The Day was New Year’s Eve. The Day the world ended.
Everyone was at someone’s house, dancing and singing the night away without a care in the world. Fizzy champagne filled our glasses as we counted down the last seconds of the year. 12:00. Silence. No fireworks, no shouts, no clinks of cups, nothing. 12:01, the bombs started. Not the kind that light up the sky and people awe at, the kind that bring destruction and desolation. Someone grabbed my hand and pulled. Pulled me down. Without them, I would have stayed there, frozen. They yanked me along to a place called safety, weaving through all the chaos around us. My foot came off the last step and the world went black.
Now… I am here in a hospital, where I have been for the first few weeks of the new year and new month. The walls are white, and the beds are thin and covered in fleece green sheets, ones that are over me now. They are scratchy and nip at the cuts that are trying to heal. I brush my hair off my neck and should attempt to sleep. It’s easier in the day than in the night. Instead, I stumble to the window. The window that never shows anything different but that calms me somehow. The sun is trying so hard to push through the clouds, however they will not budge. A field stands before me where a street full of businesses and homes used to be, only now are crushed to bricks and rubbish. Tiny yellow flowers speckle the plain, bringing bits of beauty to such an ugly place. The occasional wall stays standing undeterred by the disaster around. I like to compare myself to that wall even though we are nothing alike.
The nurse’s footsteps behind me speak that it is time for me to go to bed, no matter how much I fight it, it’s the same every day. I will not sleep, so I stay awake. They tell me I need sleep and fill me with drugs until I do. But then I awake again. They want me to overcome my fear of dreams, but they do not see the nightmares that flood my brain when my body rests. The moments after the bombs are blurry, though in my dreams they are crystal.
I shift the crutch under my arm, taking the weight off my bad leg, and hobble to my bed. It is directly behind me with a view of the window. I think the nurse is surprised by how easily I obey. I am tired… tired of resisting rest. I do need it.
“Hadassah,” she says, examining my leg, “It’s lookin’ good. Another week on the crutch and you’ll be able to walk. You might have a limp there, but it’ll be better than nothin’.”
I have never told her my name though somehow, she always knows it and calls me by it. I muster up a smile for her, the muscles in my cheeks unsure of how to work. Her laugh is sweet and something I haven’t heard for a while. She closes the curtains on her way out, and the older man in the bed beside me snores. In and out… in and out… in and out… His breathing is loud, a lullaby to my needy ears. My mind wanders back to the first seconds of the new year, the moments that I can’t remember correctly, and thinks of the person who grabbed me. I was too shocked to comprehend who it was, but I wish I knew who saved me. Without them I wouldn’t be in this bed right now. I hope they are in the other room wondering the same thing. Eventually, the darkness of sleep comes. Darkness that is of rest and not of pain; those two are hard for me to differentiate.
When I awake, I know a soft smile lies on my lips. My dream was sweet. I dreamt of my family, not of them hurt, but of them laughing and smiling at me back at our home. The sun shined and the birds chirped as we all sat around the table. It feels more like a memory than a dream. I believe my family is still alive, somewhere, trying to find me as I am seeking to find them. The night the world seemed to end we were all separated, a decision I regret and turn over again and again in my head.
The nurse, I learned her name, Jeanne leads me over to the washroom. I still use my crutch but can feel my foot strengthening. She shuts the door and has me sit on a turned over bucket. The room is dimly lit and musty, too many dirty towels and dirty bodies. Taking a piece of the bandage, she unwraps my calf with such gentleness shivers rush through me. With the same tenderness, she helps me remove my clothing so she can wash me. I have told Jeanne multiple times that I am capable of cleaning myself, but she insists and I don’t have the energy to argue. A fluffy mustard yellow sponge floats in a bucket of water near her. She rings it out and begins cleansing me. The water is cool and refreshing against my skin. I shut my eyes as she continues.
“Hold your hair please.”
I lift my long hair off my neck for her to clean.
“Let’s wash your hair today miss.”
I nod and flip my hair forward. She drenches it in the cool water, scrubbing the filth away. Her strong nails rake through my hair and I close my eyes again, lulled by her massage. Using a towel, she dries my hair by hand.
“Hadassah… you have such pretty dark hair. Can I braid it for ya?”
“Please,” my voice is raspy, only used when necessary.
More shivers tremble through my body as her steady fingers go to work. Piece after piece she braids my hair, turning it into one thick strand. It flaps onto my shoulder, a beautiful red ribbon tied on the end. A lump fills in my throat as she holds a pair of pants in front of me. I slip into the clothes, with her help, my eyes on the floor. If I look up, I will crumble. But maybe crumbling into someone who cares about you is okay.
I glance up, into her light blue eyes and wrinkly skin, and crumble. And break. And sob. Tears burst from my eyes and a yelp escapes my throat. Jeanne covers me in her warm arms and strokes my back. She doesn’t speak and neither do I. Her embrace is still tight as my tears dry on my cheeks. I pull back to see her face.
“Thank you, Jeanne.”
My voice edges back to its normal, and I want to say more but cannot. Jeanne cups my cheek with her hand. Her grin is one I will never forget, her eyes shining in reflection of mine.
We head to the lunchroom, a smile in Jeanne’s eyes while we tread there. Her hair is tied in a braid same to mine, and I am grateful to match her. Grateful to wait in line for food. Grateful to be alive.
“One step at a time…walk to the window.”
The man’s tone is soothing and patient. The week has come to rid of the crutch. It will be a month tomorrow since the bombs first came. The man guides me on how to walk again, something I never thought I’d need to know how to do twice. Moving my feet one after another, I inch toward the window I know, the goal, with slow steps. My feet shuffle in an odd manner, in a way that feels unnatural, but he encourages me on, so I go.
The window is a step away. I keep my eyes trained on the floor.
“Come on Hadassah,” Jeanne says.
Step… step…My gaze glides from my feet to the window. The same desolate land is there, but three familiar faces stand in front of me, and this time they aren’t from my dream. They aren’t from a nightmare or an imagination. They are as real as my wobbly ankle beneath me. Jeanne and the man laugh and cheer behind me. Awe is a word too underwhelming to explain what these people standing in front of me mean. I am running, running on my feet, limping, out the door. It is them.