Her Last Nameday

Ezzat Kemal Zulkarnain

I have never had affinity for hospitals. Despite having been working in one for the last couple of good years, it does seem that I have miserably failed in my countless attempts in growing fond of hospitals no matter how I look at it. The insufferable silence haunting the halls and the rooms and the corners where vases of small green plants are put to try giving the place a slight hope of living are as devastating as the crying and the wailing heard all across the building every once in a while; the loudest usually came from the emergency department, but I suppose they knew better about what they should be expecting coming in to the department. The adjustable bedframes, white in colour, with contrasting dark grey mattresses and light blue bedsheets are as colourless as the pale walls enclosing the facility and capturing every prayer every person have ever said; I presume they have heard more than all old and new gods combined. The perpetual motion of people going in and coming out–on foot, in ambulances, many times in blood–are as depressing as the red surgery signs turning on and off and the period of uncertainty coming shortly after; triggering as many assumptions as anything-related scandals. I have spent so much time in this hospital that I have grown rather scared of it.

Albeit the major antipathy I have toward my workplace, I must admit the considerable amount of curiosity I hold about a certain department placed on the left wing of my counter–the children department. The department consists of children who require more intense medical attention. They have all sorts; blood diseases, this cancer and that cancer, nerve, brain, call it what you want but it truly is a catalogue of pain for those who do not have the stomach. I have never been necessarily interested in the prospect of being permanently stationed there nor the idea of visiting it every weekend with the relatives, support groups, or the council members stopping by for charitable causes. It is never the colourful panels of the wallpaper or the soft white cloud-like decorations someone had made at some point before I started working here hanging from the eaves; it is never all that. It is just that there is a certain sense of naivety filling the room at all times–so abundant that they often reek out of the gaps around the door like a gust of wind oozing toward the nurse counter–and working in a hospital, I am not used to reacting to a rare certainty.

One of the residents of the children department was Anne. I knew her name from the number of files sitting inside her health records folder on the counter’s computer I occasionally read during midday or midnight break time and that one time when I was assigned to take her upstairs to see Dr. Hodel for a medical check up; but, mostly, I knew her only by the files and records. Even when all the chemicals and medicine used in her chemotherapy sessions has taken away half the tumor on her brain and all the hair on her head, she was still a lovely girl. She did not talk too much–I guess smiles and chuckles were enough to compensate for that–but her eyes told everyone that like me, she was not too fond of having to be here; after all, I do not think animal puzzles and boardgames and pre-recorded cartoons could replace playing tags outside and going on a trip to the beach and summer sun in general in amusing the mind of a seven year old girl. She passed away in her sleep two weeks after her last session; the doctor told me that the tumor she had was beyond curing. It did not feel right but I forced a smile and said I have seen plenty worse. The doctor forced a second smile and walked away.

Along with other children in the department, Anne lived over a lie; one that was told over and over and over again until we forget that it was a lie. Her father told her that after she would return home they would go on a trip to the beach, the two of them, when he knew they would not. The doctor told her that she would soon recover when he knew she would not. I told her that she would marry a doctor in the future when I knew very well she would not. She was holding on to her life and we our false pride–of being capable of providing something we did not have for the sake of doing something right. I remembered the smell of all those candles burning in all those windows on her last nameday–calm, luminous, warm–but I did not remember doing anything right. Or at least I was not sure of that.

References:

  • “Dismantling Summer” by The Wonder Years
  • The Virgin Suicides (1999) by Sofia Coppola
  • Anxieties and uncertainties in facing adulthood. Sort of.

Word count: 822 words

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