III: Baby Steps
“-dent...” an echo went on, shifting, breaking, unclear, “…ca-n…”; “…s-sir…”; “…you…”
Then the flash—oh! I collapsed my eyes once, then with the little energy that I could summon, raised them back up. And oh, the flash! It was all I could focus on, and yet, it burned my eyeballs, that little thing, and it went all the way through their sockets and to my head, sending pangs of pain, which could have swung me off the bed I was on if I could entirely feel it—my head. I looked on, anyway, at the flash—it was almost as if at some point, it whispered, and despite every singe, I would look on, keenly, as if to miss not a single word. I listened to the silence in the beam, I listened, and within it was a whisper, of pain, to my insides, and then, it spotted my vision, the thing, leaving emptiness where the darkness went. When I couldn’t hold it any longer, not for the inexplicable enticement, and not for the voice in the silent beam, I let go, and my eyelids slammed down heavily.
I sunk into a slow, inward awareness and reflection of the moments and events that had led to my current state of unintended weakness. I remembered the voice and wondered what it was trying to say. All I had were but bits, pieces, zero sense, and nobody to help with connecting them. I searched through the confusion, and the overwhelming feeling was helplessness, stirred by my continuous detachment from reality. I searched, nonetheless. For the voice. I figured; it was the only link I had to what I could term with certainty to be ‘real.’
“Sir, can you hear me?”
Oh, the voice! I wasn’t one to waste a golden chance. With a well-thought strategy, I swiftly turned my head to the left, the direction of the voice, as soon as my eyes opened—I hoped to avoid direct contact with the beam that had put me back down.
The evasion was successful, and my eyes immediately caught the sight of a man. He had a white apron going over his navy-blue jeans. A checkered shirt peeped out to a length off the white coat, and as my eyes climbed on up, I noticed it—it wasn’t the million-dollar watch that went around his right wrist, or the wedding ring that glittered in his left hand, his fingers folded to the front in support of the clipboard. No, and it wasn’t the way he held the clipboard either. I wasn’t Sherlock Holmes, but I could tell a shackle when I saw one. Whatever look it wore, I could always tell it. And it’s not for the dirty smirk over its frontage or the stink of the cold steel—but the short story of knowing your devils, and knowing them well.
The man’s peered, partly, its edges lightly pressing against his watch, the rest of it disappearing into his sleeves and concealing where it adjoined with the other.
I could tell from the tag hanging around his neck that he was a doctor. I looked at the man in the face, and he immediately shifted back to his clipboard—the shame, in surrender. He wore the look, and it clearly chocked him inside. He was a walking, drowning man, I could tell. A drowning doctor. Quite ironical that he was the one sent to pull me out of my drowning wreck of a ship. What had they done to him? A man will choose either to live or to live for someone. I had never thought of any greater purpose. And this man, I thought, must have chosen to live for someone.
I looked up once, quickly, then turned to my right side. I carried with me some discomfort from the torturous beam and dark spots all over my vision. Nobody stood there, anyway. Just the spots, saying hi and bye, as quick. I blinked, my eyes moving along the white wall. It was pretty white, but for my spotty vision—a bright, shiny, white, with no markings or decorations. Where was I? My eyes reached the end, then moved a little to the left; and like from eons away, a blurry vision of two figures, maybe four, if I was sure of when, where and what I was looking at, and of course, if my vision was any clearer.
I struggled to see, wrinkling my face in reflex, my head rising to a few inches. One of the figures moved a step to the right, then made its way towards me. The closer it approached, the clearer a female figure appeared. She moved steadily, quietly, and the closer she got, the broader her facial muscles stretched; it was Susan. She swung her waist with every motion, smoothly taking her lefts and rights. She walked on, her smile whose reciprocation I couldn’t help, warming every inner part of me.
I turned my head as I noticed the other figures move. One was a man, and he became clearer as he approached the bed’s footboard. He stood over my feet, Zak, looked at the covers over them, then up at me. “Nice of you to finally join us, Jo.”
Susan stood beside me to the right. She took my hand, then squeezed it in both of hers. We smiled at each other before the doctor’s voice rumbled on my left. “If you can hear me, Sir,” the man said. I turned slowly, then looked at him steadily in the eyes. “Please confirm your name and age.” He looked down at his notepad, then quickly at me, before turning back to the pad idly.
I looked up at the beam atop of me with renewed confidence. I could still feel its stabs raising the temperatures underneath my eyes, and boiling my inner parts with discomfort. But I looked on. “Joel,” I said as I turned to the doctor, whose eyes had been replaced by the dark spots in my vision. “Joel Wosan,” I added.
The doctor jotted something down. “Age?” He asked, looking at me with his right hand paused on top of the clipboard.
“Twenty-nine,” I said, fighting the discomfort that made me turn a little where I lay. I then looked back at the doctor.
“Wh—” I tried to ask something, but Susan squeezed my hand. I turned to look at her.
“How are you feeling, Jo?” Zak asked, and I moved my eyes slowly along the bed and over to him. I tried to move my left hand, and it responded. I moved it to the edge of the bed I was on, then pulled it a little backward to my chest position, so that I could support myself with it. I, unfortunately, collapsed back heavily, feeling weak. I turned to Susan, and she nodded lightly, then released my right hand, gently placing it flat on the bed. I moved it to the edge like the left, pulled it a little to my chest position, then with both hands, attempted to lift myself. I did it! And I smiled. The few seconds meant everything to me, and while I collapsed back to my initial position in no time, I was glad that my efforts at awakening fully felt real and bore fruits.
I looked back at Zak. “Capable,” I said.
Zak turned to Susan. “Susan, you should—”
“Enough.” I cut him short in a light rumble. Zak looked down at my covered feet, then back up at my face.
I looked behind him, and two more figures came forth, each to a distance of Zak’s either side. They were dressed in matching black suits, with spotted ties hanging from their necks and against tucked, white shirts. They were both well-shaven and neat. The two men looked straight at my face, and I wasn’t sure what they were up to, or why they had just gotten up. “Sir,” one of the men said, his eyes fixed on me. I looked at Susan, and she again nodded lightly.
“Can you get me a chair, please? I need to be off this bed.”
“Right away, Sir.” The other man on Zak’s right responded, and the two left hurriedly.
“But, Sir. I wouldn’t recommend that you get off that soon, yet.” The doctor on my left dropped his hands, his apron completely covering the part that initially exposed the dreaded steel.
“Are you going to chain me up?” I asked.
“No, Sir, but—”
“Good, then I’m choosing to walk off this bed, and you will not stop me, or will you?” I turned to Zak.
There was a momentary pause before Zak looked down, then shifted a little off his stand as he said, “I guess nobody can.”
The two men from before soon came back in, one pushing a wheelchair, and the other walking closely beside him. I looked at the chair with some longing in my eyes and hope in my heart. But the nearer it came, the more I started to wonder—this rich man’s chair meant something to the puzzle that had troubled me for long, and the two men meant that I was getting specialized care. Of course, there was the “Sir” too, and then the doctor! Now, the doctor was a bigger mystery. Why was he chained? And what the hell had happened to me!
I struggled to my prior seated position, and one of the men tried to support me on the left side, as Susan quickly took my right. I forced myself back down in protest. “No, I want to do it!” I said, and they obeyed my wishes, Susan hesitantly. I retried my earlier trick, holding the bed by both ends and along my chest position, to thrust myself up. It worked! I was soon up and groaning in extreme pain, which rang on my back.
“Sir!” The doctor tried to call amidst my whines. “You should go back down, please.”
“No!” I protested, still groaning nonetheless. Seeing I wouldn’t bend and yet needed help, he quickly moved to my back, still partly appearing on the front, swinging both his hands under my shoulders.
“Some help here?” The doctor called as he struggled with my falling weight, and one of the men rushed closer to his left, supporting me strongly as he readjusted his stance to a firm, tall stand.
Susan quickly grabbed my right, and the doctor went well behind my back. He passed his left hand around the beam’s stand to hold the mattress, and his right pushed the pillow I was lying on a little farther down so that it partly supported my lower back. That’s when I felt it—my head. It felt as heavy as a ton would against it. I felt the pain within growing, sipping the pangs little at a time, and when I couldn’t hold more of it, I cried out.
Zak came forth fast, approaching me from Susan’s side. “His feet,” he said. “They must hurt like hell. Help him stretch them flat.”
Zak tossed my beddings to the side, exposing a white bodysuit that I was dressed in. “Here,” said Zak, readjusting my left foot, which had lain on the right, paralyzing the latter with more pain. It was worse when he stretched them both flat, and I screamed. It helped anyway, what he did.
“We don’t want him up for too long,” the doctor said over my backside, “let’s move him to the chair, quick.”
The three who were supporting me nodded in agreement. Zak quickly went over to the other side, asking for a little space from the man with the chair. He then took my feet in both his hands.
“Turn it, so that it’s facing me,” Zak instructed.
The man with the chair turned it and held it down firmly. Satisfied, Zak looked back at the rest of the team, then nodded.
“Okay,” the doctor nodded too. “In three,” he said, looking around at the rest, “two… and wh-wh… on-ne…!” Yes. It took about three more seconds to lift me off the bed, with their coordination. For the first time, I understood pain differently. And helplessness. I groaned a little, feeling the weight of my body collapse on itself, but grateful for a complete back that could lie. I watched the doctor sigh, and the others as they took different positions in the room. Susan came to me, then looked up at the man who held my chair. “Thank you,” she said, and the man walked in front, nodding before taking the corner behind Susan. She went behind me, then pushed us out.
I had desired to look outside for a while. My wishes were slowly starting to overcome the feeling of despair, the lingering pain, and the clear resignation. We pushed through a proper-lit corridor, white-walled just like the room we had left. There were plenty of more rooms that we passed along the way, marked with unmatching numbers. They were meters high, their doors, with small, rounded, meshed, and airtight glass windows just above the handles. I couldn’t look through them, but I was quite curious about what lay beyond.
We came across the first person where two corridors intersected. It was a female, dressed in the same manner as the doctor from before. The corridor we were on went on, taking a bend to the right, a few meters off the intersection.
I tapped Susan’s left hand, and she stopped. I looked around. The crossed corridor had on the left side and a little far off to roughly four to five meters, a dozen masked individuals, in three groups of four. I counted at least three skirts and two more ladies in trousers. The rest appeared to be men. Joining them at irregular intervals and picking one from each group while replacing them were more men and women dressed as the two doctors I had encountered. I turned to our right side, and military men moved in and out of rooms, though indeterminable from where I sat, carrying what appeared to be bodies, wrapped in sheets.
I looked up at Susan, and she just turned ahead of the corridor we were on. With a little hesitation, I dropped my hand back on the chair, and Susan pushed it forward along the smooth bend on the corridor. I still longed to see some light, and earth—an outside to this hell.
“Susan,” I called for the first time since we left the room.
“Hey, Jo. Feeling better?”
“I…” I started, unsure of how to drive this particular conversation. “I’m not sure if I’m feeling like myself, really.”
“I would understand,” Susan said.
Right then, I didn’t feel that anyone understood me. Not when I was that whole pile of a mess inside. All they could see was the broken vessel outside, I’d think. But not the inner ruins. And I clung to the hope that everything would slowly come together.
“Has this happened before?” I asked.
“What? The accident? No!” Susan stopped, then came to the front and looked down at me. “You don’t even remember, do you?” She spoke sadly, taking my right hand as she did.
“Accident?” I asked, clearly confused.
Susan lifted my hand slowly, helping me straighten it a little, before supporting my elbow in her left, and turning my wrist with her right so that I could touch my head. It was well-bandaged. I automatically wrinkled my face in thought. What really happened to me?
“It was an accident, Jo.”
Susan gently placed back my hand, then went around my back. Almost immediately, I could hear undertone chatting emerge from the bend, accompanied by light footsteps. Two men, dressed in full military gear, with hats over their heads and their light sub-machine guns hanging against their sides, soon walked past us, their eyes trained on the floor they were walking on as they talked. We waited till they were a little distance off from us, then looked back at each other before proceeding.
“What accident?” I whispered, struggling to turn my neck.
Susan sighed, then patted my back. “We’ll need a better place to talk,” she said.
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