The next thing I knew I woke up in a hospital room. The clothes that Michael had given me had disappeared and in their place was the expected gown. To my left and Mr Finn was sitting on a comfortable looking chair next to my bed. I looked down to see what the strange weight was on my chest to find I was under a mountain of blankets.
Still slightly confused by the suddenness of it all I sat upright as quickly as possible to get a better look at the room around me jerking Mr Finn awake at my upright motion. He looked flustered as he tried to sit up straight.
“Good afternoon. I was wondering when you were going to wake up. I hope you’re feeling better.” He babbled, obviously nervous at the idea that he had been caught next to one of his students while that student was asleep.
“What happened?” I had to ask, I needed to know.
“You lost consciousness and your heart stopped just as we, that is, the rest of the class, pulled out of the water. I think they called it shock. Anyway, if it wasn’t for the quick reactions of Michael, things would have been very different. He made sure to keep your heart beating and called the ambulance straight away.” The man didn’t need to say what would have been different, I was perfectly capable of understanding even in the state I was in, especially now that Michael had explained what Hypothermia is. That reminded me; Michael.
“Where is he?”
“Who? Michael? I don’t know to be honest. He came to the hospital with us. But as soon as he got the doctors up to speed he vanished without a trace. I really don’t get that kid, he barely says two words to anyone for six years and then he starts shouting orders. I have to admit though that kid has serious leadership abilities do you think. . .”
I sank back into the bed, suddenly dizzy. I wasn’t one hundred per cent yet and I had just used all my energy to interrogate Mr Finn. Besides, I had seen something, something surprising, back when I was with Michael at the trailer. What was it?
I had just finished getting changed into the clothes that Michael had given me, and I had called out that I was ready for him to come back round. I watched him in my mind’s eye as he wrapped the blanket around the two of us.
There, I knew I saw something. Just in the beginning, he was still shirtless and I saw a slight glimpse of a large scar running up from his wrist to the inside of his elbow. I couldn’t believe it, one of the rumours was true, and, if one was true then weren’t the others? It started to get dark again. But this kind of darkness I recognised as a slip into unconsciousness. I had been here before when I got beat over the head in sixth grade
The next time I woke it was evening and a nice nurse was just putting dinner on a tray next to my bed. She talked about the local gossip and what I had missed and so on. Michael had called in an hour ago to check on me then disappeared again. I felt a pang of disappointment; I had missed my opportunity, again.
The meal, like what you would expect from a hospital, was terrible. I was still grateful for its warmth. My close call had left me chilled to the bone even after all this time. The nurse said it was normal and the feeling should disappear in a couple of days.
An hour later a man wearing blue scrubs walked in and introduced himself as Doctor John. He was young but cheerful and went through all the tests with a smile. I hardly noticed. As my grandmother said, you can tell a doctor is any good if he can do a test on you without you noticing. However, there was still one pressing issue that I had indeed noticed.
“Can I get up Doctor? I kinda need to go to the loo.”
“Sure, if you can manage. But try and keep it to short trips. Hate to have to find another saviour for you.”
I shrugged in embarrassment, looking down at the bedcovers to hide my face which had no doubt gone red. Mercifully he seemed not to notice and walked out whistling a tune that I could not recognise.
I threw back the covers to get out of bed then immediately drew them back up to my chin again. It was freezing; didn’t hospitals have heating? Another pang reminded me why I was trying to get out of bed and I tried again; nope, still cold. I thought for a few moments trying to come up with a solution until finally I had an idea. I drew the covers around me like a cloak and walked on still slightly shaky and numb legs over to the door that surely contained the toilet. I was surprised it took me that long to think of such a simple plan.
I relieved myself with a great sigh and reluctantly returned to my bed. Then after recovering from that short trip as if I had climbed a mountain. I searched around a bit until I found the remote to the TV. There wasn’t anything better to do so I started flicking randomly through channels trying to find one that actually had something good to watch. The ward technically wasn’t private but by some lucky break I had the room all to myself. Probably the first time ever for me that I would be able to watch TV without someone to argue with over what to watch.
Eventually I stopped on a news channel. No, that is not what I wanted to watch, but something seemed to draw me to it. They were talking about the hospital that I was in fact lying inside at that moment. I turned it up again, as if that act would allow me to hear absolutely everything, even the words that were not spoken.
“St Thomas’ Hospital is very well known in the area for its high standard of care for everyone in the surrounding community. It is also renowned for taking in the Feral Child known as Aditi. However, recently rumours have begun to seep out from the walls that there is in fact someone, other than a registered doctor that is helping the patients here. The, as yet, anonymous informant, has told us that this helper is no more than a child, but he has been credited with helping over one hundred patients so far this year alone. There have been concerns however from the wider community that this child may in fact be more a hindrance than a help. We managed to get, Doctor Francis, chief of medicine to say this on the issue.”
The camera switched to an older man in a very comfortable and posh looking office.
“There is no reason to be concerned. I have spoken to the person in question and he has given me a written statement to address the public’s.”
He looked down at a piece of paper in his hand that looked as if it had been written on the back of an old prescription.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, yes, I am indeed young. In fact, I am physically a child no older than fifteen. However, I am adult enough and responsible enough to carry out the important and necessary duties in this institution. My chief concern is not that of politics and medicine. Instead I focus on the welfare of the patients that ask for my help. I do understand the concerns of the community over the idea of one as young as I working in this kind of environment, but I am here at the request of patients, doctors, and where applicable, the patients’ caregivers. I do real, tangible good here, I have helped many more than anyone could possibly say. However, if all parties involved wish it, then I shall leave without any complaint.
In conclusion I would like to make this final statement. I have asked all members of this hospital to keep my name confidential unless it is for the most necessary of reasons. However, I am willing to disclose my identity if you were willing to recognise the necessity of my work.”
The doctor then looked up from the piece of paper in his hands and looked directly at the camera. Staring directly down the lens at me.
“I would like to add to this written statement if I may. I would like to say that any concerns over this boy working here are both unjustified and irrelevant. This boy is a hero around here. He is responsible for saving many lives and if it weren’t for him our hospital would have lost more people than it has. Thank you.”
Against the wishes of the interviewer who had not had a chance to ask any questions he stood and the camera was shut off.
I turned off the TV. I was surprised, I had seen no-one like that at the hospital and I, in my opinion, had contracted the worst thing around. Surely I was high enough in priority for that person’s concern. I had nearly died for crying out loud.
Looking back on this I realise that you might be wondering why my parents hadn’t come yet. Why they weren’t waiting anxiously beside my bed, waiting for any news. Embracing me like a vice when I finally awoke from my sleep. Well they had. But at the time I was hardly in any shape to be responsive.
Besides, parents in this account aren’t actually that important. I will tell you that the next morning they did come round for a visit. But really what came afterward is what is most interesting.
I had just started to settle in for a long day alone when my entire class walked in including Michael who was hiding in the rear as was habit. They all started talking at once, excited over the whole thing. It’s not every day that one of your classmates gets hospitalised. They wanted to know all the details. What it felt like? Did they have to use a defibrillator? Did they have to operate? And they were all speaking at once.
Michael though was not excited. He was standing in the back, watching everything. Forgotten by the crowd and keeping silent as was his custom.
They all wanted to hear about my rescue and subsequent stay in hospital, and what it was like nearly dying like I had done. However I wasn’t interested in their questions. It’s funny, they all seemed so childish now. I was more interested in someone else.
“Michael, get your butt over here.” I called. “I want to thank you for saving my life.”
The room fell silent, one by one, my classmates turned to the boy in excitement and expectation. But he just stood there, mouth agape in surprise. I couldn’t tell if this surprise was because he had been noticed or because, the idea of thanks was, surprising to him.
Then suddenly remembering himself, the boy shut his mouth and strode out of the room without saying so much as a word.
“He’s weird.” Muttered one of my classmates, I couldn’t make out whom. The rest agreed and started to make up more and more inventive descriptions of what the boy is like. I stopped listening very quickly. This boy was far more interesting than some childish insults.
Eventually my classmates all had to go back to their lives, I was disappointed of course, but for some reason they weren’t as much fun as they used to be; it was almost like a wall had sprung up between us in the few days since the river.
I turned on the television to try and hide from these thoughts. It did not take me long to find that there was nothing on though. All there was stuff for little kids who didn’t yet go to school or shows for those that spent all day on the couch, getting fatter. I was so desperate for something to do that I even tried reading a Bible that I found in the bedside table. But reading of events that happened thousands of years ago and had no relevance to me was worse than the TV.
So when the nurse eventually came round to check up on me at about twelve I was about ready to jump out of my skin so I took the opportunity to ask for permission to leave my room. Whatever was out there had to be better than what was in that room. Mainly me, going insane from boredom.
Thankfully permission was granted and I hurriedly left that little room.
I was glad to be out of that claustrophobic ward and stretching my still slightly numb legs and I did what every kid, bored and with nothing to do would. I explored the place from top to bottom, from the east wing to the west, I stayed out of the emergency ward though.
Then, more out of accident than design, I stumbled across the playroom. It was huge, the size of three classrooms at school put together, with toys and blackboards and easels. Huge windows let light into the room and allowed a view out into the hospital gardens. It was a bright room, full of joy.
That last word is a very strange one to use for such a place no matter how apt it was. For the children that were in there were all so sick. I could see some kids had broken arms or legs, some had a drip feeding vital fluids into their arms, others were obviously confined to wheelchairs, still others had been sent bald, by something I could not guess. There was even one missing his left leg, a stump peeking from beneath his hospital gown.
I watched through the window set into the wall for a great amount of time; wondering at the fact that these kids who were all so sick, seemed to be able to have the same kind of fun that any child I had ever met would have.
“It’s interesting isn’t it,” the voice made me jump, “these boys and girls have been through hell. Some might not even see the year out and they know it. Yet still, despite this, they are able to play like the children that you see every other day.” The voice belonged to Michael; he was standing right next to me; I couldn’t help but wonder how he had managed to get so close without my hearing.
“They are children what do they know?”
“And you aren’t?” He asked raising an eyebrow amused, apparently because I separate myself from them in that way. But he quickly became serious again before continuing. “But they know more than you might think. They can tell you in minute detail exactly why their bodies are failing them. They can describe exactly what treatment; what ordeals they face.”
He paused, taking a deep breath as if he were about to dive into a gorge. “If you like, I can introduce you to some of them.”
“I would like that.” He turned towards the door. “But first I would like to thank you for saving my life.” He stopped in surprise and another emotion that I could not guess or gauge at.
“Your thanks is not why I did the deed.” The boy’s words confused me. Why would he do anything without thanks? Isn’t that why anyone would do something like that.
“Then why did you do it?”
“Maybe one day you will understand. However, at this time, even if I tell you, you could not. So instead, I shall remain silent.”
My curiosity was burning “Why do you do that?”
“Stay silent? You never speak, even when we seriously want to talk to you.”
“That is because you would not listen to the meaning of my words. I speak, not to fit in, but to be heard.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Of course you don’t. And I cannot explain.” He paused, I think even he was frustrated at his inability to explain himself. “Let’s go meet the children.” The conversation had left me even further confused. Than when we had first begun.
I followed the silent boy to the door to this room. He pushed it open like a man that has been through the same door many times.
A girl, perhaps five years old, looked up at the sound of our entry and smiled in recognition, and childish deviousness.
“Mikey’s here!” she yelled and everyone looked up.
Michael positively beamed at the children as they came rushing over to greet him, even those that were in wheelchairs came over as fast as their wheels could go. Only a few stayed behind, either because they couldn’t or because they were too shy to enter the throng.
“Hi guys,” he called, the first slang I had ever heard him use, “This here is Tim. I just saved him from freezing to death in a river. I brought him over to introduce a few of you guys to him.” They seemed to understand what he was on about and went back to their what they were doing. I was shocked, they weren’t even interested. I nearly died! “Come with me. The first one I want to introduce you to is over here.”
I followed, giving the children that we encountered along the way a wide birth, scared I might accidentally catch something, or knock into one of the children and break them. Michael, I could see was pointedly ignoring this and sat down next to a little girl. Drawing a picture with her right hand despite the difficulty she was having.
“Tim, this is Samantha and she is five.” Michael said by way of introduction.
“Five and a half!” she retorted.
“Sorry, five and a half.” Michael corrected himself with amusement in his voice. “Anyway, this is Tim and he’s a classmate of mine.”
We exchanged pleasantries and I was surprised by some of the language that the young girl was using, they seemed to be more complex than what you would expect from a child her age. As we settled down to talk about the little things, Michael interrupted.
“Samantha, can you tell Tim why you are here?”
I leaned back, half expecting a story about falling out of a tree and breaking her arm; as a broken arm was why she was there. Instead I got something a lot stranger.
“I’m told that I was born screaming; quite literally. Because when I came out of my mother’s womb I had broken three of my ribs, both my shoulders and my pelvis. No this is not because I was in a car crash or something but because of who I am.
You see, I have Osteogenises Imperfecta or OI. A genetic disorder where my bones break very easily. See this?” she held up her broken arm for me to inspect. “This is the fifty sixth break to the radius and thirty sixth to the ulna. I broke them by pushing open a screen door last night during high winds.” I could hardly believe what I was hearing, this had to be a joke No-one broke their arm by doing something as simple as opening the back door on a windy day, it was impossible. “The worst part is, there is no cure. All that can be done is to simply try to avoid breaking bones and to treat those that do occur. Other than that, I have to try to live as normal a life as possible between trips to the hospital.”
“Thankyou Samantha,” Michael said whilst standing, “If you want I can come back in a minute and help with the drawing.”
“No thanks. I’m nearly done anyway and Mum will want to be picking me up soon.” I was dumbfounded; she talked as if she were playing at day-care or kindergarten and expected to be picked up by her mother at any minute.
Not giving me a chance to recover from my shock; Michael led me to a boy next.
“Tim this is Nicholas, he is twelve years old.” Nicholas reached across the table to shake my hand. His arm was bony and thin and the skin felt like paper covering sticks. There was barely any life in the limb at all. “Nicholas, this is Tim. Tell him a bit about why you’re here please.”
“Well Tim, that is a story that begins a long time ago now. When I was four years old my mother noticed a large bruise on the inside of my left arm. She didn’t count it as anything thinking I had just knocked it up against something. I was hardly old enough to ask was I? A couple of days later, the bruise had seemed to have moved. That’s what got my mother a little suspicious. Eventually the bruise faded, but when it did, another would appear. After almost a month of this happening I had my first acute symptom. My father came into my room to wake me up for another big day but found that he couldn’t, I just wouldn’t wake up. I was rushed to the hospital, and after a few tests it turned out I had Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia[MP1] . This is a non-curable form of cancer that resides in the blood. Eventually I will die of this and there is nothing anybody can do about it. However, today I am here to have another round of chemo treatments to help prolong what little life I have. Can you pass that piece, the one that looks like Michael’s nose? Thanks.”
I was shaken, Samantha and Nicholas both seemed so calm about this, even though they were both in very bad shape. How could they live like this?
“Thankyou Nicholas. I’ll try and get back to you. I found a new book that you are going to absolutely love.”
Sweet, I completely forgot mine. Can you bring it over before one?”
Michael led me away. He was looking at me concerned. Probably with good reason, I probably looked as white as a ghost after hearing the stories of these two children.
“Are you alright?’ If you wish we can stop now and go back to your room.”
I shook my head. I wanted to hear more. I had a suspicion about why Michael was doing this. Could it be that Michael was the boy that everyone was talking about?
“Alright, I will introduce you to one more. But that will be all. Be careful though, this child will affect you the most.” I found that hard to believe. What could be worse than a boy that is going to die no matter what or a girl who broke her arm opening a door?
He walked over to another girl who was busy with a piece of charcoal. Drawing what looked to be a face. She looked up to see us, whilst folding the piece and hiding it away.
“Tim, this is Aditi.” I thought, looking at her, that in this case, maybe Michael was wrong. There seemed to be nothing wrong with her; no broken arms, no bald head. In fact, she appeared to be in perfect health, besides an almost wild look about her, she was fine.
“It is a pleasure to meet you.” She shook my hand firmly, but when our skin made contact, she visibly flinched. “I take it that Michael wants me to tell you the story of why I am here.” Michael merely nodded in agreement. Shakily she took a breath and grew serious. “Fine; but please, I am only telling this to you because you are a friend of Michael. He has sworn that he will not tell a soul and he has upheld that agreement. I tell this to you because if he is willing to trust you then I believe that I can as well.” I felt the burden of this rest firmly on my shoulders, yet it was not uncomfortable. It felt almost as if it belonged there.
“I have no parents; instead I have what I call keepers. I have lived with them for as long as I can remember, yet in no way do I remember a happy moment with them. Until one day, the police raided the house after finding evidence that the keepers were making and selling drugs. They arrested those two and took them into custody, pending trial. Two days later, a forensics team came through the place to find evidence for the case. They found a trapdoor in the kitchen, and, believing that it was another stash, they opened it up. Instead they found a basement, soundproofed and locked from the outside. It was fully stocked out with all the implements needed for torture,” She took a shaky breath, “of every kind.
In the far corner there were two cages. I was the occupant of one of those cages, the other was empty. I can’t tell you about the other cage, but I will say this. That other cage was occupied for almost as long as mine was.
I was no better than an animal back then. I had so many bruises and cuts on my naked body that I could barely be identified as human.
When they opened my cage to set me free, I would not come. I was too afraid of the two muscular men and I hid in the back corner, as far away from them as I could get. Not very far considering the size of that cage. They spent hours trying to coax me out, but I wasn’t going to come out willingly. Eventually they decided to throw a cloth over the cage and take the whole thing with me inside figuring they could figure out how to get me out later.
I was taken here and taught to be human, and I have devoted myself to becoming the best that I can be, better than they were, better than they ever let me be. I’m determined to show up those bastards who held me in such perverse captivity since my birth. They kept saying that I was a dog, a beast, that I was lucky that they were being so kind to me.”
She was beginning to break down, even I could see that. But she held herself together for one more sentence.
“I am still here because I have not been able to fully overthrow the memories of what happened to me in that hell. Sometimes I even dissociate, lose track of where, when and even who I am. The nightmares still come, even after I have escaped them.”
She broke down and could not stop the flow of tears that came. I just sat there, shocked into silence. I was concerned for her, but nothing could get me to move.
Quickly Michael helped Aditi from the room, calling over his shoulder that he would meet me in my room later as he helped her from the room.
I just sat there, numb, until I noticed that Aditi had left her picture behind.
I reached over and opened it to find, drawn onto that crisp white paper, a pair of dark eyes. They stared at me with such a look of sadness that they reached out to me compelling me to pick up the sheet of paper and look closer.
I was right. Sadness; but behind it I could see a burning mix of determination and paternal love. The same kind that I saw in my parent’s eyes when they burst into my hospital room earlier that day.
Those eyes were so real, so alive, I forgot there was no face that went with them. But I also saw, there was nothing, nothing besides determination and that love.
I wondered who those eyes belonged to. Who was so empty but for what was in front of him.
I folded the eyes, and put them in my pocket and went back to my room to wait for Michael to answer my questions and perhaps tell me what face belonged to that pair of eyes in my pocket.
By the time he finally showed up I was as frustrated as all hell. I had been waiting for so long that it was beginning to get dark outside. He entered and went straight to the window to look out at a simpler world if only there was something to see. It was so dark, that it seemed there was nothing outside that room, and the conversation we were about to have.
After a few moments he stated with simplicity.
“You have questions.”
Of course I had questions, they had been burning inside me since I had met Samantha, and the time that I had been left alone in this room, unable to ask those questions, made them burn with a fury that I have only seen in the forge that my dad uses sometimes out the back. His simplicity was so frustrating, but he was the only source of information I had so I bit back on this frustration.
“Yes. First one being the easiest. Why did you show me all this?” There. I had asked the first one, I knew the answer would shape further ones.
“Because you want to know who I am; everyone inevitably does once they meet me, but they could never understand so I never show them. But, in your near death you have grown up, if only slightly. I would never dream of showing the others of your class what I have shown you. They would laugh in Aditi’s face, ask Samantha to prove that she did indeed have OI, and possibly tease Nicholas over his weak arm and bald head. You can take it as; in many ways you have joined them. You have grown up and so have they.”
I was not sated yet.
“Why is Aditi named that? How could someone be treated like that and no-one know? Samantha was five years old, how could she possibly know half the words she uses so casually? How does Nicholas who is just twelve years old just so calmly accept his death like that? Why does Aditi call those people, her keepers? How does Samantha know her bones so well? Where did Aditi go? Why did Nicholas want that book before one? How does he live from day to day? Can he even walk? How does Samantha even sit upright without breaking bones? Does she even understand that this isn’t normal for anyone? What kind of nightmares does Aditi have? How many people are there like that her? Why do you care?” The questions kept spilling out of me without check, until eventually I ran dry. Michael turned from the window then and sat down on a bed, I remained standing, determined not to rest until I got some coherent answers, I was under no illusions that these questions would lead to further ones, but I knew Michael was prepared for them as well.
“You had better sit down for this. Answering this many questions will take time and I doubt your legs could take the strain.” I sat merely from the force of his words
“Thankyou. Now as to Aditi, she is what some call, a feral child; or at least she was. Now she is an intelligent young woman that will someday surprise the world. She is called Aditi because it means free, it was one of the nurses who had the idea to name her that. When she left the playroom, I took her to bed; she tends to dissociate after thinking about her past like that. Even what she told you will have her in tears for a while.
I had better stay tonight to make sure there are no nightmares.” He added under his breath.
“Anything else about her I must refrain from telling you. She has earned that right a hundred times over as to what she tells and to whom she tells it to. The nurses and doctors have no such reservations however so I must ask you to swear to me that you will ask no-one about her except Aditi.” I nodded and Michael stared at me for a moment. In that moment I had the feeling of being stared at by the Dali Lama, the feeling of being seen right through washed over me. I knew I could never break that oath; even if I wished to. “As for Samantha, she was born that way and will live out the remainder of her life the same. She will need to be careful as doing anything; even sneezing can break four of her ribs. That is also why she has learned to speak so fluently. Most five year olds speak to parents and friends who can understand the gist of what the child is saying. She lives in a world where she must talk to doctors about what is wrong with her; in fact, she has spent half her life in a hospital of one kind or another. Thus, she communicates as an adult and has learnt to self-diagnose her injuries and even to splint them. Nicholas is an easier story to tell. As he told you, he has Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia and as such will inevitably die. He has accepted that as there is nothing else that can be done. To prolong his life though, he is going through a series of Chemo treatments to try and get rid of the problems that plague him, for now. The reason he wanted the book before one is because his next treatment is at that time. He can walk, but he will never run, jump, and skip like a child his age as he cannot without getting seriously ill. In fact, he will be lucky to reach year twelve at school.
Now for the last question that you asked that I can answer. There are many here like that, as many live here as any hospital in the world. But I like to think that these children are extraordinary, but I guess that is because I know them.”
I had many questions more, but the answers to the ones that I had already asked refused to sink in. I merely sat there, dumbfounded.
“I realize that there are many more questions to be answered. But maybe it would be best if I left and allowed the ones that I have already given you to sink in properly. Perhaps, if you would like any further questions answered you should go and talk to the children yourselves.” With those words he promptly turned to the door clearly intending to leave me with my thoughts.
“Wait.” I called, surprising both Michael and myself. He turned back to face me. “Can I ask one more question?”
He simply nodded his head as his answer.
“Alright; Why do you care?”
He seemed genuinely surprised, apparently I had asked a question that he was not expecting.
“That is the first time that someone has asked me that question. I suppose I owe you an answer. But the answer comes in two parts, both deceptively simple. The first part; they needed my help as no-one else could, not in the way I do. So why shouldn’t I help them?”
And with that, he left me with my thoughts.
I heard the door shut as I flopped down onto my bed, my mind whirling with a hurricane the size that took Dorothy from her home in Kansas. I never realized that this world even existed. I once broke my arm badly when I was nine years old and I met children that looked really bad while I was in that hospital getting the cast done. But I was only there for an hour and it never occurred to me that those children might be worse off than I was. Then again, before that day in the canoe, it never occurred to me that I might die. To me, death was simply something that happened in the movies, books or games, not something real, something that could one day haunt me.
This was beginning to frustrate me. My mind had been exposed to a whole new world and its enormity was overwhelming. I did what I always did when I needed to avoid a distressing truth. I drowned it out with some TV. This though did not last long. My mind refused to give in under the mind numbing barrage of the television set, and the fact there was nothing on but shows for children, infomercials and soap operas; I soon turned the blasted thing off.
I sat there in a drowning silence, trying to make sense of what I had just witnessed. I could not.
Thankfully; before my forehead could cave in under the weight of the new reality I had just been exposed to. A man walked in. He was carrying a book under his arm and seemed to be quite relaxed and light with his step. He was no stranger to these halls.
“Good evening. Are you Tim?” Surprised I sat up. I did not recognize him, yet he was looking for me of all people.
I was cautious. “Yes. Who are you?”
“Oh forgive me. My name is Donald.” I smiled as an image of him sprouting a white tail and beak popped into my head, but quickly suppressed it as I remembered that it was not polite. He read my face “Don’t worry. I know how silly my name is. Sometimes I think my parents had it in for me at birth giving me a name like that is just asking for trouble. It probably doesn’t help that I am a Clown Doctor.”
I bent my head questioningly. “What on earth is that?”
“You never heard of us? That’s alright I suppose, it obviously means that you haven’t been here that often. Well, let me explain.
But anyway, I digress. Many children here are really young and they are frightened. They are frightened of the procedures, the doctors and the sheer enormity of the building that they are in. Clown Doctors are here to make light of the situation. We tease the doctors, we laugh at the buildings and most importantly we do our own operations. My specialty is in the field of butterfly removal. Just think of us as a bright ray of sunshine with two arms, two legs and most importantly, one of these.” I watched as Donald put on a bright red rubber nose and couldn’t help but smile. Then I remembered who I had met in the playroom that morning and my face fell again.
“Anyway, I’m here to see if you need any cheering up. I heard on the stethoscope that you were given the tour by Michael.”
Reluctantly I nodded my head. There was no use denying it; it probably showed on my face.
“Yeah kid. I know it’s tough. Michael never pulls his punches even when he probably should. But the kids here love him, that’s why he hasn’t been kicked out on his butt years ago. Despite everyone trying.”
I knew I was going to regret it but curiosity got the better of me again. “Years? How long has he been here?”
“Yeah, it started back about ten years ago now. A bright spark on the board thought it would be a great idea to bring some of the primary schools in and give them a tour of the place. I hear we had tours going all over, but Michael. He heard someone call for help and like he always has, went off to do what he could to help. He ran into a girl that was stuck in a full body cast after being thrown from the balcony of her place. She had just woken up and Michael was the first on the scene. Poor kid, he was only six at the time and he had just been given a dose of the darker side of the world. From what I’ve heard he ran out of the room, screaming his head off.”
I shook my head in disbelief. Michael always seemed so self-contained, so sure of himself. I found it hard to believe that he would have been scared by anything.
“It’s true kid, I swear. Luckily though, he to suppressed the entire incident from his mind so he wouldn’t go insane; some people still say that was a bad idea. And they were right, the whole thing came back to him when he was in year seven and it sent him into a depression. Less than a year later, he ended up in a room down the hall with stitches all the way up his forearms after trying to cut himself.
But, mysteriously, he got better almost overnight and he was fine with the world again. But, he was determined that he would help people get through the trauma of hospital, after seeing the little girl so helpless and scared he swore to himself that he would try and help.
I first met him when he tried to become a clown doctor himself. But after all that had happened to him, he ended up not getting the gig; you probably know why. So he started turning up in his own time, without the staff noticing.
Eventually a doctor found out and tried to get rid of him but everyone put up such a fuss that the staff were forced to keep him around. From what I’ve heard, the people in long term care even blocked access to their wards in protest.
He comes and goes whenever he wants these days. The kids really like him. In fact, last year, a girl was going through a confirmation, a church thing, and wanted him to be her sponsor, to look after her during the ceremony. Many of the kids think of him like an uncle while the older patients either see him as the kid they never had, or as an equal, someone to talk to and confide in. Some of the staff think of him as a thorn in their side. Getting in the way and all the rest of it, but really without him we would have lost many people that we haven’t, and it’s all because of him.”[MP2]
“And what do you think of him?”
“I’m not going to lie. The day we met, I absolutely hated him. No sense of fun and much too intense for someone of his age. Too focused on helping, not focused enough on the rest of his life.
But these days. We’re friends. He and I spend many an evening talking over a cup of tea. Talking over whatever comes to mind. I’ve found him curled up next to the bed of some scared patient, or watched as he talked down someone, who even the police couldn’t stop from doing something stupid.
Many people say he is a good kid, but I disagree. He may look like a kid, but he is a good man.”
It was thanks to Donald I finally understood why Michael did not speak at school. How could he when we were so excited over a birthday. We could never understand what he was saying if he decided to talk about someone’s last day.
“Thankyou Donald.” I said with true gratitude. “Michael has always been a mystery. But thanks to what happened today, I think I’m finally beginning to figure him out.
“Not a problem mate. See ya round. Although I do hope it isn’t here.”
I nodded in firm agreement as I watched him leave.