Dr. Uren sat in her office, sighing deeply and looking around at the paperwork decorating almost every available surface. She sighed again as she remembered that Dr. Sam wouldn’t even be around to help her with any of it. He’d gone on vacation with his wife of two years, the lucky bugger.
She sighed again, wondering when next she would go on vacation, and if she would actually de-stress, since she had no significant other to distract her.
The sound of one of the younger children crying stopped her cold in the middle of her next, umpteenth sigh. Getting up quickly, she rushed into the playroom and made her way to the cluster of children to find Sarah, aged 5, right in the middle of it. She was bleeding badly from a cut on her arm.
Instinctively, Uren rushed to one of the many emergency boxes littering the room, pulled on a pair of gloves and got a wad of cotton wool, a bottle of iodine and some band aids. Working quickly, she calmly instructed the other children to go on playing and give Sarah some air.
“Oya, Martins,” she called to one of the older ones, “Go and call Nurse Rosemary.”
“Oh, my poor Sarah baby, who did this to you? Hmm? Sooorry, darling. I’ll fix it all better, OK?”
Sarah, now fascinated by the sight of her own blood, and filled with the importance of the moment, had long since stopped crying and was now solemnly holding out her hand to Dr. Uren, a grown-up look on her babyish face. Uren instructed Nurse Rosemary to take the children to the dining room for lunch while she finished up with Sarah. Two of the older kids; Janet and Michael, stayed back to watch her “fix” Sarah.
Somehow, inexplicably, the bloodied cotton wool lightly feathered Uren’s hand on its way to the waste basket. Flinching slightly, she straightened up and stared down at her hands. Pulling off her gloves, she trained her eyes on the exact spot, just above her wrist. There was no actual blood there but she could almost see the blood, and all its components, moving around actively. She struggled to stave off the panic attack she felt brewing.
“Em… Kids, go on to lunch, I’ll join you soon, OK?”
Looking up, she caught the hurt look in Janet’s eyes. Janet was the oldest kid in here; she understood a lot more than the others.
Hurrying out of the playroom, Uren practically ran into her office, locked the door and jumped into the shower seconds after shedding her clothes into a bin liner. Standing there in the shower, she let the hot water run down her as she scoured every nano-inch of herself with a sponge and antiseptic shower gel. Stopping suddenly, she flashed back to the accusation she’d seen in Janet’s eyes and let her shoulders slump with guilt.
The children were all orphans, one way or another. Most of them had been abandoned by their parents because they were HIV positive. Uren, Dr. Sam, the nurses and caretakers here preached against stigmatisation and discrimination night and day, trying to create a cozy haven for them here in the orphanage.
Yet, she’d almost lost it today. To some of these children, she was home, the one safe place they could run to. And she’d failed them terribly. Was she fit for this job? Could she go on caring for them, knowing her dark secret? That she feared them, and the virus they carried. That she loved them, wanted to help them, but couldn’t quite overlook their status. Was she any different from all the ignorant people on the outside?
Leaning against the wall, she let the hot water fall, like the soap suds, and her tears, as she slowly slid down to the floor.