Story One, Part 1:
Sveta Rychkova, a Russian nurse
A cocktail of odours filled her senses; urine, cheap perfume and death mingled in the still air of the room making Sveta feel nauseous. An elderly patient had died that afternoon following a long battle against a remorseless disease, a disease whose name Sveta had already forgotten along with the old woman’s name. She stripped the bed of the stained sheets and began to collect the belongings of another dead soul.
God knows how many times she had performed this task. It had become a routine task in her ward and she barely felt any pang of emotion while removing any evidence of this person’s existence. Today there was something different about the room, though. She dropped the woman’s nightdress on the bed and stood still, it felt as though the air was being sucked from the room.
Feeling dizzy, she forced herself to the window and looked for the latch, but there was nothing there. She glanced out of the ninth-floor window and all she could see was her own exhausted face staring back. Panic began to grip her nerves, her shaking hands searched her pockets for one tablet that would set the world straight again but she found nothing.
She closed her eyes and tried to control herself. She felt a presence in the room that seemed to ease some small part of her twisted stomach. Her eyes opened and she could see a man reflected in the glass of the window. The man was horribly short and was dressed in a bleached-white doctor’s coat that was far too big for him. In his hand, between thumb and forefinger, he held a single pill as white as his coat.
A mixture of disgrace, desperation and shame filled Sveta, as she began to remove her uniform. The short man continued to stare at the subservient nurse, never blinking, his expression unchanging from one of an impassive observer. Sveta lay face down on the bed naked and waited for the short man to rape her.
“Morning Sveta!” called out the director making Sveta jump, “How is my little ray of light this morning?” She didn’t know whether the daydream or reality was worse, she looked up and gave a thin smile. Her boss disturbed her, for some strange reason he was too thin to trust. She couldn’t remember if there was a saying in Russian about skinny men, but her mother had certainly commented about them, although her mother distrusted everybody. Anyway, his weight aside, there was something sinister in his eyes; she felt he fed upon her soul and greedily consumed her body, but what could she do?
“He was a patient of mine, you know. His father had similar problems in the end,” remarked the director. Sveta looked back at the director with a confused look, the director pointed at a man she had been watching absentmindedly. The man reminded her of a geisha dressed in a dark brown suit. He walked with his arms seemingly stuck to his sides and the steps he took were very tiny, which made him move like a camel, his body swaying from one side to the other.
“His father was a policeman and his mother was a nurse…” the director was always discussing his patients, especially with Sveta. The director seemed to have no other substance in his life worth talking about so he abused the patient’s confidentiality for mere small talk or material with which to flirt his intellect, “I have noticed that kids whose parents wear uniforms always have problems. Of course, I don’t want to generalise anything…”
Sveta wasn’t listening. She was watching the geisha man as he shuffled away from the grounds of the hospital. It looked as though it was about to rain, the heavy grey clouds hung overhead, but the man didn’t have a hat or an overcoat, and she already felt cold under her raincoat. As the man passed through the open iron gates, he stopped and appeared to be lost in deep thought, Sveta wondered what he was thinking.
“Sveta, are you coming or going?” Sveta blinked and looked at the director stood in front of her. He knew that she was leaving; she always worked the nightshift just to avoid him and the looks of her fellow nurses. Four years of five days a week, nine at night until seven-thirty in the morning, it was her time to hide from the world and live among the crazy and senile, which made her feel normal for a few hours each day.
“I’m leaving, Mr. Director.” Nobody ever called him doctor and none of the nurses had ever seen him examine a patient, all she knew was that he examined her with his eyes and never revealed the diagnosis. He was staring at her and she could start to feel her face beginning to burn and her spine becoming ice cold. Her arms hugged herself, as though she was instinctively protecting herself from harm. The director placed a reassuring hand upon her arm and she bit her tongue to stop from screaming.
The director glanced in the direction of his slow-moving patient, “Please follow him for a bit and make sure he takes the right bus to the centre.” Sveta mechanically replied, “Of course, Mr. Director,” but she knew what he really meant by his words. Her flesh crawled as she imagined him moving his hand under her grey raincoat and unbuttoning her blue cotton dress, “Very well, Sveta, have a nice day.”
The director turned and walked inside the building leaving her standing there, her left hand nervously fingered a small pill inside her coat pocket hoping that some of its properties would be absorbed through her fingertips. She didn’t look back; she didn’t want him to understand that she knew. She was sure he was watching her. She walked through the iron gates guarding the hospital and spotted the brown coat moving slowly at the end of the street.
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