A children’s hospital.
Down the concrete ramp from Ward 2 (general inpatient) to the main entrance comes a group of six young men. Barely more than teenagers, they walk in a loose V formation like soldiers – in uniforms of t-shirts and jeans – to battle. They carry an air of solemn concentration, duty-bound, and the cloud of silence around them pushes back the din of the hospital to a dim distant hum.
One of the boyish men, a few steps in front of the others, carries in his arms a child-sized bundle wrapped in a blue blanket. He doesn’t look at the bundle. His eyes are dry.
Behind this group come two women, also young. Their gaze is riveted on the men in front of them, oblivious to their surroundings. One of the women wails and clutches her breasts, grasping for the child who nursed there. Her face is haggard, and you know she has been crying for hours or days.
The procession passes through the doorway and into the glare of the courtyard. Past parents toting sick children. Past student nurses gathered in the shade. Past security guards and drivers and curious onlookers.
For the small group of mourners, however, all that is far away. The traffic of the hospital and of the street beyond belong to the world of the living. Theirs is the grim task of accompanying the dead.
A dented white pick-up truck waits for them just outside the entrance. The father climbs into the front seat with his precious bundle. The child is small enough to lay across his lap, even with the bulky blanket. I find myself wondering how old she is – was – but shake my head and push the thought aside. Too young.
The rest of the men – brothers, cousins, comrades-in-arms – climb into the back of the truck. They reach down to the mother, to help her up behind them, but she is trembling with grief. Her leg buckles when she steps on the bumper. It is all too much.
As the truck drives away, I can still see the small blue bundle through the front window. I imagine where they are going, what comes next. A tiny casket. A simple gravestone. A memorial service. A lifetime of sorrow. “I had three children, and two are alive.”
I turn away. It is all too much.
To support the children's hospital portrayed in this posting, please visit the Welbodi Partnership.