I was tempted to go back to my meditation now that Freud had left me in peace. But I knew I had things to do. Tim’s classmates had left almost an hour ago and so it was safe to go back down and begin the task I had decided to do without having to worry about useless questions.
Just like the previous night with Aditi, I had made a decision about what to do about Tim. One that could do more harm than good; or perhaps, change things for the better.
Unfortunately, however, when I looked for him in his room, he was no-where to be found. Thankfully though, it did not take much searching to find him where I knew I should have looked to begin with.
He was standing in the hallway outside the playroom. Looking through the window in exactly the same way as that mother the previous day. Yet, while his expression was similar to the woman’s, his thoughts at least, were readable.
He wanted to understand me. I saw that as clear as day back in the ward; he found the fact that I refused his thanks quite confusing; that, and my refusal to speak whilst at school. He wanted answers.
And I had decided back there on the rooftop that he may actually understand the ones that I had to provide. He had nearly died after all.
“It’s interesting isn’t it?’ The poor boy jumped in fright; no doubt he thought he was all but alone in that hallway. “These boys and girls have been through hell. Some might not even see out the year and they know it. Yet still, despite this, they are able to have fun like any child in the outside world.” He turned to face me and found that I was standing right next to him.
He had a look of confusion written on his face. His feeling of being experienced and indestructible was severely shaken by what had just happened to him. He wasn’t so sure about himself anymore.
“They’re kids. What do they know?” He asked.
“And you aren’t?” I asked, amused that despite everything he would still attempt to think of himself as above those children. I quickly put my face back in a neutral expression before I continued. “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 are going through.”
Unconsciously he took a step back in surprise, or rather shock before steadying himself again. I almost stopped there and then. Here I was, beating him with a club. I paused, but decided to continue anyway. “If you like; I can introduce you to some of them”. This is what I had decided earlier, and I only hoped that it would all work out.
“I would like that.” He answered in all seriousness and I turned to the door. “But first; I would like to thank you for saving my life.”
I was embarrassed and frustrated to be thanked; people, it seemed, just did not understand how useless gratitude is.
I could not face him, but I answered. “Your thanks was not why I did the deed.”
“Then why did you help me?” He asked, becoming as curious as the children beyond the window. If only he could see the similarities between himself and the children that he was pretending to be above.
“Maybe one day you will understand. However, at this time, even if I tell you, you could not. So instead I shall remain silent.”
“And why do you do that?”
“Do what?” This was not where I had intended this conversation to go and I was beginning to get uncomfortable with this interrogation.
“Stay silent?” You never speak, even when we want to talk to you in a serious manner.” At least he was asking a coherent question. If only I could reply with a coherent truth.
“That is because you would not listen to the meaning of my words. I speak to be heard, not to fill the silence or to fit in as the rest of the world does.”
“I don’t understand.”
I smirked, thankfully it was hidden by my shoulder. “Of course you don’t. And I cannot explain.” That, at least in part, was why I was doing this. “Let’s go meet the children.”
He followed me through the door and into the room in which I spent many of my days and nights. A girl, Brianna, looked up at our entrance and a mischievous look crossed her face before she yelled out as loud as she could.
“Mikey’s here!” The girl had found out the other day that I hated to make a grand entrance so she had made it her personal mission to make everything about me grand. So, thanks to her efforts, the rest of the rooms inhabitants looked up almost as one then came over as fast as they could to greet me, all clambering for my attention at once. I couldn’t help but smile despite Brianna’s deviousness.
I managed to get a word and I took the opportunity. “Hi guys. This here’s Tim.” I introduced my overwhelmed companion. “I saved him from freezing to death in a river and I brought him over to introduce a few of you guys to him.” They understood. Once before I had brought a stranger in to introduce them. I could only hope this time ended better than the last.
The children went back to what they were doing and we were allowed to continue unhindered. Although I was aware that we were being followed by the curious eyes of almost everyone in the room.
I ignored Tim’s timid manner the same as I ignored the children’s curious one as we walked to the first person that I wished him to meet.
Although she was no less important in what I wished to do. Her story made a good beginning. Explaining that this world encompassed all, no matter your age. But still avoiding being too shocking if I proved to be wrong about Tim.
It was Samantha’s table I stopped at first and sat down. It seemed that she was still busy drawing Max as a snow leopard.
“Tim, this is Samantha and she is five.” I started. Tim sat down cautiously next to me; I could see he was unused to the low seats that dotted the room. Not to mention, he was cautious of what I was showing him.
“Five and a half.” Samantha retorted.
“Ok, five and a half. Sorry.” I said in a mock seriousness that she knew was only in fun. And then I switched to true seriousness. “Anyway, this is Tim and he is a classmate at my school.”
The two children exchanged pleasantries and started conversing with each other quite comfortably, almost as if they were in a café chatting over good coffee. I could see Tim’s surprise at the complexity and the scope of her vocabulary. But before they got too involved in a conversation though. I had to interrupt, this was only part of why we were there after all.
“Samantha; can you tell Tim why you are here.”
Tim leaned back as far as he could in that little chair. Obviously he was expecting some trivial tory about how she had fallen out of a tree or something equally as silly. What he got instead I’m sure took him by surprise.
“I have OI.” Sha stated with simplicity, half expecting this to explain everything in and of itself. When it didn’t and all she received was a blank face, she sighed and continued. “Osteogenises Imperfecta, otherwise known as brittle bone disease.” I watched as Tim became intrigued and leaned in as if hearing some great secret. “In other words my bones break very easily. See this?” She held up her broken arm for Tim to inspect. “This break is the fifty sixth break to the radius and thirty sixth to the ulna. I broke them by pushing open the back door on a windy day.”
I watched the disbelief cross his face without a hint of surprise. The way she was so straightforward about herself took many off guard.
I stood and Tim followed clumsily. “Thanks Samantha. If you want, I can come back in a minute and help with the drawing.”
She shook her head, “No thanks. I’m nearly done and mum will want to be taking me home soon anyway.”
I looked over to Tim. He was dumbfounded. I was hardly surprised by his reaction. Samantha was talking about being picked up from hospital as if she was about to be picked up from day-care or kindergarten. But, if you really thought about it, she has spent so much time here that the place had nearly become nothing more than that.
I led Tim to a boy, Nicolas, next.
“Tim, this is Nicolas, he is twelve years old.” Nicolas reached across the table to shake my companion’s hand as he sat down; and I was surprised that Tim took it so readily. Children from the outside, like Tim, were usually at least a little nervous about going anywhere near Nicolas because of his sickly look. “Nicolas, this is Tim. If you don’t mind, can you please tell Tim a little about why you are here?”
Just like Samantha before him. Nicolas had no reservations about telling others about why he was in the hospital. “Well Tim. When I was four years old my mother was giving me a bath when she noticed a rather large bruise on the inside of my left arm. She didn’t count it as anything, thinking I had just knocked it against something. I was hardly old enough to ask was I? A couple of days later the bruise seemed to have moved. That’s when my mother became a little suspicious. Eventually the bruise faded, but when it did, another would appear. After almost a month of these bruises appearing and disappearing like this I finally had an acute symptom. My father came in to wake me up one morning but he couldn’t get me to wake up. I was rushed to hospital, and after a few tests it turned out I had Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia. 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 my life; such as it is. Can you pass me that piece, the one that looks like Michael’s nose? Thanks.
I could see that Tim was really shaken. Nicolas treated death with such Blaze that it unsettled many, and Tim was no exception to the rule. But the boy knew his condition and understood completely what it meant. He had had a long time to accept his fate.
I thanked Nicolas as I stood then remembered something. “I found a new book that you are going to absolutely love.”
“Sweat. I forgot to bring mine. Can you bring it over before one?”
I led Tim away. He was visibly shaken now and I took pity on the poor boy.
“Are you alright? If you wish, we can stop now and go back to your room.” I was offering an escape route before the final shock. But he shook his head.
I think he could see what I was trying to do by showing him these people. He was not going to back out.
I will admit though. If I was worried about the wisdom of doing this. I was more so about taking him to the next, and final, child.
“Alright; I will introduce you to one more. But that will be all, this child will affect you the most so be careful.” I could see plainly that he found my statement quite hard to believe. I could hardly blame him for that assumption either, knowing what I did of his life before.
I sat down next to Catherine, busy drawing something on a piece of paper. But as we came over, and before I could see, she tucked it out of our sight.
“Tim, this is Aditi.” I watched Tim’s face crumple in confusion as to the strange name. Aditi understood why I ignored her thanks.
“It is a pleasure to meet you.” She shook Tim’s hand firmly as she had been taught. But Tim saw the flinch that overtook her when their skin made contact. “I take it that Michael wants me to tell you my story of why I am here.” I nodded in agreement. She knew that if she did not want to speak, then all she had to do was to say the word but instead she shakily drew a breath and grew serious. “Fine, but please, I am only telling you this 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 because Michael does not trust easily, and if he thinks that he can with you, then I can as well. I watched as the weight of that trust almost physically press down on his shoulders, yet it did not look like it was uncomfortable to him.
She began. “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.”
And with that she broke down completely and I helped her from the room. Many of the other children didn’t as much as look up, so used to this taking place. She wasn’t the only person who faced great horrors in this place.
Just before the door closed behind us however, I remembered Time and called over my shoulder that I would meet him in his room later.
I took Aditi back to her room, and lay the sobbing girl in her bed. She curled unconsciously into the foetal position and cried her heart out. I took my usual position; in the chair in the corner.
This had become normal for the two of us. Me, sitting, guarding her in her most vulnerable state; she, curled up in her bed trying to retreat from the world so she could face it again later.
We stayed like that for perhaps an hour. Maybe longer. Until, eventually, suddenly, she sat up.
This was not a good omen. She had dissociated. Her conscious mind had retreated as far as it could, too far, and the part that was left, not quite another personality, was here to protect, to hide, or surrender. I could never be sure which until it acted.
She looked left, right, then at her clothes. The fact that she was wearing clothes could mean only one thing in her mind from years ago. Then she saw me.
She screamed with all the power in her lungs, and scrambled back in bed until she fell out of it. In her mind, I was a man that had hired her out for his own perverted pleasures. To her, I had dressed her, and that meant I was going to strip her. In her mind, I was going to hurt her in the most horrific and deranged ways that a man could hurt a young girl.
She curled into a corner of the room, hugging her knees, watching me in animalistic fear.
I stood slowly, keeping my hands clearly where she could see them, careful to make no sudden moves. The same thing you do when a man holds a gun to your head.
“Do you remember my name?” I asked taking a slow and deliberate step forward. I did not expect her to answer, she may have always understood human language, but she was never allowed to use it until she was let out into this world. In her mind, the mind from years ago, speaking only meant pain.
“My name is Michael. I am your friend.” I took another step but she did not retreat. Over the years she had learned to read hatred, rage and most importantly lust in order to survive and there was none in my eyes. I was careful to keep my anger for those that did this to her far from my thoughts, so she was confused as to what resided there instead; she had never seen real kindness before she came here.
“I don’t want to hurt you. I can’t hurt you.” Another step. She recognized that look. Her mind had taken another step towards the present. A time where she recognized caring.
“Do you remember your name?” Another step. She looked at me, still fearful but now, not so scared.
“You are safe.” I stepped again. I was nearly there.
I crossed the final distance and kneeled in front of her in a single move. She recoiled in shock. Afraid that that perhaps she had misread my face after all. I grabbed her hands before she could run again and finally she relaxed completely.
She knew my touch now, she recognized me now. I was the only one that did not frighten her, I was the only one that she completely trusted. She relaxed into my awaiting arms and I took her back to her bed.
She appeared to be asleep. But I knew better from experience. She was reorienting herself to the reality that she now lived in. All of her would be back in a few moments.
I was back in my chair when she finally awoke. Lunch was long over by then. She rose from her bed slowly, cautiously. Very cautious about what may be waiting.
She looked around, scared. “Michael, are you there?” The tremor in her voice showed the fear that she had been left alone.
“I am here, as always.” I stood up to great her and to show where I was hiding.
She ran to me and embraced me as if I were her long lost brother. “I knew you weren’t alone whilst I was so scared.”
She sat; no, curled into the chair I had just vacated; obviously glad for the residual heat left over from my body. Why do hospitals always keep the place so cold?
If I were anyone else I confess, I would have left her. She was obviously back to normal, and, as such, was out of danger and no longer in need of my help. Besides, Tim was waiting for me with questions that would sink the Titanic. That is, if it were still afloat.
But I had to stay. It took time to reorient herself to reality. Where, when and how sometimes took time to catch up with her muddled mind. Her keepers had done a real job on her. But we were slowly unravelling her fears and memories, pain and trepidation.
“I dissociated again didn’t I?” she asked in tired resignation.
I saw no reason to lie and nodded.
“I thought so. I can’t remember what day it is today. Is it Thursday?”
“No, it’s Monday.”
“I see.” She stood and walked around the room touching and feeling things as she went. This was also nothing new; she had to reorientate herself. I knew that, although she was back in the real world; she still had to touch things, to feel, to make certain that it wasn’t all some big dream. She confessed once that, among all the pain and fear, she used to dream of a perfect world where she wasn’t being hurt and used.
“I know what your answer would be but I have to ask. Do you want to talk to Freud about this?” She laughed, but without any humour.
Suddenly shaky, she walked back to her bed and collapsed into it, completely spent, not just from the episode but from the force of the memories that had just hit her. I watched to make sure she was alright.
“I remembered something.” She said and turned towards the wall. Her hair fell, either by accident or design, so it hid her face. “Back in that Psychiatrist’s office.”
I sat up straighter. Not in excitement or anticipation, but so I could listen better; if Aditi wanted to tell me, then I had to listen. Triviality is for children, not for people like us, not here.
“Doctor Freud was one of my ‘clients’” She spat the last word as if it burned her tongue then curled protectively into a ball, the same position she had started in hours ago. ‘Clients’ was a word that her keepers used to describe the people that she was rented to.
I moved from my seat and sat down beside her on the bed, out of reflex she pulled back. But she didn’t run away like before.
“How do you know?”
“Same way I always do. I remember.”
“Do you want to tell me about it?”
“No, I really don’t.” She stopped and took a deep breath. “He came around, a week perhaps after my companion had,” she paused to take another breath. She still hated to talk about him, “left. He wanted to hire me out for the night. As usual, I was trotted out in front of the client and the price was haggled over as I stood there like a piece of meat. Once they had reached an agreement, I was taken out to the garage where I was put into his car, the boot, as always. Then I was taken to his place.
As soon as we arrived I was taken into his bedroom and tied down onto the bed. Then he left me for a few hours. Eventually he came back shepherding a little girl almost four years old. She had tears in her eyes. I could see that she had been groomed just as I had so nothing would leave the poor girl’s head.
I remember him saying ‘you see that? That is how you will end up once I am done with you.’ Michael, my god, she looked so scared. He raped me right there in front of her and there was nothing I could do about it. Then after he was done with me he took the girl into the front room to meet the girl’s parents. I could hear through the door everything going on.
The man was praising her to her parents. Kept talking about the progress they were making together. The girl’s parents had no idea that I was there, had no idea that their child was coming out of the ‘treatment’ even more twisted than she went in.”
Dead silence filled the room. I was struck speechless; no matter how many memories we went through together; I was still struck dumb every time a new one surfaced.
A small voice filled the void. “You hate me now don’t you?”
“Of course I don’t. After all this time we both know I could never hate you. No; instead I hate Freud. He has done something just as terrible as your keepers.”
Silence again. Eventually though, the question had to be asked.
“What do you want me to do about this?”
I could not see her face but I still knew what was running through her mind. She was weighing up the benefits against the costs. The fact that Freud would go to jail, he would be labelled as a sex offender, and that he could not hurt another child in any way again was definitely a good thing for everyone including her. But there was also the fact that another part of her story might have to become public knowledge so this could happen.
I knew there was nothing I could do to help make the decision any easier on her. She had to come to a conclusion without my help, it was her memory, her story and life. She could do with it how she pleased now that she no longer had any jailers. I could only be there to hear the outcome.
“Yes. Please try and get that man put behind bars. He should not have another child put into his care again. There shouldn’t be any chance for him to hurt anyone ever again.”
I stood from my chair in order to leave. Aditi’s decision was both a liberating one, and a burden.
“Very well. I will get Harry to give me Freud’s file tomorrow. Right now I need to get back to Tim. I have turned the poor kid’s world upside down and he needs all the help he can get to reorientate himself again.”
Aditi turned over and looked to me in confusion. “Why are you doing this Michael? Why are you showing your classmate the world we exist in? Why?”
I understood her question, but I did not know how to answer. “At school I am seen as an enigma, a puzzle that is as complicated as a sphinx’s riddle. Adults and children alike have been trying to figure me out for as long as I can remember.”
“It probably doesn’t help that you don’t talk and keep to yourself.”
“Probably. But the only reason that I haven’t talked to them about this.” I motioned to the room around us. “Is because I know there is no way for them to possibly understand what happens here. But when Tim came along with severe hypothermia, well.” I slumped across the foot of the bed. My head down the end where her feet were. “I thought he could actually handle it, so I showed him.”
We both lay there in silence. Each deep in our own thoughts. Eventually I stood and went to leave.
“Wait, Michael!” I turned to see Aditi sitting up. Leaning forward, trying to keep me within her sight. “Please hurry back. I’m frightened that Freud might come back. I don’t think he realizes that we have met before but if he does.”
I nodded to her, unlike some of her fears, this one still had the ability to come after her. I left the room without looking back. Hopefully, soon, I will be able to banish this one to the past, just like all the others.
As I walked towards Tim’s room. My mind was in complete turmoil. I had trusted Freud; I was even going to tell him the story about David. Hell, I even thought we might become friends at some point. He had hurt, probably more than just Aditi and that nameless child she saw and he had gotten away with it too. I was so angry at him; how could he do that to people that were too young to even understand how wrong the things they were forced to do were.”
By the time I had reached the door to Tim’s room. I had consciously moved my anger and fury away. Focusing instead on what would take place in the hour ahead. I may have thought he could understand this world. But this, what Aditi had told me, that would be pushing it.
As usual, I knocked before entering the room, something very few doctors or nurses would do in my place. I walked in and immediately went to look out on the other world outside the window. I did this to hide the anger that surely still remained on my features and to imagine, for an instant, what everyone else saw.
I started, “You have questions.”
And Tim dived right in.
It took an hour before I could walk out of Tim’s room. I had told him as much as I was allowed to and that he could handle, what came next was up to him. Now I had to go back to Anthony. He would have to sleep alone tonight so Aditi wouldn’t have to.
I did not want to do this of course; Anthony was still scared that those few he loved that remained might leave him at any second. And here I was; I was actually leaving him. I do realize that it was only for one night, and only because someone else needed me more. But for that scared little boy, one night was enough.
On the way there I stopped at a small closet to pick up an item to help that scared little boy through the night ahead. The same closet where I had pulled a spare shirt from, days earlier.
But first, I needed to check up on someone else before I gave him the bad news.
“Hello again.” I greeted as I walked in on bed three. “Have you thought through your answer?”
“Yes” She stated, folding her arms across her chest. Almost as if she had been asked by a parent.
She was lying on the bed with an empty tray on the nightstand. She had gotten changed whilst I had been out. I thought she might.
I sat down at the bedside, lounging back and steepling my fingers ready to hear her tale.
“Then please.” I waved, “Enlighten me as to the events that will take place if your family walked into the room.”
“Well they will be mad.” I motioned for her to continue. “But they’ll also be relieved to see me alive. They’ll want to take me home so we could continue being one happy family.”
“You don’t seem to be too happy about that last part.”
“You’re right, I’m not. It’s almost as if my parents love me too much. Any more and I’m scared there might be a murder.”
“I see what you’re getting at. So is that why you ran off on them? To see if they’ll stop loving you so much.”
“I suppose. But really it was just to escape, to make my own choices in life. It was like I was one of those protected princesses locked away to save them from the dangers outside. And it was stifling; so I got out.”
“So now that you have seen what the world is really like. Do you think you could go home with your family? To go back to the way things were?”
“Hell no. There’s no way I’m going back to how things were, but I will go back with my family.”
And that was the honest answer I was looking for, finally.
“Now that you are being honest with me and yourself. There are some people that I think you will want to see.”
I walked out to the waiting room and returned with three people.
“Mum, dad, Luke. What are you doing here?’ The girl exclaimed.
She looked so happy to see them, a true family reunion. Therefore, it was my time to leave.
But as I turned to do just that. I was called back by the girl’s mother.
“Wait, where are you going? Can’t we at least know the name of the boy who reunited us with our daughter?”
I turned around and shrugged. “No. Because, and please understand that I mean well by this, I hope we never meet again. If we do, then you will be here and I will tell you my name.”
“That’s just motivation for us to get ill so we can come back.” The daughter muttered to herself.
“No it really isn’t.” I replied and she jumped, surprised that I had heard her. And with that I strode out of the emergency room and escaped the happy family.
I found Anthony on his bed, watching an instalment of Playschool. When he saw me come in he quickly flicked the TV off, embarrassed to be caught watching such a babyish show. I pretended not to notice, I would not like to make his embarrassment any worse.
“Hi there Anthony. Just coming in to say good morning.”
He giggled. “Silly, this isn’t morning; it’s the afternoon.”
“Oh really? According to my watch it’s still ten o’clock.” I looked closer at it. “Hang on, it’s stopped. I guess it had to sometime, it’s been running fast all week.”
The little boy giggled. It was incredibly old joke but it still made the kids laugh.
“So, what have you been up to in here all day[MP1] ? I hope it hasn’t been too boring.”
“Nah; I’ve been watching TV.” I pretended not to notice the blush that overtook his face.
“Well. I have some good news. We managed to track down your Aunt. She’s flying all the way from Africa to take care of you. She should be here by tomorrow.”
The boy looked downcast.
“What’s wrong Anthony?”
“Well, I want to stay here with you. I don’t even know my Aunty and she’s coming to take me away.”
I had expected this. I had become a stable person to him. Someone he knew would be there for him no matter what. And now he would have to go off with a complete stranger. “No-one stay’s here unless they are sick and I’m afraid you are in far too good health to be staying here with me. Before you leave though you will get a chance to get to know your Aunt. And even then, you won’t be going anywhere without my phone number in your pocket, so all you have to do is call; OK?” Red eyed, he nodded his head. “God. Now I have some bad news. Another one of my friends is not feeling very well. She is going through a tough time at the moment just like you are. But tonight, she needs me to stay with her.”
The poor boy looked tearful. “But you said that you wouldn’t leave me.”
“I’m not.” He looked up to me, expecting some sort of clarification. “Remember the first day you were here?” He nodded. “I told you that all you had to do was ask anyone and they would go get me. Nothing is different this time either, I will be in the hospital so all you have to do is ask.”
He wasn’t happy about the situation, but he nodded in affirmation.
We went about normal things after that. Talking about this and that, anything that came to mind. I even got him to admit that he was watching playschool earlier. An hour later, dinner came through. We ate, joking as we did so. Then it was time for the boy to go to bed and for me to leave him for the night.
“Anthony, I brought someone with me so you won’t be lonely tonight. I pulled him from my bag the item that I had taken from the cupboard earlier. A teddy bear, as old as me and very well worn. Yet he had been well taken care of, and in return, he had taken care of countless children. “This is Peter, he has been with me a very long time and you know what?”
“If you take good care of him, he will take care of you.” I remembered that my family used to say the exact same thing to me about Peter. I shook away the thought and held the bear out to the child instead. I no longer needed teddy bears, I don’t talk to them anymore. Peter though, wouldn’t disappear like the rest of my childhood. He was enveloped in Anthony’s arms just like so many children before.
I left, saying goodnight on the way out.
As I walked back to Aditi’s room. I couldn’t help but think about the predicament that Anthony was in. On the one hand, he was going home with someone who had the time to really take care of him. But on the other, I had become an uncle. It was the same story every time. But I knew that he would end up going to a happy home in Mozambique with my number in his pocket in case he wanted to talk to me about it.
Perhaps one day, he might end up as another version of me. I had seen it happen before. But I could only hope he wouldn’t. Mine is not a life full of much happiness and he deserved as much as could be found on this miserable planet.
Then I thought of Tim. Tomorrow he would end up going back to his happy life. Maybe some of the mystery around me will have evaporated by then. I still won’t talk to him though. He would be trying to show off to his friends; and as I told him outside the playroom that day, I speak to be heard and understood, not to fit in. But at least he had a brighter future than many I had seen come through these doors.
I turned into Harry’s office. He wasn’t there; I had expected as much, it was late, time that many normal people, with normal lives, went home. So I left a note on his desk that I wanted to speak to him as soon as he was able. He would come find me in the morning and I would get him to start with the process of gathering evidence against a doctor, a man who swore to help, who did great harm, perhaps many times.
As I turned out the lights I couldn’t help but think of Aditi. She was named by one of the nurses who had spent some time in India as a midwife. The name means boundless or free and she was named for the latter meaning. I did not think the name was appropriate. Aditi would never be free after all; forever more will she be chased by her own ghosts. She may no longer be a beast girl locked in a cage in a basement, but she was still trapped by her past. Perhaps one day she will be able to free herself from it, but as her last dissociation had shown, it would be a long time yet.
This led to Samantha. As she will grow up. She will have hundreds upon thousands of broken bones. Inevitably this would lead to a bowing of the bones which will leave her having trouble walking. She will end up a deformed adult who will need specialized help and equipment in all but the simplest of tasks.
But simple tasks were already a chore to Nicolas. He would die young, perhaps sixteen or seventeen; he might even make it to the legal drinking age. But it wouldn’t make any difference, inevitably he will die in the worst possible way. It will end horrifically and in great pain. And death will take place right here in this hospital with me and family at his side.
David’s funeral was not the first that I have attended. Nor will Nicolas’ be my last. I will be here for the rest of my life in one form or another. Playing cards for memories with the people up in room 348 although the players will always change. Helping kids through the death of their loved ones, helping parents through the death of theirs. And helping Aditi adjust to a world where the sun exists and where there is a future.
That is my future, one that I was happy with and embraced, no matter where it would lead. But as to the next day. When I had returned from seeing Tim leave the hospital for hopefully the last time. I did what I could for the house I was currently squatting in.
At least some of the rumours were true, the ones that Tim no doubt listened to. My parents were dead and I had tried to join them. Not like the others believed, just because of mere bad memories.
But in losing one family, I had gained another that I could never have guessed upon. Anthony and I were similar in more ways than he could have readily guessed. Except I can help him where no-one can help me.