This is a short story I wrote a while back. I received some feedback on it, but I usually do not change material that I have already published. However, I thought it would be appropriate to revise the text (slightly) and re-publish it here, making this my first appearance on this fine blog.
Roy looked up at the dusty television in the corner. Apparently, some planes had crashed into a building in the States. The United States. Three months in a sandy desert and the word “home” had lost almost all of its meaning. He turned back to his patient, a twelve month old kid. A baby that her mother apparently had tried to put out of its misery of thirst, hunger, and poor hygiene. They had found the kid lying next to the starved 31 year old woman who had shot her baby in the eye and herself in the brains. The kid must have been lying there for several hours. Ants and flies and other insects had immediately started to crawl into the open wound. What an opportunity for them. All-you-can-eat and the only way the baby could defend itself was by emitting a faint cry. They had cleaned the flesh and tried to disinfect it. Roy was not sure if the kid was gonna make it. And if the permanent damages might be immense. They tried what they could, but ultimately, it was not in their power to save the baby. It would be pure luck. A one year old human being, unable to speak or think a clear thought already depended on luck to survive.
On the dim screen they showed the plane again. Slow-motion. He watched the seemingly small aircraft approaching the giant tower frame by frame from the corner of his eye. It wasn’t really a clip, it was a slideshow. They brought in a 20 year old woman who apparently had suffered from thirst so badly that she had decided to drink from a container of gasoline. They hadn’t managed to make her throw it all up again and now her liver and kidneys had begun to fail. The poor woman was screaming in pain and Roy had trouble even making her take some painkillers.
“A dark day for America-”
Through the noise of the camp the announcer on television sounded distant.
Roy saw an average of 40 patients a day. Some were brought to him, but most of the time, he had to find them in the mass of sick, wounded, crippled, and dying people that were pressed together in the camp and even outside in the burning sunlight. An endless ocean of pain, grief, desperation. Screaming, crying, weeping and shouting hit everyone in the face who dared to come close to the camp. Roy was 26 years old. This had been an alternative to an internship. It sounded good on paper: charitable work where it was needed. Half a year over there, hands-on experience, the feeling of redemption for living a life in a less troubled society. On his first day he already realized that this wasn’t a trip to Africa. It was a trip to hell. He was a tourist looking at people dying in the worst possible way. And after the first had died, he turned and looked at the ones next to them. Few survived. Every tiny little victory of life was followed by death’s giant parade of suffering.
This guy’s house had burned to the ground while he was sleeping inside. Some people would have called it a miracle that he even got out of the flames alive. Roy thought of it as a satanic twist. The fire had destroyed most of the man’s skin. Roy knew that they didn’t have the equipment to replace it in time. Unless there was, in fact, a miracle, the man would suffocate to death soon. The only reasons that the medical staff of the camp would visit him were to either give him some more painkillers or, for those who actually believed in miracles, to see if his condition had improved. It never did. And Roy wasn’t one to believe in miracles after being here for three months.
When he returned to the station that he shared with Doctor Howe, the television was still showing images of the two towers and the planes. Two people had jumped out of the building. Huge falling distance, no way they would make it. They were holding hands. Doctor Howe was supposed to be Roy’s instructor. But the 63 year old veteran of medicine made it clear from the first day that Roy would be going to have his own shift during which he would be on his own. Obviously, there had been an introduction of sorts and “the Doc”, as they called him, told Roy that he was allowed to ask the other staff members about things he wasn’t sure about. Though Roy didn’t feel that it was encouraged. That’s why Roy never found out why “the Doc” had decided to have a television broadcast American news all day long. It wasn’t really important anyway. And no one was ever watching, either.
Three months later, he went back home, left Africa behind, left hell behind. They had managed to save the baby from death, although there were signs of severe brain damage. The twenty year old woman had died of an infection that they hadn’t even noticed until it was too late. They hadn’t had the time to check when she had been admitted. A satanic twist. The burn victim had gone on to live another week of excruciating pain until he finally passed. Roy left all of them behind. His relatives and friends asked all sorts of questions. He answered few, shrugged a lot. A few years later, when he was working at a hospital, a guy he was working with asked him where he was on 9/11. Roy had forgotten. Repressed. The things he had seen that day were too horrible to remember.