The Irony Of Choking On A Lifesaver
”Got a dream, got a spark, got somewhere to be,
Take a breath, say goodbye to their precious little world.”
“I’m leaving” was the last thing I ever said to my mum. There was no explanation, no contradiction, or any hint to my return. I’d finally finished university and was about to start working at an orphans hospital, apparently the finest in the whole of the US. There was no way I was getting there with mum clawing up my back though. She didn’t want me to leave. She never did. Even as I approached my new place of work, I could still recall every second of her telling me that England was the best place to be. Like always she was wrong. America was my future, at least that’s what I was hoping.
The hospital building was cold and grey, a lot like breaking ice. Everything about it made me want to turn and walk away, but I couldn’t. I’d already made the decision to come here. Leaving would mean going back to her. This was my new job. At the front office, which perfectly reflected the exterior, there was a small petit lady sitting behind a desk. When I approached her I tried to smile, but all she did was frown and turn the other way. That was polite.
“Hello, I’m here to start my first day of work,” I said with the happiest tone I could convey, though she wasn’t having any of it. With a groan she grabbed a booklet and slammed it in front of me. Etched on the cover was the name Jack Barakat. Such a pretty name for such an unfortunate child.
“How old is he?” I asked softly, already expecting there not to be an answer. All she did was point to the book and turn back around; I guess that meant look yourself. So much for a service that can make any child smile.
Sighing I took the book and sat on one of the waiting room chairs. For a moment I wondered why one of these was needed, as none of the children had family anyway. My heart sank when I returned to the book and read Jack’s condition. Terminal Cancer. He was only sixteen years old and he was dying. Times like this made me realise how lucky I am to be strong and healthy, as well as remind me of why I took up this job in the first place. These kids needed help, hope, and I was ready to give it to them. When I’d found out where his room was, I got up to find it.
Every single room in this hospital was the same. The walls were stained with a sticky brown substance that I didn’t recognise, probably mould, and the ceilings were crumbling like rotting deodorant. These conditions took me aback, I expected so much better.
After what seemed like a lifetime of walking, I found the room named E16 – the one where my patient was. Gently I pulled the handle down on the door, not wanting to wake the child if he was asleep. Luckily when I nosed in he was sitting on his bed, watching the television
“Hey,” I called in with the same voice I’d addressed the administrator with. Instead of being a moody cow, he gave me a massive smile. He must have been pleased to see a new face. Overall he was a slim boy, with skin so thin that you could see the bones almost breaking through it. Sitting on top of his jet black hair was a random yellow streak, like a skunk. He seemed timid like one so it suited him nicely. From that moment I knew I was going to like that kid. “What are you watching?”
“Umm… not much.” He whispered in a husky but soothing voice, quickly going to turn off the tv, “if you knew you’d laugh”. Again he smiled, beckoning me to come and sit on his bed. All he wanted was some company.
“Oh I bet I wouldn’t,” I responded, trying to get him comfortable around me, “I watched Sponge Bob until I turned 18 so nothing will surprise me”. For the first time he began to laugh, then he reached under his pillow and pulled out a dvd case, Home Alone. I grinned at my own fond memories of watching that film with my family; it was one of my favourites.
“It’s my all time favourite film. I watch it every time I’m down, it reminds me of my- of my… “ He stammered, tears filling his eyes. Knowing exactly who he was on about, I allowed him to rest his head on my lap. Gently I caressed my hands through his unusual hair, not even realising how wrong it would look if someone walked in. It was clear that nobody had given him this sort of affection in a long time.
“Jack you don’t need to talk about it. Let’s change subject eh? Hmm… You have any friends here?” My friendly tone had returned, which in turn made him smile again. This time it was different though, it was as if I’d sparked one of his heart strings and sent electricity pulsing around his body. That moment I knew he’d found more than a friend here. “Who’s the lucky girl?”
He was shocked by this question. The friction seemed to become stronger, knocking away his ability to speak. I’d gotten in too deep before I’d even known the boy five minutes, something I was strictly told not to do. I had to fix this quick.
“Why don’t you show me around?” This was a question he liked. Tightly he grabbed my hand and swept me out of his tomb, not like a normal person would if they were dying of cancer. This strength was nothing like I’d ever seen before. He was the bravest man-boy I’d ever met.
Like before, all the rooms he showed me were the same. The doors were equally as sickly cream as his, with the walls being the identical grey colour of the corridors, not forgetting the brown sludge sitting upon them. Everything was far too plain. If I was ill, it would be the last place I’d like to stay, as if these kids had any choice though. They had no where else to go. It was their last resort. It was either here of they died, simple as.
Suddenly Jack stopped. We were standing outside a room no different to the others, so I started to wonder why. Silently he looked through the glass at the person inside, and with a happy cry he opened the door to let us in. There on the bed was another boy. This boy had the darkest chocolate coated hair, probably with eyes that matched if they weren’t hidden by a fringe. His body was just as thin as Jack’s, maybe slightly plumper; it was hard to tell in the dim light filling the room. The only thing I could perfectly make out on him was his smile.
“Why hello there missy,” He flirted and winked in my direction, “What are you doing with Jack Baraballs?” To begin with I was drawn aback by his remark, but all Jack did was laugh. Must have been a personal joke between them.
“She’s my new doctor… Come to think of it I don’t know your name yet,” He spoke in a more childish tone around this new boy. Not waiting for my response, he continued “Anyway this is Alex. Alex, mystery woman. Mystery woman, Alex. Care to enlighten us of your name mystery woman?”
“It’s Dr Geovani, but you can just call me Rhinae. I’m a university graduate from England, recently moved here from there,” I answered. Around the one who I now knew as Alex, Jack had a completely different presence about him. He seemed more confident and full of life.
“Geovani?! I bet you were bullied at school,” Alex laughed, calling us both to come and sit on his bed. Obviously he was the leader of their friendship, you could tell from the way he ordered us around. He didn’t do it in a nasty way though. One of the things you have to do when you’re an orphan is live on your own, so it had made him this way.
“Alex calm down, don’t get too excited or… you may hurt yourself” Jack suddenly turned serious, zapping the joy from my face. In that moment I remembered why I was actually here, and that there was something wrong with the two boys that are sitting in front of me.
“What’s wrong Alex?” I turned into Doctor mode again, forcing seriousness upon my tone. Nobody answered. It was the quietest I had ever heard a room go. Outside there wasn’t even a mumour, no hint of birdsong or quack in the air, nothing. Distantly Alex wrapped the bed cover around his heart and turned as pale as the walls surrounding him. The next sentence I heard didn’t register to begin with.
“He has AIDS.”
“He has… what?”
“AIDS. He tested HIV positive. Only…because of his condition…because he has no family…he didn’t get the medication soon enough. Rhinae… he’s dying.”
My mouth mentally dropped to the ground in shock. No. I searched Alex’s eyes for a hint of denial, and waited for a joke to come out of his mouth. I got neither. Jack was being deadly serious; you could clearly see it when he turned his head to face mine. “Don’t let Alex die before me.” He mouthed, before turning his head back to his best friend. By the look on his face he wanted to say so much more than that.