He doesn’t peer into every corner. He doesn’t need to know. There are shadows on the wall, leaving an indistinct impression. One among many. The walking wounded stare back. Casualties of war. Now, they’re in another place, fighting battles for survival. Their wounds are all too real. There is no front line, or back seat, or room with a view. Come dawn, along with the rats, they all disappear.
The Talkers are talking. Loudspeakers on every street corner. He stands before an open window, listening. By rights he should be dead or captured. He is not; stirs the coffee with his left hand, pondering the refugees on the street. The twists and turns have brought him where he is, and he won’t sleep until he understands what happened the night before. Her perfume is the trail to follow. Tracing a pattern along her skin. The tone of voice. Her fingers pointed, nails digging in. The joys of flesh do not last. Where they met, why and how – it would take too long. He has no need of that kind of history. He’s seen her with other men. It barely seems to matter. She was briefly his and will be again.
He puts down the coffee cup, stretches. The night is over. The world is wide awake. The walking wounded are back where they belong. There are few ghosts remaining. They scatter petals in the paths of strangers hoping for recognition. No one recalls names or faces. He lifts a hand to acknowledge their presence. They stare back wordlessly. Their empty eyes concealing the fate he knows will be his. There are shadows on the walls, leaving an indistinct impression. The nurses, when they appear, carry hypodermic needles. They smile, often in unison; it freaks him out. Sometimes, they laugh, talk softly, carry their bodies in a way which inflames. He turns away, wants nothing to do with any of it. Sometimes he is reminded of rivers, mountains, streams and valleys. He doesn’t know if it was once real or part of the film playing in his head. The Talkers, talk, all night. They carry him through to the dawn, but he knows if he listens, he will wake in another place. One from which there is no return. Still the Talkers talk; even in the silences, he can hear their voices warm and moderate.
The nurses are speaking to one another – there are more refugees and nowhere to put them. The beggars attack at night, stealing their possessions, their children and their strength. The refugees ask for help, but there is no help. The nurses have started carrying concealed weapons. It’s the beginning of the end. No one can be certain if they are nurses or guards. The doors are always locked, but he can come and go at will. He exists halfway between life and death. He’s heard it said, there’s an opening in heaven. There are many people he’d want to see again. His family, some good friends and those others. If he stares too long, he see’s them laid out in rows. The sun sparkling on raw flesh. The Talkers tell him names, but the identities are diminished. They aren’t who they were, as he isn’t what he was. There’s a certainty about it all, but he wants to know why, is he still alive. Is he still alive? The Talkers tell him everything, but do not provide the answers he requires.
He’d sooner think about the woman, but already her face has faded. Her name remains unknown. Her perfume is all he can recall. Perhaps she has become a victim too? The shadows are lengthening along the wall. No longer indistinct. He can make out the traces. Places where the dead have attempted to scratch their names. A strange litany of languages. The figures in the corners reach out towards him. Calling out to him. Why do they make no sound? The nurse is taking his pulse; checking his blood. There is the shape of a gun beneath the uniform where her breast ought to be. He stares into her eyes; light hazel. He’s seen her before. Opens his mouth to ask questions. Nothing emerges. The Talkers drown him out. When he opens his eyes, the nurse has gone. An image of a gun is scratched onto his retina. He blinks until the tears come; crying does no good.
There are flies everywhere. He’s the only one standing, shielding his eyes against the light. Now he is walking. He doesn’t peer into every corner. He doesn’t need to know. There are shadows on the wall, leaving an indistinct impression. He’s been there before but can’t remember when. The doctors are in consultation. He’s handed a cup of coffee, stands before an open window looking down. There are refugees in the car park. Strangers whose language is not his own. The woman is among them, handing out bread and mugs of soup. Far away, the battle continues. This is a war no one can win. The nurse has stuck a needle into his shoulder. He grimaces, twists, before falling to the floor. She stands above him. He can see beneath her uniform; a tunnel is opening, at first darkness before turning into blazing light. There are faces he recognises; people; situations. There are children; children stretching into infinity. He remembers childhood and for a moment has become who he was. The angel walks among them; the angel of love. She turns and where there was light, the night floods into the room.
When he wakes, the dead are even closer. Standing, crowding the foot of the bed. As he sits, they fade to shadows. There is laughter coming from the nurse’s station. His right leg has been plastered and his arm is in a sling. He doesn’t remember anything. Outside, the war is raging. It doesn’t seem to mean a bloody thing. He needs to pee, and he wants to drink. There are machines working beside every bed. The casualties stare aimlessly. He rises slowly, hobbles to a window where the blackout curtains are drawn tight across. A nurse is there beside him, orders him back to bed. He relieves his bladder, drinks water. There are pains all along one side of his head. The fantasies slowly fading to become an alternate reality. ‘I know you.’ He says. ‘I knew you, before…’ The nurse laughs softly. ‘Not me. You are mistaken.’
When darkness falls, the nurses switch on a low light that appears to throb in time with the wounds to his body. He scans the ward, searching for answers. There are dark corners; holes in walls, smashed machinery. The Talkers are shouting loudly. Attempting to get their message across. There’s an urgent tension in the air. The war is growing closer. Tanks are circling beyond the city walls. He goes to the window, warned there are snipers in the treetops. Victory is growing closer. Theirs or ours. Impossible to distinguish. We must unite to defeat the enemies of freedom. The tone is beginning to sound hollow. The tape running towards its spool. A nurse stands beside him; her eyes are filled with tears. She produces a gun from its hiding place. It is the woman he has been searching for. Her perfume fills his senses and desire swells his loins. ‘When they break through, they’ll murder and rape.’ She insists. ‘Kill me first, and afterwards…kill yourself.’
He swallows hard. The night feels soft against his skin. The woman’s body merges with his own. Where he has been and who he was before has been used up and ejected. There is no other place and time; only now. The night is his companion. It will become the final solution. For now, it purrs contentedly as he strokes the woman’s shoulder. ‘I don’t know your name.’ The Talkers are talking; loudspeakers on every street corner. There are shadows on the wall, leaving an indistinct impression. One among many. The walking wounded stare back. Casualties of war. Their wounds are all too real. There is no front line, or back seat, or room with a view. The gun, heavy in his hand, remains the only reality.
‘We are one and the same.’ The woman tells him. He notices her uniform is streaked with blood, and the perfume she wears carries an unmistakable tang of corruption. It fills his senses as he pulls her closer. And then there is silence. Engines on the street. The Talkers are gone. The sound beyond is deafening, crushing their ears. The night rushes in. They are on a stage which is swaying. The backdrop crashing down. He raises the gun, looks into her eyes. She is smiling. One among many.