passed away, followed by my husband Aaron after  few years, He did give me people and moments of joy and days of happiness. My adopted family of Asghar and Tamara was such a gift of God. Vinil was another.

Vinil was Aaron’s best friend. In fact, Aaron used to always say that there were only two people in the world who had seen him cry. One was me – his college sweetheart, and later life partner, the other was his best friend Vinil. I do not know when it was, that I started calling him Brother Bear. May be it was during one of those times when I used to run to him for comfort after a bitter fight or a trivial lover’s tiff with Aaron. Vinil always knew what to say. Being a strong Christian, his pieces of advice were always faith based. There were numerous times when I just wanted to yell at Him to stop preaching to me. But then again, end of the day; I was glad that I listened. The stronger my romance grew in college with Aaron, my sibling-hood with my brother bear grew stronger. Needless to say, he was Aaron’s best man for our wedding and his lovely wife Kay was the maid of honour. Vinil and his not-so-little family (He has four kids after 6 years of marriage) live in Sweden and he works as research Assistant in a fancy university there. After Aaron and I moved to Bahrain, our communications grew marginally smaller as our families were so far away, but brother bear and I made it a point to speak at least twice a week. Through the ordeal of Aaron’s cancer and his death, brother bear and Kay were a God-sent. Their help and support continued till Asghar and Tamara walked into my life. They knew my adopted family would take good care of me and they were right. My conversations with Vinil dwindled down to twice a month but when we did speak, we would go on forever.

When we moved onto the second hour of our conversations, I really had to go for a bathroom break. Asking bro bear to stay on the call, I went to the toilet.

I looked at the toilet bowl as I was about to press down the flush. The bowl was red with my blood. Not really a sign for panic for a healthy woman because this is pretty much the case every month during her menstrual cycle. But I panicked because I’m not a normal healthy woman. My periods had stopped many years ago when I miscarried my child and my uterus ruptured. So when I saw the blood, I knew things were terribly wrong. I had an inkling of trouble because my health was failing and I had terrible body pains for the past few months. I had known something was not right for a long time. My occasional stomach pains coupled with terrible body pain convinced me that I really had to go to the doctor. But then again, I detested hospitals. I hated the smells of disinfectants and medicines, the long wait of patients to see their doctors, the feel of so much distress in the air and the memories a hospital invoked in me that culminated in the death of my husband of 5 years – Aaron to cancer. But this was the final straw. I had to go to a doctor even though I detested hospitals. Now, I did not really have much of a choice. I flushed my blood down the toilet, washed my hands and stepped out of the bathroom and called out to Tamara – Asghar’s wife. My adopted daughter in law.

“Ma, you called?”

“Yes Tamara, I wanted to know when your next check-up with your gynaecologist was due.”

“Hmm… it’s sometime next week. What happened, ma?”

“I’m not feeling too good. I want to go to the hospital. I was thinking I’d go when you go next time and get myself checked.”

“Goodness, for you to admit that you have to go to a doctor, something must be really wrong. What is it?”

I told her. She insisted on going to the doctor immediately. When she narrated the issue at hand to Asghar who was lazing in front of the TV, I quickly ended my Skype call with brother bear. I told him that I wasn’t keeping well and I had to go to the hospital. Without wasting any more time than necessary, we were off to the hospital.

After running a few tests, the doctors diagnosed me with ESRD – End Stage Renal Disease. They were surprised that I did not come for a check-up or treatment sooner. I told them about my hatred for hospitals and I was met with almost-angry looks and not-so-happy tones when they told me what I had done were quite foolish in not consulting a doctor sooner. Asghar was livid with rage when he came to know that I was suffering for quite some time and I did not tell him or Tamara anything about it. The name of the disease had an-almost-final sound to it. But then again, the doctors said it was an appropriate name. The kidneys in end-stage renal disease function so poorly that they can no longer keep you alive. End-stage renal disease cannot be treated with conventional medical treatments such as drugs. Only 2 treatments allow you to continue living when your kidneys stop functioning: dialysis and kidney transplantation.

I agreed to undergo a dialysis. Well, then again, I really did not have much of a choice. Asghar, who willingly took the role of my son was acting on my behalf and making all the serious decisions. The hospital was going to be my temporary home for the next few days. As we drove home quietly, we were lost in our thoughts. If anything the Lord has taught me through my ordeals in the past was not to focus at the problem at hand. So I forcefully turned my thoughts away for my ESRD, the start of dialysis the next day and the difficult of obtaining a donor in case of a kidney transplant. I unknowingly played with my memory bracelet Aaron gave and Asghar completed. I started thinking of Asghar, Tamara and the little ray of life that was growing inside her womb. She was 7 months pregnant. I was going to be a grandmother soon. And then without my knowledge, maybe because I spoke to him earlier, my thoughts went to my very own brother bear.

There was a gap of eight years between the Aaron’s death and Asghar’s coming back to my life. And those years were made better only because my brother bear was there. He always was there; no matter what time of the day or night I called and disturbed him and darling Kay. Needless to say, the international telephone bills were quite high and there was not a single day in those eight years when I did not praise God for him, Kay and the guy who invented Skype. The best part about our unique sibling-hood was that even when one of us was done, we always stood strong for the other. For Aaron’s first death anniversary, Vinil and Kay flew all the way from Sweden to Bahrain leaving their kids there under a nanny’s care. I was too happy and sad at the same time when I saw him. The last time I had seen him was for our wedding and I had no idea they were coming down to Bahrain for me. When I hugged him in church, tears rolled down my cheeks and I was too choked up for words. My non-biological brother just held me tighter and said into my ears “Shh… D… This what siblings do.” And a tear rolled down his cheek too. That had always been our line to each other. “This is what siblings do.” Two years later, when brother bear had financial troubles over some loans and a failed year at work, I did not have to think twice to write off a chunk of Aaron’s investments in his name. That evening, during our Skype session, Kay, Bro bear and I had a virtual hug as I gave our lines off to him dutifully. “This is what siblings do”. I have been the godmother to two of his children. Meeting them on Skype used to fill the child-shaped void in my life to a degree. And yes, my students at the Good Shepherd School also helped. And when Asghar walked into my life with Tamara, brother bear couldn’t have been happier for me. He and Kay gladly accepted these young people into their family and lives. Brother bear and I often competed on what gift to give each other. And he insisted that he owed me one mother of a treat for getting back at whatever life or fate threw at me. I joined in and asked him for a front row concert seat for one of the performances of our favourite band Switchfoot. He said definitely, he would take me. That was years ago. Life moved on in Sweden and Bahrain and the rest of the world. We never went to the concert, but then again, I wasn’t complaining.

I was woken from my trip down the memory lane when Asghar parked the car in the garage and had opened my door for me. With considerable difficulty, I got out of the car and got into the house. There were a lot of things that I had to do before the start of my treatment tomorrow. I had to call the school principal and inform him that I was taking a medical leave for an indefinite period of time. I was concerned for my children at school but there was nothing I could do. I got to my room and started packing the few essentials that I might need at the hospital. Slowly, the seriousness of my situation gripped me and I was beginning to get terrified about my disease. I was a middle aged woman who had dealt with my share of problems about the fear of the unknown and the intensity of my illness scared me to my inner-mist core. The doctor had given me a detailed description of my disease and the two methods of cure. One being dialysis and the other, a kidney transplant.

He had said that people who require dialysis are kept alive but give up some degree of their freedom because of their dialysis schedule, fragile health, or both.

Kidney transplantation which involved the  replacement of the failed kidneys with a working kidney from another person – a donor was a much better option according to the doctors. Even though it was not a complete cure, many people who receive a kidney transplant are able to live much as they did before their kidneys failed. But the main problem about the transplant was to get a suitable donor, whose blood group and tissue type matched mine. Because of a shortage of donor kidneys, each year only a small percentage of people who need a transplant actually receive a kidney. I was definitely not feeling better when the doctor said that the wait for a donor kidney could take years. So for the time being Dialysis it was. The doctors had immediately put my name in the list of patients who required a  donor kidney but  they calmly said that this did not ensure that I would get a kidney. It was only the general procedure.

I had stopped asking God “Why” a long time ago. I knew all His plans for my life had a wonderful purpose behind them, just that I couldn’t see them. Even though there were only dark rain clouds on my horizon, I knew that any moment the sun would shine brighter than ever through a crack in the clouds. And through our sibling-hood of 17years, what my brother bear held onto strongly was that it was the darkest before dawn and that the sun would definitely rise. I knew it all in my head. But I needed the courage to stand strong through my difficult times. I knew the only place I could get that was at the feet of the Lord. I took my well-used Bible to bed and as I had done a million times before, I hugged it and poured out my heart’s anguish to the Lord. I did not know when I went off to sleep. I had told Tamara not to disturb me if I had slept off and therefore she did not.

The next day was bright and sunny and a stark contrast to the way I felt inside. The rest of the day was blur after I got admitted in the hospital. The doctors and nurses were very kind and efficient and soon, my treatment was in full swing. I felt rotten inside for not being able to help Tamara through her pregnancy. I wanted to be there for her when her baby came into the world. But by the look of things, I wasn’t going to leave my hospital bed for a long long time. Days passed. My health was stable. Asghar wouldn’t tell me how expensive the treatment was, neither would Tamara. My students from school came to see me and gave me a wonderfully handmade Get-Well-Soon card. There was a library right next to the hospital and I devoured the books because I got so very bored in the hospital. Days turned to weeks and soon, I stopped keeping a tab on days spent at the hospital. Well, now that I was here, I might as well find ways to enjoy it here. But I did not have to go through with it for long. The next day an over-excited Tamara came in to my room and happily announced, “We got a donor!”

That was indeed good news. Tamara, Asghar, his colleagues from his company, my colleagues from school had all undergone the test to see if they could be potential donors. But as fate would have it, nobody was a match. Few of my willing relatives had checked too, but it was still a no-go. My sister Sapphire who was in US was coming down next month to be with me. But she had undergone the renal compatibility check in the US and incredibly she also could not be a donor. Considering the difficulty in obtaining a donor with the doctor’s word echoing in my mind, I asked Tamara for the details. She did not reveal much. She just said that I would know all the details by the evening. The doctors checked with Asghar and fixed the transplant operation for the next day. I was dying to know who the donor was. I did not know if the hospital policies allowed it. I made a mental note to ask the doctor later. But I did not have to. Because a few hours later, when my brother bear strode into my room with a wide grin lighting up his face, I had a wild idea who my donor was.

He hugged me awkwardly through the medical apparatus that was surrounding me. Both of us were talking at the same time. Asghar had told him about my condition. Bro bear did not waste much time in getting in touch with my doctors and checking his compatibility to be my donor. Needless to say, but miraculous as everything else in my life, he was a perfect match. My name was duly taken off the list and Bro bear had started the treatments that he had to go through before the kidney removal surgery. He flew into Bahrain just the day before and now he was sitting by my hospital bed and showing me loads of pictures of his little ones and Kay who were still back in Sweden. Both of us wouldn’t shut up even after Asghar and then the doctors strictly told us to. I needed the rest and so did her because the surgery was the next day. HE finally said good night and went to his room which was adjacent to mine. I had no idea why, I could not take the smile off my face.

The surgery was a successful one by the grace of God. As I groggily came back to my consciousness from the after-effects of Anesthesia, my eyes fell on the bunch of yellow tulips by the bedside table. I loved tulips but they were not readily available in Bahrain. Attached to the flowers was a card. It read, “Yes D. This is what siblings do!”. I smiled wider than ever and went to sleep again.

Two years passed. My little family of four (Tamara gave birth to a  beautiful baby and we called  her Andrea) were on a plane Sweden bound for a small holiday. It was Christmas and what better way to spend it than with family? And considering the fact that Switchfoot was doing a Sweden tour just added to the whole effect. Bro bear and Kay were wonderful hosts. But then again, we were not exactly guests. We were family.

Brother bear sat in between me and my son in the front row seats and had a Cheshire cat’s grin. He leaned in and said that he felt ecstatic, a dream come true, since he first heard Switchfoot’s “meant to live” on the radio.

“I feel nauseous, and dizzy, I’m super excited”

“Yeah I know brother bear, I know”

“Really, you do? “

“Well, yeah, I do, cause, I have a part of you, in me too”

He smiled at me, shook his head, and grabbed all the tickets in his hand and waved it at me, “But you didn’t have to do this; you didn’t have to buy us these tickets!”

I put my hand against my stomach, and said “And you didn’t have to do this “

We both smiled. I saw the glitter of a tear in his eyes  and we both remarked, almost harmoniously, in the twinkling of an eye “This is what siblings do”. What followed next was a warm hug, a crowd’s roar, and a familiar intro to a familiar song. Finally, it did seem that we were meant to live for so much more. Once again, I just could not take the smile off my face.

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