The Healer

Daybreak brought in those in need, but not like they came before and not in a way Khadira expected. A little boy brought his grandfather, whose face and hands were covered with burns. A girl brought her older sister, whose mind gave in when they parents were killed right in front their eyes. And that was all.

Surely, there must be more, the wounded, the violated, where were they? For the first time, Khadira cursed her isolation: it provided some safety, but it also kept her unaware of goings-on in the city. She tried to inquire with those who came; the boy was too young to explain, the older sister unresponsive, but the young girl was able to provide some account of the horror that was last night. It was as if a bad spirit has blown his fiery breath over the city where the King passed, leaving stillness of the wasteland in its wake. A third of the city burned, the Temple too. There were no prisoners, no wounded – only dead, their bodies left in heaps on the roadsides.

Some people crumble under grief, some lash out; Khadira became more determined. Lips pursed into tight line, she did her best for those who came, bandaged old man’s hands – she couldn’t do much for his face; fed the women a calming tincture. Then, she decided, she would set off to help; if the hurt can not come to her, she will go to them, or – if none is left to be helped – she’ll put out the fires and bury the dead.

Yet before she had time to act on her resolve, there was a commotion outside, and with a loud crash the door of her house flew of its hinges. A group of soldiers poured in, one, two, three, "There’s no room for in here for that many;" flashed through Khadira’s mind randomly, before bracing to deal with the intruders. An officer came in last and barked at her to collect her stuff, they’re taking her to the temple.

Khadira straightened slowly and challenged the man "And who is left at the temple to need me?" she asked, leveling a steady gaze at the officer. Accustomed to deference from the defeated – especially women! - the man shifted uncomfortably. "It’s one of yours" he said, and turning abruptly, left her house. That short statement held more power over Khadira than any threat; she hurriedly went around grabbing this pot, that bag – who knows what she might need? – and unceremoniously pushing it to the unwilling hands of the remaining soldiers. She figured If they need that many to escort one woman, they could at least be put to use.

It took every speck of courage and determination Khadira possessed not to break down sobbing at the sites they encountered on the trip to the temple. A girl, rocking her doll, sat in her dead mother’s lap; a little boy threw cupfuls of water onto the smoldering remains of his home; bodies everywhere, and all of them, alive or dead, permeated by heavy stench of smoke.

The temple was the worst heartbreak of all, bodies of innocents tangled with broken precious artwork on the marble floors; soot and smoke and death. Yet, in this carnage, a speck of life, unrelenting – they brought her to a body pulled to one side. Kneeling swiftly on the floor she quickly ascertained that the man is alive, but badly burned;  his right leg was mangled. Khadira lost herself in her patient, she peeled the charred clothes off the burned limbs, set the broken bones as best as she could, applied calming lotions and dressed the burns, and feed the man a tincture to ease his pain. He was unconscious, which made it easier for her to work. She was only dimly aware of presence of others around her, and only by degrees realised that when she need water or wood for splinter, it was passed to her, and when she was setting the bone a strong hand was reached out to help. Still, her focus was on the injuries, and only after she’s done what she could, she really looked at the man in front of him. She new the temple keeper well, from the small bright boy playing on the river banks while she, a couple of years older, was fetching water with her girlfriends, to the solemn young man mourning his parents, his slight figure greatly surpassed by his determination, and by his sharp intelligence. Deeply saddened, Khadira reached forward and moved a lock of hair from his forehead. "You’ll live" she whispered.

Standing up, Khadira addressed one of the soldier who’ve been keeping the guard over them.  "I need to move him to someplace safer. Where can I take him?"

"He is not to leave," replied the guard. "Our King has taken ill the moment he set the foot in the temple. This man is needed for questioning".

"This man will not be alive for questioning if he’s not taken care of," Khadira lashed out. "I need to move him to his rooms, or someplace else not burnt". If such a place can be found, she thought to herself.

Surprisingly, the guard went to inquire. Further below the hall, Khadira could see a ring of guards around a couple of figures, one of them on the ground. The others were whirling about it. From where she stood, Khadira could hear the faint chanting. The King, and his attendants? No healers in his entourage, then. Just performers.

The man on the ground gave a soft moan. Quickly, she kneeled down beside him. He whispered some words she couldn’t understand, then slowly opened his eyes.

Khadira tried to smile with courage she didn’t feel. "You live," she said to Satyajit.

The End

9 comments about this story Feed