The first part can be found here.
The rainy season had begun. Rain drops whipped the class room windows. Lights on during the day, and I had to speak louder over the oppressive thunder. The class had changed. It would be unfair to give myself full credit, though at times I indulged in the fantasy. In reality it was probably due to the wild impetus of adolescence, changing bodies and minds faster than this staid adult was used to.
Or maybe I had just gotten to know them better. The annoying attention seeking ones had developed nuances and insecurities- I no longer reduced them unfairly, now I felt sympathy, and I suppose, I do care. The quiet ones opened up more, or at least I marked their occasional voices with regard- the rarity of their contributions to class lent them all the more value. And though I tried not to admit it, Jean had fast become my favorite. It seems she was well liked by her other teachers too, especially her English teacher, Ellen. Ellen, who was a member of the old guard, having taught here for the last decade or so, spoke enthusiastically about Jean’s creative writing. That gave me an idea- for the fall of the Soviet Union I had each student write as if they were somehow linked to the fall of the Berlin wall. Once I told them they could be old soldiers, veterans of World War Two, most of the guys went for that. Jean wrote a great piece, about a widow on the eastern side, who had not seen her sons in years.
Disturbing how convincingly she wrote as a widow. It was a great piece. Since then I’ve slowly egged her on in the direction of both history and fiction writing. I once entertained another fantasy- a dedication to me years from now in some bestselling historical fiction novel. I chuckled at that, tried to find absolution by confessing the thought to Steph. She confided in me her own stories, as a young teacher, latching onto students, desperate to live vicariously through their possible successes. She also warned me. “Don’t get too attached. They all leave eventually- and you would be failing the next batch if you cared less.” It was good advice.
I should have followed it.
A typhoon one day, in the middle of school, a bad one, the worst in years apparently. We had students taping windows, us trying to make it all seem like fun. As if they were fooled. No one allowed in the corridors during one horrendous hour, the corridors being outdoors. We settled for watching a video in class- Dr. Strangelove. Even at max volume it was hard to make out the dialogue, a shame.
The window vibrated like a snare drum. All at once, during the video, a tremendous bang.
A bird, maybe, had shot through the glass. Shattered shards everywhere. Rain pouring through like an invasion. “Everyone, out the door! Come on now!” I yell. The kids flood the doorway. I notice Jean not in the crowd. Right at the back, under the rain, Jean with her hat (she wore this silly hat!) off, red horror all over her arm and face. Blood. No please. I run over, and panic some. She is covered in glass, had been sitting next to the window. I fish for my mobile and hate how long it takes to switch on. Whilst it loads I say, “Hello Jean, can you hear me?” First aid classes from training in my head, something about stopping the bleeding. “JEAN?” Her eyes are closed, maybe she hit her head. There is so much blood. It makes no sense. Like a sniper took her out. What a sick thought- hate myself for such a thought. I finally got the ambulance to come. A voice on the phone says: “Remain clam. Find some towels and stop the bleeding.” Stop the bleeding. I call out to the kids, and one of them, a quiet one comes in, flanked by others. “I need towels, hurry, cloth towels, ask a teacher.” He ran for it.
Jean’s eyes are open, blinking. I had not realised. I try to level my voice off, must sound calm for Jean. Memories scream inside my head, and tears start to leak down my cheek. I smooth back her hair, just like I did years ago. “Jean, the ambulance is coming. Can you hear me? Please nod or blink or say something if you can hear me.” She blinks, and blinks, and her voice- so child-like now, it says “Yes, i can hear you sir.” Good. Jan couldn’t hear me before. At some point the school nurse is in here, and she’s asking me to move, but I make sure to stand where Jean can still see me. So I smile, I smile my ass off like everything in the world is brilliant. The rain soaks the carpet all around, the noise like we’re at war. I keep saying stupid things like “It’s going to be ok Jean.” things I learnt in movies where people seem to know what to do. Her eyes flutter shut, right before the ambulance comes. I think my heart is going to burst.
When the professionals arrive they seem too calm. I start shouting, telling them to hurry, that Jean is just a child- as if that would somehow make them pull out all the stops. Steph was there, telling me it’s ok, that she’s just cut up a bit. I let her drag me away, just outside the room. Whole class is there, waiting, they can see me, covered in blood, I don’t care. I should be telling them to do things, but I don’t care. This is life- they should see this. It is a good lesson. Steph says many things, mostly questions “Can you hear me?” She says, and she looks so worried. I feel so cold.
“Yes? Look, let’s put you…”
“Steph I need to go with her.”
“Mr. Cobb I think you need to sit…”
“I NEED TO GO WITH HER.” I tear myself away from Steph, get up. Jean is coming out in a stretcher. I follow. I dare someone to stop me. Steph doesn’t. For one moment I wonder if I’m going to have a job tomorrow. I make secret pacts with Gods and devils inside my head- my job for her, anything just let her be ok.
They let me ride in the ambulance. They have all the tubes, and a mask on Jean’s mouth, but her eyes are open. I sit and smile at her like everything is brilliant. As we meander through the roads, siren blaring, my mind snaps back into shape. I realise it’s not so bad. She’s going to be ok. Not like before- she isn’t a complete mess. I hope I didn’t scare anyone. Jean’s arm is cut up, and her brow too, but the paramedics say she’s going to be ok, not much blood loss. Still, I stay. I feel like I’m in a transport, an APC in ‘Nam or something. I tell Jean, and I think she smiles. When the doors finally open it’s as if we’ve teleported. I recognise the hospital. The same one as before, with Jan. I try not to want to throw up. I keep myself at a distance- last time I got in the way a bit. I make sure Jean see’s me. I tell her that her parents are on the way, don’t worry.
Inside they take her into a room, and I have to wait outside it. Fucking Hell. The worst part is the wait. I sit, bent forward, hands on knees. My world becomes the marble tiles of the hospital floor. I think I can see my reflection in it. A dull, shadowy thing, outline visible, details obscured. My mind wanders backwards, against my will. I look up, and there, a painting, of some ludicrous pastoral scene- a fishing boat next to a simple cottage. The amount of green and open space is alien, a thing preserved only in the city parks. I try to focus on the real three-dimensional people instead, the broken people and their families- as if that would help. I am adding to the scene, I suddenly realise. To someone else I am the perfect vision of the desperately concerned- another piece of evidence to prop up some cliched conversation about why they hate hospitals. An extra in someone elses movies, an anecdote. Jean wrote in the third-person, about the widow, whom she called Anna. Austrian, her sons both fought in the Wehrmacht. She talks about her mixture of pride for her boys, the Wehrmacht having a long history, mixed with her discomfort and shame at the nazi war machine. A remarkable thing for a 15-year-old to write. Was I that insightful back then? I do not remember. History blots away the noble traditions of the Wehrmacht, and my teenage years.
Last time they did not let me ride in the ambulance. That haunted me. I know I would not have been able to help, but I doubt I would have gotten in the way. I would not have just been some bystander- silently I harangue the paramedics: I would have helped! Whatever you wanted, I would not have been paralysed by shock, I would have been a man on a mission, I would have helped! Instead I followed, in a taxi, covered in blood. In hindsight the cab driver, it was good of him not to protest. I probably bloodied his passenger seat. Then again was it good of him? Or was it just plain decent- am I expecting people to be selfish by default. Another useless train of thought. My eyes find the clock on the hospital wall. I do not know when this will end.
I followed in the cab, and at the hospital I took too long to pay the cabbie. So I did not get to see where they took Jan. I went inside, and stuttered to the people there, till someone directed me, to sit. I sat outside the surgery room, or whatever the hell room it is they fix people in and I waited. I remember the blood was so sticky, and thought if I cleaned up, maybe that would be better. That that would help Jan recover. Ah, that’s it then, I remember now. I gripped my hands together and I clenched my eyes shut, and I prayed. Blood stuck hands I whispered, barely letting the words escape into sounds- I know I don’t believe in God but when this is all over maybe he’ll let me come and visit you. I prayed to Jan. I felt such relief after that. Then I waited, so sure, everything would be ok. Till her father came in, a bull of a man shouting clear across the corridor at me. I did not do anything to your daughter sir, I said. It felt like a lie. A large doctor held him back. I don’t know what he would have done to me.
The relief was dispelled by his honest anger. I was afraid again- I was utterly terrified. Then the nurse came out. I don’t remember what she looked like, just her voice, and when she hugged me her cheek was wet. “I’m so sorry.” she said. “She’s gone.” She said.
I’m out of the chair, and searching for a doctor. I find one. “I’m the girl’s teacher- Jean, that’s her name, what happened to her?” He asks me to wait here, says he will be right back. Wait with the parents he says. The parents. They are here. I’ve never met them before.
Jean’s father looks so close to my age it’s frightening. Either he looks too young or I’m too old. Her mother has jean’s look, her face and eyes. They are both terrified- a mirror image of my marble reflection. I go up to them and try to explain.
“I’m so sorry.” I say.
“It’s not your fault.” Her father says.
The doctor comes back, introduces a nurse. She explains everything. Jean needs some stitches, on her arms, and on her forehead. The hair will cover it up apparently. Just stitches. It’s no big deal. Nothing broken. No permenant damage. I want to cry. The parents go inside. I want to, but it’s fine- I know I’ll see Jean again. So I sit back down, and I start to cry.
A voice, soft, with a French edge says “Hey, why are you crying? The little girl is going to be ok! Promise!” I feel a fool. I look up, it is the nurse. She clasps her hands to her mouth, says “Its…you. I remember you.” I look up at the nurse, the same one who hugged me two years ago, who apologized on behalf of all of reality for Jan. “You have some really bad luck.” She says. Then she starts to apologise, aghast at what she just said.
I’m dumbstruck. Then I laugh. For some reason she laughs too. I feel like an idiot. I wipe my hand across my eyes, before I realise about the blood stains. “Oh shit…I mean uh…sorry. Oh god!” I try to cover up my blood streaked face.
She’s laughing so hard people are starting to stare. She keeps trying to tell me it’s fine “I’ve seen WAY worse. Here I’ll show you where the tap is.” And we leave the corridor, surrounded by indignant stares, our macabre sketch not quite appropriate. At the nurses station I start to wash my face, and she hangs around.
The water- It feels baptismal. Between splashes we chat. She doesn’t mention Jan, or the past. I suppose for her, she’s seen more than enough death and pain. After I’m clean we shake hands.
I stare at her name tag, emblazoned across a distracting chest. “Sorry to bother you like this…Meet.”
She laughs some more. “MIE-EHT. Not meet! Oh my god, first you get blood all over me, then you get my name wrong.” She folds her arms, shakes her head in mock disappointment. I start laughing, we both start laughing. It’s fucking ridiculous. I don’t even know why we’re laughing.
When we stop I look her in the eyes. They are bright blue, and way too optimistic. I hold her gaze for just enough time, and then the words float up inside me, and gush out of my mouth:
“How about I make it up to you. Maybe we can grab some Ice-cream sometime?”