When Raj awoke, he felt very groggy. He had forgotten where he was for a moment, but as his eyes slowly opened, his memory and a feeling of bitterness came flooding back in. He had no idea how long he had slept. He craned his neck to take a look at the window above him, hoping he’d find his answer, but it was of no help. All he saw was sunlight pouring in. He was convinced he couldn’t have dozed off for more than a few hours. His stomach was growling, and he soon remembered he hadn’t had anything to eat since arriving in Naples. He had also remembered that the nurse had talked about a nice southern Italian lunch.

In search of relief for his hunger, he looked around for a nurse. He blinked his eyes. The grogginess did not seem like it was going to give up its hold over him anytime soon. It felt very much like being drunk – but without all the fun parts. He very carefully turned his head to the right, and even that slight bit of motion made the room spin.

What kind of drugs did these sisters give me, he wondered.

Through his blurry vision, he spotted what he presumed to be a nursing officer at the end of the ward.

“Sister,” he feebly called out, and in doing so realized how thirsty he was. His mouth was parched, forcing him to cough when he spoke, and as he did, he winced at what felt like thorns scraping along the inside of his throat.

Norah turned around to see which patient had called for her. Upon seeing it was the Indian major, she hesitated. She braced herself for the encounter by filling up a glass of water and searched for a sleeping pill. Pill and glass in hand, she began to walk towards him.

As she walked over to him, he noticed the glass of water she was holding. He instinctively sat up straight, preparing to gulp the whole thing down. When she reached his bed, he stretched out his arms and hastily grabbed the glass, guzzling every last drop. His eyes closed as he thanked god for such relief.

“Are you finished?” Norah seized the empty glass from his clutches, understanding now why Ruth and Beth had kept him asleep. She couldn’t believe how rude he was, snatching the glass from her grasp, almost making her spill the whole thing on herself with no “thank you” attached.

Raj lay back in bed, trying to catch his breath.

“Well, I guess I need to refill the glass? Unless you can take pills without the aid of water.” She placed the sleeping pill on the table next to him and waited impatiently for his response.

Raj looked at where she had placed the pill and eyed it for a second. “Sister, I don’t think I’m in need of any more sleep, just more water and something to eat.” He peered up to ask her if it was possible to have a large portion of whatever the meal option was but was caught off guard.

She was beautiful. Her piercingly bright blue eyes drew him in. He felt dizzy – and this time not from the effects of the pill.

Her skin was so delicate, with a dewy complexion. Her short, dark brown hair styled with ringlets was pinned perfectly in place. She was stunning, and for the first time in a long while, Raj felt the joy of life flooding back into him.

“Sister...” He felt a smile form on his face.

“Yes, Major?” Norah said, noticing the way he was looking at her. She shifted her weight, her face beginning to feel hot.

“What day is it, sister?”

“Tuesday, January the second, Major. Happy New Year.” Norah instinctively brushed her hair behind her ear, and Raj thought he detected a slight flush on her face.

“Yes, sister.” Raj wondered if she was feeling the same way as him. “I have a feeling it’s going to be a very happy new year.”

She blushed. He knew he wasn’t mistaken now. She cleared her throat and a rather forced stern look appeared on her face. Raj feared that he may have overstepped his bounds.

“I’m going to have a barber come in and shave the hair around your left ear so it can be dressed.”

Norah reminded herself of her vow: Do your duty – nothing more, nothing less.

He nodded his consent and convinced himself that he was the only one of the two who had felt the way he did. Must be these bloody pills, he thought, his smile slowly fading.

Without another word, Norah turned and left.

Her façade of sternness faded as she walked away. She felt off balance and touched her hand to her forehead, deciding that the uneasiness she felt was merely a symptom of a lack of rest. Nothing more.

Raj & Norah: A True Story of Love Lost and Found in World War II

Excerpted with permission from Raj & Norah: A True Story of Love Lost and Found in World War II, Peter R Kohli and Shaina Kohli Russo, HarperCollins India.