Things were a lot different two years ago. A new batch of house officers had finally received their long awaited appointments in the mail, smelling of fresh paper with and the slight tinge of seductive ink. It spoke to them, and drew them to go over it again and again. There were jobs in hospitals all over the country, regulated by the Ministry of Health. Interns were sporadically sprinkled across the nation and for the 2 years they would be proud owners of provisional licences, seeking a chance to be worthy of the real deal.
Today they leave their homes, their parents, their spouses, their girlfriends, and their kids. Today they brace a frontier that many had warned them of, the journey so perilous yet the view in the end, all the more worth.
Some left early in anticipation of traffic, in cars, in trains and some already beat them the night by flying.
5 young house officers in brand new coats, pressed and glistening white, walked into the Assistant Director’s Office of Hospital Puchong. They anxiously stood to report in for duty, legs shaking, lips biting, perspiring underneath their collars and headscarves. The company of each other provided a suitable distraction. In minutes, they instantly connected, hearts pounding to finally begin their journey.
‘The Assistant Director will see you all now,’ said the nice lady at the desk resting her palm on the speaking end of the receiver. ‘Datuk Dr Jayagopal s/o Dorai’ it read in bold iintimidating letters. They lot of them indecisive and hesistant, kept paving the way for the person to lead.
‘Today, please,’ remarked the perhaps not-so-nice lady as she went back to her phone.
A door behind them busted open. A petite young woman walked in frantically, worried she was tardy on her first day. Dressed decent, clean whitecoat and everything, her gait was without focus, confidence or attitude. She hobbled before falling to the ground startling the entire office. The others felt sorry and moved closer to help.
‘Sorry, sorry, sorry,’ she cried and quickly limped her way into Datuk Jaya’s door. The others were awe stricken. ‘Did she just?’ said Ram. ‘I believe she did,’ cut Jenny amazed at how she went in first without the slightest hesitation.
‘Come,come!’ a deep friendly voice echoed from within the Assistant Director’s office.
Daniel, Ram, Damia, Jenny, Tzen and the newly welcomed, Sheila. These were the six that would begin their journey today.
The first 3 days of orientation was arguably the best time since their med school days. There was much to catch on; who they were, where they were all from, interests and social media information was the tip of the iceberg. They started a group text which marked the beginning of the next 2 years together.
They used the time to explore the city and scout the local hangout spots, had dinner in expensive restaurants, and even helped each other move in to the hospital living quarters. None of them were local except for Damia. Jenny and Sheila took one apartment for themselves and two of the boys took their own just one floor below. Tzen found a place in town and quickly dumped a large rental deposit.
The nights were never lonely. They had dinner together everyday and even found time to catch a Michael Bay film in the local shopping mall. The gang was heavily critical about the movie all the to way to exit.
‘Picture time,’ screeched Damia ecstatic when she got hold of the perfect spot; a beautiful water feature of glistening streams cascading down a valley of sorts and a faux cherry blossom tree towering above it and a wooden bridge. There was a path to and from, lit by an array of strategically placed light-bulbs to add to the celebration.
‘Aww, I always wanted to go to Japan,’ cried Sheila. Jenny took center stage and started prepping her look.
‘Are you taking a photo or is the photo taking you?’ Daniel joked.
‘Well it’s hard to be good looking, not something you would understand,’ she retorted with a disingenuous smile.
‘What?’ Ram confused, thoughts lingering back to the movie. To his defence, he was slightly under the influence of a certain burning substance popular among youths and quite illegal.
Damia meticulously positioned the tripod stand exactly to her liking. They were all in frame, the scene breathtaking. ‘Perfect’, she smiled as she ran toward the bridge to begin the countdown.
‘Make sure I don’t look fat in it,’ cried out Sheila.
‘You look great Sheila,’ Damia yelled adjusting her headscarf and played around with her poise.
‘YES!’ all resounded in unison. Sheila did not have a weight problem, only she thought she did.
‘OK, NOW!’ Damia yelled. They made various awkward and silly positions. Only Jenny and Damia seemed to know what they were supposed to do. Ram went crazy with his legs, tripped and fell backward into the water. The burst shot captured that exact moment. it was priceless. They had a great laugh over it.
‘Oh wait, now i get it, she meant you’re not good looking bro,’ a small fountain sprayed out of Ram’s puckered lips, as he finally caught up both physically and mentally. Jenny burst into a contagious laughter and Sheila was pleased with her photo finishes. ‘Your lighting is good,’ she commented.
‘So,’ pressed Dr Satya, seated across a nervous agitated house officer. ‘You can take off your coat,’ he said. Daniel complied and sat down. His neck was constraint.
‘Yes, the tie as well,’
Daniel stripped it right off. He reached for the glass of ice cold water placed right before him and finished it. Sweat trickled down to his chin.
‘So, how are you keeping up with all this?’
‘I’m good,’ replied Daniel, ‘work is good.’
‘Not about work, Daniel,’ Dr Satya cleared his throat, shrugged his shoulders and shivered as the cold AC breathed on his back. Daniel’s eyes scanned the room. It was tiny and claustrophobic with only 2 doors; one of it an exit and from behind the other, muddled voices and soft rustlings. The lights above him were getting brighter. His fingers were noticeably shaking no matter how many times he tried to hold them down.
‘All is good,’ Daniel repeated himself.
‘Can’t be that good. A friend of yours just recently left us. And you must understand why I feel the need to talk to you about it,’
Daniel took a few deep meditative breaths. He muttured a Islamic prayer under his breath to help. He didn’t want to relive those moments. He tried to block it all out despite however many times he kept going back to them incessantly. The horrors of the split second flashes haunted him. The poor girl stood on that ledge and said her last words before facing up and taking the leap.
The lights weren’t as bright anymore. He found a way center himself and speak. ‘You know, nobody has said that yet,’
‘Said what? That she died’?’
‘Have you said it, you know, to your self?’
Daniel shook his head.
‘You have thought of it though, haven’t you? I suppose it isn’t right to bombard you with questions and that’s why I immediately stopped the detectives from doing so,’
Daniel braved a soft ‘hmph’ to acknowlegde. Dr Satya continued to speak, ‘you were there Daniel, and it’s most unfortunate that you had to witness such a horrific accident,’
Daniel peered hard at the cold glass on the table. A mist surrounded it, captured by the cold, while the flashes kept returning. Daniel felt entranced by the tiny droplets gathering around his glass. There was no escape, not even for air. The weight will bear it down and he followed the trail of the first heavy droplet all the way till the bottom of the glass.
‘Daniel?’ a slight graze over his fingers brought him back. ‘What are you thinking right now?’
Seconds felt like an hour. He recalled Dr Satya’s previous words.
‘It was not an accident,’ he exclaimed.
‘Are you sure?’
‘Well, sometimes our eyes have a way of us telling us different truths,’
‘It was NOT an accident,’ Daniel yelled jerking his body forward. Dr Satya didn’t flinch but slowly retracted.
‘Alright, alright! In your own words then, please tell me everything you can remember about what happened that night.’