Friday, 11 September 2009 - 7:56 pm

Across the courtyard

I shouldn’t have gone out last night. I was restless and itchy for something – anything – but it wound up being a frustrating exercise.

It was tricky because the rain had stopped only shortly before I set off and there was a stretch of open courtyard I had to cross to get to the infirmary. Our flashlights were in the gear that the cutouts took from us, so I had nothing to show me the way except the glisten of a few lights off the rainwater and the hope that none of the really wet sections were puddles. I stood in the doorway for several long minutes to let my eyes adjust to the dark before I dared step out there.

It was painful going, with lots of hopping and a last-minute dodge around the dripping corner of a tarp. By the time I was done, my heart was beating so hard my head ached and I had to stop for breath. I stamped my feet and dissolved a bit of the mat, but my poor old boots are still strong enough to keep the acid away from my feet. Sometimes I watch them steam and my feet want to shrink away from the insides, or I imagine the burning seeping through my skin until it itches.

I wasn’t the only one out and about. As I was checking my legs over for splashes, I heard other wet footsteps moving around with that same skipping, darting rhythm mine had. I peeked out to see a handful of fellas heading over towards the other side of the compound. I couldn’t tell if they were heading for the female dorms or not. I almost turned around and went to find out, but there are lots of women in that dorm. Plenty to see off a few men like that if they had to. Just in case, I waited for a long few minutes to see if any trouble started, ready to run back, but all fell quiet again. There was only the dangerous drips and the shimmer of the wet dark.

Finally, I headed into the building and went to find Simon and his sick charge. He was surprised to see me; I wasn’t asked to come and in his mind that meant that I shouldn’t be there.

“But I’m supposed to be helping you out here,” I said, puzzled. “You don’t have to do all this on your own.”

He stared at me as if I had spontaneously grown another head and it was waving at him. I told him that I knew how to take care of someone with the Sickness – trying not to think about the previous times that I’ve had to do that – and that he should get some rest while he can. He said he had other work to do anyway, but when I asked him what there was other than the single patient in the infirmary, he just shook his head.

There are secrets here. Now I’m starting to think that Simon’s weariness isn’t caused by his work at all; it’s the burden of the other things that is weighing him down so badly. He can’t be much older than me but he seems tainted by more than the years he bears. Of course, I want to know what’s going on, but he doesn’t trust me enough to let me in. Like most of us, he has learned the value of trust the hard way over the past few months.

He said I could watch over Sylvia, the patient, tonight instead and insisted I leave him to his duties. I went back to the dorm and checked for those fellas I had seen earlier on the way. There was no sign of them; nothing except footprints across the wet courtyard. At least I hadn’t imagined them.

My good intentions were in tatters but at least I felt like I learned something. Not a good thing, but confirmation that everything here isn’t as ordered and neat as the General would have us believe. There’s relief in that; this place kept trying to look too good to be true, and now I know there’s something wrong it feels more real.

The question now is how much of it is facade and how much hides something else.