Dry heat seared my lungs as I followed the doctor across the courtyard. The landscape was foreign and strange, the sun a gold coin melting into rippled dunes. I had no idea where I was, only that my persistence had brought me this far.
“Your husband is not too strong,” the doctor informed me in melodic tones, “But I think he will be good when he sees you.”
I sent up a prayer as we entered the squat hospital building. “Let it be so, Father. May my presence be the turning point.”
The doctor led the way, soles squeaking, hands gesticulating. “His wounds are serious but I think the problem is more in his mind. He seems to have given up the will to live.”
I thought back on text messages and emails, of the brief conversation we had on the phone. Eric had sounded distant, like a faded shadow of the man I knew.
“We have him in a separate room,” the doctor continued as we swept past rows of beds and young men grimacing under white sheets. “He’s still running a fever and the amputation site is suppurating.”
I felt queasy at the thought but this wasn’t about me. It was about saving Eric; about giving him hope.
The doctor paused at a doorway, “Are you ready, Mrs Hutchings?” He touched my arm as he left, a brief acknowledgement of what I was about to encounter.
Eric was lying with his face to the wall, back humped like a protective shell. Emotion welled up and I tried to stuff it away. Concentrate on details, I told myself. The bag of fluid that trickled through a silver ribbon, the sweet smell of antiseptic, the heat waves that shimmered outside the window.
I gathered courage as I took a step forward, then another and another until I was at my husband’s side. Hand quivering like a moth, I reached out and touched his shoulder. Eric rolled onto his back, eyes glazed with fever, lips swollen and cracked. I noticed the landmine that took his leg had also left abrasions on his arms. I leant over him and rested my cool cheek against his burning one. “I love you, Eric Hutchings.”
This was the scene I’d played over and over in my mind. I’d visualised it a hundred times as countries passed beneath me. I’d thought of what to say as helicopter blades churned the air. I’d longed to be with Eric as the jeep bounced across desert roads ... and now I was here.
His face relaxed into a smile, disbelief softening the lines of pain. “Jenny? It’s impossible. I must be dreaming.”
I took hold of his hands and leaned forward and kissed him, inhaling the tang of desert and dust, of fever and medication, of pain and loss. “It is me, Eric. I convinced the military that I had to see you.”
He laughed softly even as sorrow misted his eyes. “I’ll never be the same, Jenny. I can’t imagine going through life as a cripple.”
I tightened my grip on his hands, knowing I’d done the right thing by coming. Letters, emails, texts and phone calls could never make up for a face to face conversation. Eric needed the eye contact, the warmth of my skin against his, the three dimensional aspects of human interaction. “Change is part of life,” I told him. “We’ll get through this together. Really we will.”
An hour passed and we talked and touched and cried. I unwrapped his stump and gently cleaned the wound, praying for healing as I did so. We laughed and cried some more and then I lay my head on his chest. “You get well now, Eric. We’ve got a whole lot of living to do back home.”
He locked eyes with me and I saw a spark that had been missing before; a flash of hope in the darkness of despair. A smile crinkled the corners of his mouth and slowly spread to his face. “Keep telling me,” he said, “And maybe, just maybe I’ll start believing you.”
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