Friday, August 15, 2008

Can words ever hurt?

Here it is. I'd appreciate any constructive criticism. As much as "I just didn't like it" may express your opinion, it doesn't help me! Please don't steal my words; I worked hard on them. (It might not appear to be the case, but it is.) You may however use an excerpt and link back to me if you feel the need. Oh, and this is loosely based on real life events, so if you don't like the way I've portrayed you, well, deal with it!

Brown Eyes

I was drenched in sweat, sticky from the heat and humidity. We had to be close to the equator. I tried to remember my World Geography, but even remembering my name was tough in this climate. I knew we were as south as you could get in Mexico, and, with the jungle so dense, we may have even crossed the border without knowing.

I couldn’t recall why they had chosen me to come along on their trip. I wasn’t a medical professional like most our group. I wasn’t even good with my hands like the rest. I was here to “help.” Why they thought I was going to be a help is beyond me. I tried to do what they asked. I had painted earlier in the day, and my lack of painting skills had left me with visible streaks of beige and black paint on my face, arms and legs. I could feel it soaking through my hair as well. How the paint managed to dry in this humidity surprised me. A shower might not be a bad idea. The ice cold shower would probably feel good right now, and if it weren’t for the giant toads that liked the cool bathroom, I might have taken one already.

So I just sat on this handmade bench in the shade waiting for my next instructions. Sitting carefully on these benches was necessary; I didn’t want to get splinters in my legs. This would be the place to get them though. We had doctors and nurses galore. With a quick glance around at all my handiwork, I inspected all of the freshly painted walls facing the courtyard where I sat. Perfectly copying from slips of paper, I even painted some Spanish words above the doors, unsure of what they meant. I wondered if I should ask if I could start washing out the paintbrushes, but there was no one speaking a language that I recognized nearby.

Most of the patients that came for treatment had left already. I wondered if the big sign next to the dirt road had the hospital’s hours of operation on it. This wasn’t a hospital according to my definition of the word, but it did have a native doctor on staff twenty four hours a day. The American doctors and nurses came mostly to perform cataract surgery and to bring much needed medicine.

I was almost ready to head back to our bunks to find the other teenage girl that came with us, when a very slow moving group of people climbing out of the back of a pickup truck caught my eye. I figured they were moving a sick person, but it was hard to see which one of them was sick. They were tightly clustered, trying hard not to jostle their precious cargo. Not one of them seemed to notice me as they moved to another handmade bench just a few yards away from me. When they finally stopped, I could see who they were carrying. A boy, not much younger than I was, slumped down on the bench, and two of the older men sat on either side of him to hold him up.

He was thin, very thin, and his worn, dirty clothes hung loosely on his frame. His whole body shook from head to toe. I knew I shouldn’t be staring, but he looked so close to his end that looking away was impossible. His bronze skin was flushed, but he didn’t appear to be sweating. I guessed a high fever was the cause. I could hear one of men in his group moving from doorway to doorway asking for a doctor, and secretly I hoped he wouldn’t lean against the wet paint. Guilt rushed over me, and I lowered my head embarrassed for being so selfish.

Looking up after a moment’s time spent clearing my mind, I was startled to see his sunken brown eyes staring back at me. He appeared surprised to see me there. I was used to the surprise, my bright blue eyes and pale skin weren’t something most of the natives had seen before. I had even gotten used to the children wanting to touch my arms and light brown hair, but the way he looked at me was unsettling. Even though he was violently shaking and burning with fever, he still gazed at me with clear eyes. I expected fever to leave his eyes dull or glassy, but they were just as clear as any of the other eyes I had seen today. He had hope in his eyes, too. As if he believed that the American doctors could help him. I knew we had brought some medicine, but the small cases I had seen didn’t look like they held much. How much of that was already used, and how much would be helpful to him?

I gave him a slight smile of hope, even though all of the women had been warned not to smile at the men. We would already be a target of unwanted attention, and we didn’t need to show any sort of encouragement. I was sure that in his state danger wouldn’t be a problem. He may have smiled back, but it was hard to tell a smile from a grimace as hard as he was shaking. I wanted to walk up to him and offer him water, like I had done with the other patients. I was frozen, unable to move, staring at his clear brown eyes. I couldn’t even remember where the water bucket had been left.

The sound of footsteps rushing my way broke my trance. One of his escorts had finally found the head American doctor, and they were rushing toward him. I stood quickly when the head doctor noticed me. His words were harsh and abrupt. I wasn’t aware that danger was an issue, but he warned me away telling me that it might be malaria. I remembered now that the last few pills of my malaria vaccine had been left at home, something that concerned the doctors at our departure. Fighting the urge to walk away, I wanted to rush toward the boy, too, and help carry him gently into an examination room. I wanted to wipe his feverish head with a cool, damp cloth. My legs locked as I willed them into inching away. One step at a time, I backed down the walkway that led to our bunks, wondering what was going to happen to him. I kept walking backward until I heard the voice of my bunk mate. I turned quickly and ran toward her. She had our towels and was willing to keep watch for toads while I showered if I would do the same for her.

I didn’t say much while the cold water ran over me. The paint scrubbed off quickly, but the vivid mental picture of him was not removed so easily. While I dried off and dressed, I tried to contribute to the conversation she was making. She had gone on a little hike to help someone else with another task, and I tried to sound interested. All I could think about was the boy’s brown eyes.

After our shower, we were expected to help with dinner. Normally this task would have been fun. The native women who helped at the hospital were trying to teach us how to make tortillas. They told me because my tortillas kept puffing up that I was going to marry soon. I laughed, but kept a wary eye on the door waiting for the head doctor to enter.

He didn’t join us for dinner, and I didn’t hear his voice outside our door where the men gathered to plan for the next day. As I lay in bed listening to them and the sound of monkeys screaming at each other, I let my thoughts drift back to the boy and his clear brown eyes, full of hope. I wasn’t able to keep my eyes open as long as I wanted.

Sleep came too quickly for both of us.

All right, so what did you think? Give it to me straight; I think I can take it.

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