The Morning After

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Someone shakes my shoulder. A woman’s voice says, “You can’t sleep here.”

Not true … look at me. I keep my eyes closed and curl into a tighter ball. “Is Varij alright?”

My shoulder is shaken harder. “Get up. She’s on the other side of the corridor and between you, you’re blocking it.”

Push me over there. That will leave room for people. Can I have a pillow? One without blood?”

A male voice says, “Let’s move him. I came past the theatres; there are porters, doctors and nurses crashed out all over the place.” He pauses as I’m slid across the floor by gentle hands. My head is lifted and a folded blanket thrust under it. The man goes on, “I’m going to change the dressing on Varij’s face; whoever put that on didn’t know what they were doing.”

You bastard. I put that on. Admittedly I wasn’t at my best and was a bit pressed for time.

Letting the police and rioters mix in the car park was a stupid idea. Some hospital administrator has no brains whatsoever. In the end, police and rioters were segregated by the army – we got the police. Not nice police; the SPG – Special Patrol Group – with their vicious arrogance. Arrogance that evaporated when the army beat them with the butts of their rifles.

Didn’t stop one attacking Varij because she wouldn’t let me treat his mate until the soldiers had declared him disarmed.

He grabbed Varij’s hair and threw her on the ground, grazing her cheek. A squaddie stopped me trying to attack the moron. I was angry enough but sufficiently puny to have mounted an assault that would have embarrassed a butterfly.

As it was, two squaddies landed on him. I think bits of him broke. Anyway, I wasn’t going to treat him and left him to the houseman. We did treat his mate eventually.

Varij’s attacker tried to arrest the squaddies and someone broke his nose. None of us, obviously, remember seeing anything so he is a bit short of witnesses.

Stupid, violent and supercilious wanker.

The memory brings with it flashbacks from other horrifying parts of the night. We’ve seen things no one should ever have to see. I wake up a bit, though I am still weak and dizzy. I lean against the wall and hug my knees.

A nurse offers me a plastic cup of water. I look at her helplessly. She says, “Sorry, you won’t be able to keep it steady will you?” She holds it to my mouth and I drink.

Turning, I look at Varij. She’s waking up as her dressing is changed. I try to talk, but it comes out as a hoarse whisper, “Varij, you held us together … all night. You kept me under control and safe.” I take her hand even though I didn’t ask if I could. My other hand I press to the floor to stop me falling over. “How can you be so strong, so cool, so sensible … so in command?”

Harry, you’re gushing.” She squeezes my fingers. “And shaking.”

You’re shaking too.”

Oh … oh yes. Dehydrated, hypoglycaemic, in shock and exhausted. Water, food, sleep – in that order. I think they’ll put everything right. I wonder how many we triaged and treated?”

The female nurse kneels in front of Varij, helps her to sit up and holds a cup to her mouth. “Nearly three hundred came through those doors in the last nine hours.”

Varij splutters but doesn’t say anything. The nurse goes on, “Ezewa, the registrar, pronounced eleven dead on arrival.”

I sigh. “Good thing she was there. We’d have wasted a lot of time trying to resuscitate them.” I’m still holding Varij’s hand. I don’t think I ever want to let it go. I look at her. “You are going to be my role model for the rest of my life.”

She laughs – though it’s almost too faint to hear. “We may not be working together that long.”

That’s OK because we’re going to be married.”

She laughs again. “You’re the wrong race, colour and the wrong religion. My family would kill me … or you.”

Excuse me. Your family are the people who care for the sick and injured and we all share that religion.”

Colour?”

I won’t wash for a bit…”

She rests her head against the wall and looks up. “Thank you … thank you for last night. You were amazing. So much energy, such a quick mind.”

Are you gushing?”

Yes but I’m talking to the ceiling.”

She leans against me, rests her head on my shoulder, nuzzles it. She’s still letting me hold her hand…

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©Gary Bonn, 2016

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