K Ward - part 1 (Out of Sight)
Thomas watched as shadows moved across the ward. The silhouette of the bars of his bed stretched and shrank over grey lino, as though some hidden force was shoving them around. This was his favourite part of the day; it lasted only a few minutes, so he was lucky to catch it. He had been able to wake naturally as he had avoided sedation the previous night.
“Good boy Thomas, you dropping off already?” the kind eyes of Glad, one of the best nurses, had twinkled at him in their many shades of brown and understanding, good as a hug.
Of course the night had not been without its trials, but he had taken care not to disturb the nurses on night duty, and had clamped his eyes shut when the torch came flickering around, light giving his face a cursory touch then moving on to Greg, who was having a bad one.
Thomas turned to look at Greg’s bed at this thought, but he was still there, as the lumpen shape swathed in sheets confirmed. Not like Charlie-Boy. Thomas managed to roll onto his side to look at the empty bed next to his. It still struck him as wrong to see the bed stripped to the mattress, as though waiting for a new occupant. For two years he had rolled over each morning to see Charlie-Boy, with his mouth open and slack, his greeting always a voiceless, “Kay.” They never tired of the joke, partly because they were the only two to understand it. Charlie-Boy had little spoken language but could manipulate a voiceless ‘k’ to meet many meanings. Of course their home was K Ward, so some of the more astute nursing staff thought it a sign of recognition of where he was. However, they needed to take more time to tune into the subtleties of his messy diction to understand Charlie-Boy’s intentions. His laboured, “nka” and “uka” peppered the boys’ days with mutual hilarity, invisible to anyone but themselves.
Thomas smiled as he thought of Charlie-Boy. “Gone now. Gone where?”
Light was changing the room from grey to pink, warmth as gentle as a smile stroked his cheek.
“That you Charlie-Boy? Nka.” Thomas gave an inward chuckle.
He could see past Charlie-Boy’s old bed to the window and next to it the door, with its clock and big ‘K’ hanging over it. How many years had he looked at that ‘K’? The mocking K, with its upright back and straight limbs; more years than anybody had expected, he was sure. He’d been there longer than anyone, even the nursing staff. He’d arrived when he was about four years old and now he was ten. He’d watch them come and go. The staff, timid at first, then bold and matter of fact, whether kind or brusque. He caught snatches of their other lives, as they spoke to each other over him, and he saw a world beyond this one, where people worried about strange things and could see a different view everyday if they wanted.
Thomas had watched the other crooked children who had managed to continue living, despite the best efforts H and I Ward, as they arrived. With their weak limbs and unique forms of communication, they were subject to the care of others, but they also had to find their own way of surviving, you had to have some way of getting through each day. Most of them didn’t last more than a few years. Some moved on; to where? Maybe somewhere better. That always gave him hope; things might change for him one day. But some left like Charlie-Boy, in a flurry of medical attention, followed by quiet weeping, or those empty words, “It was for the best.”
“Best for who?” Thomas wondered, not him, he missed Charlie-Boy.
The sky had lost its milky rose covering and revealed the blue that had been there all along; and it began. The tui was the first voice to cut through the silence of the dawn. A single throaty voice gave a virtuoso performance, running up and down the scale with silky ease, each note piercing the air with a purity of tone. Thomas pictured the bird in its evening suit of glossy dark feathers high on the highest tree, where it could see the whole valley turning green under the rising sun. The tui is a boisterous bird full of mischief and fun. If Thomas could be a bird he might chose to be a tui, the one who wakes the world up. And then, the other birds joined in. The voices of the countless birds of bush and tree blended to make a sound of such gorgeous complexity that it could not be sustained.
In a moment it had passed and the sun was up, the sky was blue, the mountains purple in the distance, and all else between the two was every shade of green one might comprehend. The birds still sang, but without that deep vibration of chorus. The dull flatness of the day had begun.