Arjun woke up as usual that morning, the alarm sounding, it was the 7am news on the National
Public Radio. He slapped the snooze button with one hand and stretched his other hand to the other
side of the bed – feeling for Malobi, his wife of 27 years. His hand fell on the empty pillow, and he
remembered that she was away on a business trip and that when the alarm went off again he would
have to get up and get his own breakfast.

Malobi was in Orlando, Florida. She had been up for two hours already. But she wanted to wait till it
was 7am in Phoenix before she called. It was Arjun’s birthday. Each other’s birthday was always very
special for them and she hated to be so far away. Anyway, she would be home tonight.

The phone rang before the alarm could go off a second time. Arjun picked it up on the second ring.
“Happy birthday to you,” sang the voice at the other end.

“Thank you Malu, thank you. Now I am awake. So how are you today? What time are you coming
home?” All the words rushed out of his mouth tangling together in the early morning.

“I am great. I have been up for a while now and am already at the client’s office. I was waiting to call
you before my first meeting. Listen, my flight gets into Phoenix at 7:28, so I should be home by 8:
30. No checked luggage. Also, a copy of my itinerary is next to the computer, in case you forget. And
remember to get a refill for your heart medication. They will run out by tomorrow. And could you pick
up the dry cleaning at Bartolis? And Mr. Birthday Boy I want to take you to dinner after I get home.”

“Ooh nice,” he said, “I have been waiting to try that new Brazilian place on Chandler Blvd. It’s a date.”

They chatted for a couple more minutes about trivial things and said goodbye.

Malobi was always on top of things, reminding him of his medication, where her travel schedule was,
he thought irritably. She still does not think I can manage on my own. But today was his birthday, he
was turning 53. One more year, he mused, one more year closer to retirement. Then he and Malu
could do everything together, all the things they wanted to – travel, write that book and Malu was
always talking of spending at least six months in India. He was wide awake now. He went to brush his
teeth and get ready for the day. Shikha, their daughter, who was away at the University in San
Francisco would be calling any minute now with greetings for his birthday.

The day went on as usual. After breakfast he took his pills and called Walgreens, the local pharmacy,
for a refill of his prescription. His heart was really not doing well. The doctor had said he was going to
need a heart transplant, and the sooner the better. He had been on the national heart transplant
waiting list for two years now. He was a ‘Status 2’, so he could live at home. He carried his beeper
with him everywhere. UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing), the organization that maintained
the waiting list would call him when a heart was available.

It would be his turn soon to get a new heart, he knew. So many people die every day, why doesn’t
everyone get on the organ donor list?  It’s not like they were going to need their organs after they
were dead!! He and Malobi had signed up to be organ donors a long long time ago, after losing a
dear friend to kidney failure.

Shikha’s call came through just as he was leaving the house. Talking to his daughter always cheered
him. She was such a wonderful girl, going to medical school. She was his pride and joy.

The morning commute was easy today, or maybe he was in a good mood – after all, it was his
birthday. The day was going quite well too. He went out for lunch with some colleagues.

It was almost 3pm when the doctor’s office called. The nurse said they had excellent news. A heart
was available. They could do the transplant this evening if it was convenient for him.

Convenient? Of course it was convenient. I mean, this was not a matter of convenience. He needed a
transplant. He had been waiting for a while now!  A heart was available. Of course it was convenient!
But the nurse was just being courteous.

He told the nurse that it was convenient. He would leave right away. His hospital bag was in the trunk
of his car, just as the instructions said when he got on the transplant list.

The nurse gave him directions on where to go and what to do. The heart was being flown in. He
should go to the Desert Samaritan hospital and check in so that they could start the preparations.
Once the heart reached Phoenix, they would do the procedure.

He hung up and called Malobi. Her cell phone was off, of course, she was on her way. He left her a
message.

“Malobi, you will not believe this. But I got the best birthday present. The doctor’s office called to say
that they have found a heart for me and they can do the transplant immediately. I will take a rain
check on your dinner, see you at the hospital. Come straight there.”

He then called his friend Shyam. Shyam was his closest friend. They had known each other ever since
they came to the United States as graduate students 28 years ago. He told Shyam the news and
that he was going straight to the hospital, and could Shyam please pick up Malobi at the airport and
bring her to the hospital. After all, he would be in there at least 10 days.

Of course Shyam insisted on leaving work and accompanying Arjun to the hospital. Arjun got
checked in, pre-tests done, preparation done. Now all that was left was for the heart to arrive and for
him to go off to the operating room.

Shyam stayed beside him the whole time. At 7pm Arjun turned to Shyam and asked him to please go
to the airport to pick up Malobi. America West flight, from Orlando, 7:28 arrival. Shyam called to
check if the flight was on time. No, the flight is delayed by 40min, he was told.  

There was nothing to do but wait. Ranjana, Shyam’s wife was there and so were a few other friends
who had rushed over after hearing the news.

Arjun suddenly remembered. He had forgotten to call Shikha. He asked Shyam for the phone. But
Shyam had already called her. Bless Shyam. Shikha would be coming in tomorrow morning.

At 7:45pm the nurse came to say that the heart had landed in Phoenix and was on its way over to
the hospital. Shyam had already left for the airport to pick up Malobi.

The operation was successful. Arjun was in the recovery room. He was doing very well. His body had
taken the new heart so well, it was amazing.

Arjun was slowly starting to wake up. He stirred. All around him was the subdued hospital lighting.
His mouth was dry.

The nurse walked over and asked him if he wanted something. “Yes, water and my wife,” he managed
to croak.

She brought him some ice chips and Shyam. Where was Malobi?

He looked at Shyam with questioning eyes. Where is Malobi?

“Malobi is not here yet, she will come soon. You should rest now. The operation was a success the
doctor said, Congratulations,” was all Shyam said. Then the nurse asked Shyam to leave as Arjun
needed to rest.

________________________________________________________________________________

It has been two weeks since that day. Arjun is back home now. His heart is doing well physically –
but he is heartsick. Shikha has taken a month off to stay with him, but the house is so empty
without Malobi.

Malobi never returned from Florida. Actually, a part of her did, her heart. On her way to the airport
Malobi was in a car accident. A speeding car crossed the median and crashed head-on into hers. She
was critically injured. She was airevac’d to the hospital, but they could not save her. Her brain was
completely damaged. She was an organ donor; it was on her driver’s license.

They harvested her organs. Arjun was the next in line for the heart – the details, blood type etc.
matched. The heart was sent to Arjun.

Arjun sat on his La-Z-Boy armchair looking out of the window. He remembered, 30 years ago, they
were sill in college in Calcutta. The courtship was just starting. It was his birthday. She had asked
him “What do you want for your birthday?”

“I want your heart,” he had replied.

He remembered her shy smile at his words, the way she turned away and looked down. How beautiful
she was, how sweet.

A tear rolled down from the corner of his eye at the memory.
The Gift