How are you, boy?
Tzen peered at his wristwatch, the handles reaching as eagerly as he was for 6 pm, the mark of the end of his shift. All he had to do now, was hand his patients over to the ones left behind to slog and slave till the coming morning.
‘Bed 3 needs to be looked at again at night. Make sure his Blood Pressure is stable. Bed 35 needs his sugar corrected. Medical hasn’t shown up. The surgeons are worried his knee replacement won’t happen tomorrow. Oh, and please make sure Bed 22’s hand is alright. She was in a lot of pain even after removing her cast. If she’s better tomorrow, we’ll have to apply a new one. Any questions?’ he asked with one foot out the door.
‘Nah!’ his colleague replied. ‘Seems simple enough,’ she remarked as he bid her adieu and escaped up to the on-call rooms.
No, Tzen was not on-call that night, and neither did the night shift housemen have privileges to those rooms but he had long struck a deal with one of the medical officers to allow him to keep his things there as well have the occasional shower. Lucky for him, there were those who empathized. Every Tom, Dick and Sally knew he was depressed and had mixed opinions about giving him special treatment. However, Tzen took what was given and ran with it.
It all started when he noticed some strange personnel around his car. It couldn’t have been happenstance since it all happened post-Sheila. Tzen would avoid them by leaving the car in the parking lot, and just taking a taxi or hitching a ride with a colleague. He would give some clever excuse to avoid people thinking he was paranoid until he was finally running out of things to say.
That’s when he met Dr Ben; a Medical Officer, young, wide-eyed, new to Orthopedics and to the hospital. It only took him one good shift and a drink from the boy and Dr Ben became his new confidant. He shared with him the stories of the suspicious individuals and one day Dr Ben noted that himself while at the parking lot.
‘You’re right.’ He told the houseman,’ they seem fishy. ‘I didn’t engage but neither should you.’ Dr Ben said. Little did he know that those people were just junior cops designated by Inspector Nurul to get intel on the boy and hopefully manage an interview with him. Dr Ben had since allowed him the on-call room upstairs every time he was on-call, and Tzen would only go home about 2 to 3 hours after his shift was over, just in case.
Tzen had only spoken about to his closest friends and when Jenny and Damia both shared similar stories of strange cars parked outside their houses and their neighbours being asked about them, he finally put two and two together and learned that they were police. Still, it was a strange way to investigate. Why not just be direct and tell us who they were? Plus, there was Ram, and how his encounter with the police led to his immediate transfer. Why risk it? The police would eventually get tired and get the hint, right? So he thought.
He peeked through the blinds as he did every night and watched as the lamps light up the road at the stroke of dusk. The police would usually be long gone by then, only to come back the very next day or sometimes leave a day in between just to seem less ominous.
‘Alright!’ he collected himself, his books in his bag and left the room, locking the door behind him. He then approached Dr Ben at the cafeteria, as he texted that’s where he’ll be and passed him the keys to the room. ‘Thank you,’
‘You get home safe, man,’ Dr Ben replied, caringly.
Tzen had been putting up with the charade for months. It’s almost as if he had become too comfortable with the paranoia.
He clicked on the keys and the Nissan chirped. He had an eerie feeling. He quickly turned a 360 angle to check first before placing his hands over the glass to see pass the tint. After ensuring there weren’t going to be any surprises, he would open the door and barge in as per usual and only then, start driving.
‘THWAP!’ The door on his passenger side opened.
Tzen’s heart immediately starting pounding. He turned in horror to the side.
‘Don’t’ flinch, Doctor. We are only doing our job.’ The middle-aged man in a white goatee said while looking straight at ahead, calmly in his passenger seat. ‘Please do not do anything you are going to regre..’
Tzen busted his door wide open and started running back into hospital grounds, dashing for the gate that led into the Daycare Clinic.
‘SIR!’ another voice shouted from behind and was in immediate pursuit.
Tzen ran and ran, panicked. He figured he could reach a security guard somehow and quickly make his way back in but there was no one at sight.
He didn’t look to his back, but he could feel the man coming closer. ‘STOP!’ the voice shrilled beside his ear lobe. He was immediately stunned by it, falling to his left,
‘NO, DON’T CUFF HIM!’ another voice sounded. Tzen’s cheeks were forced on the stone pebbles and tarmac hard. He couldn’t turn to see. His throat swelled up so much, he couldn’t voice a scream.
‘GET HIM UP!’ the voice commanded and immediately, without much struggle they lifted him and threw his body into a van, appeared out of nowhere. The side doors immediately dragged close and everything turned pitch black.
Nurul sat in the Volksvagen, waiting patiently.
‘If we are going to catch this little weasel, it has to be here. He thinks he’s being clever, using a VPN ping for everything, like some kind of “Jason Bourne”. Most days he doesn’t even go home I hear.’ Constable Patrick said, appearing impressed with the boy’s dedication to remain incognito.
‘Makes you wonder even more, doesn’t it?’ Nurul threw out her cigarette out the window.
‘That he knows something, of course. Either that or he has other secrets.’
‘Maybe’ she said looking up at the windows. ‘There,’ she pointed. When I was admitted here, I asked a couple of the nurses around, for just random intel, you know, whatever I could. They said he always went to on-call rooms. That’s the 8th floor.’
‘The boys noticed the lights off most times, but the blinds would always rattle. I naturally assumed it was the psych ward. SHIT! You think that’s him?’
‘Positive. The psych ward isn’t even in this wing.’
Look!’ Constable Patrick drew out his goggles and peered. They noticed a tired-looking Chinese boy, in shabby clothes and even shabbier hair pacing his way to his car, watching nervously at all his directions.
‘You know what to do. Over.’ Nurul radioed.
‘Roger that. Over.’ A man replied.
Constable Patrick sighed. ‘You don’t think this is going a bit too f…’
‘Yes… but someone has to. Otherwise, the story gets buried, just like she did.’
Constable Patrick stepped on the pedals. They sped up as their fellow policemen gave chase and held the boy down.
The doors opened and Nurul watched the body of the boy hurled into the passenger compartment. She slid shut the tiny window dividing the front partition from the back, blocking off any light entering and keeping Tzen in the dark.
‘OK!’ Constable Patrick quickly they sped off to the exit. The men placed the scared doctor between them on the seat and gestured him to stay silent.
The van had been driving them for hours. The pitch-black tint over the windows made everything outside blurry. It was not a legal tint, which only made Tzen tremble even more. All he could make out was blinding headlights from other vehicles moving at incredible speeds. He knew he was on the highway but to where? He stroked his fingers gently over his thighs to feel for his phone but there wasn’t anything in his pockets. He started to tear a little. ‘Please!’
‘Shhhh!’ the man beside him patted the doctor’s busy hands.
The van then came to a stop and mere seconds later, doors from the front opened. There was much muffling. ‘That’s a woman,’ he figured.
Their door was suddenly dragged open. It made a loud metal drawing sound. Tzen’s eyes hurt as a flashing light beamed through with long grass and dirt in the background. They had taken him off-road to an isolated field, probably somebody’s farm. A shadow approached and got in the van, sat opposing him and dragged to the door shut, loud.
‘You mind if I smoke?’ the voice asked. It was the woman from earlier and Tzen peered to get a better look.
‘Can you turn on the lights?’
‘You’re all police, right? Why? This is isn’t right, you know.’
‘SHHHHH!’ the man’s voice threatened him louder.
‘No,’ Nurul waved down her hand, ‘let him speak. We have waited for months to hear him. Tell us, Doctor. What else do you want to say?’ hiding her frustration in her calm demeanour.
Tzen’s eyes were getting used to the dark and slowly, she took form in his eyes, her jacket and ponytail and the tiny glint in her eyes. ‘I want to say this is wrong. You can’t do this.’
‘And I suppose actively avoiding us is alright, somehow,’
‘You could just come inside the hospital,’
Nurul began to scratch her forehead, hoping her veins wouldn’t pop, ‘Doctor, before you continue with your justification, let me just ask if you’re a FUCKING IDIOT!?’ she screamed. ‘YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT ALL THAT’S HAPPENED? I have been trying effortlessly to get in touch with all of you but every single one has their own preoccupations. FUCK! WHAT YOU’RE SAVING LIVES EVERY FUCKING MINUTE?!!!’
Tzen pulled back. ‘So, is that all? Just an interview?’
‘Maybe you have things on us. Like how you have Ram. Like how you have Jenny and Damia and Daniel.’
‘And they are working with me to ensure YOUR friend gets vindication.’
Tzen was surprised that he was the last one.
‘Bullshit. You don’t care about her. This is just to silence us from talking about the hospital.’
‘Silence you? HAHAHAHAH!’ the woman started going hysterical. ‘God, you’re a dunce.’ She took out her cigarette. ‘You sure I can’t smoke?’
‘It isn’t good for you, or ANY of us. But I didn’t say…’
‘Good!’ she flicked her lighter and burned her stick. Tzen caught her whole face in that ember before it went back off. The tiny boxed space they were in started to fog up.
Tzen coughed. ‘Crack the window open.’ Nurul commanded.
The officer closest to the window unlatched and it slid it open sideways.
‘HELPPPP!’ Tzen immediately squealed, hoping for his voice to reach someone outside.
‘YOU LITTLE!’ the man closed back the door and raised a fist at the doctor. ‘NO!’ Tzen closed his mouth.
‘Well. Thanks for wasting that minute. Now, can we all be adults about this and talk?’
Tzen closed his eyes and tried to calm himself down. He was starting to panic and he needed his meds.
‘TZEN!’ a voice called out. ‘NOT NOW, SHEILA!’ Tzen muttered.
‘Sorry, you were saying something.’
Tzen opened his eyes and next to the policewoman, Sheila sat with a cigarette of her own, her legs crossed, she smiled at him. ‘Well, this is fun,’ she chuckled.
Oddly enough, Tzen cackled a little watching how amusing this was to his “friend”.
‘Yes, we can talk. What do you want to know?’ he replied at Nurul.
‘Your side of the story,’ Nurul blew more smoke into the air. Tzen was coughing again, relentlessly, unable to breathe. ‘I won’t yell, just please,’ he gestured at the man, begging to open the window for him again.
‘Fine,’ she obliged and then they were finally ready.
‘Sheila and I didn’t really know each other all that well. She was a friend. A dear one.’
‘Yes, I heard all of that. Practically lovers apparently,’
‘WHAT? NO!’ he defended, then smiled.
The officers started to giggle.
‘Here’s what I want to know. Evidently, this girl has been important in your lives. Then suddenly something changes. Something snaps and there is this new “her”. Know why?’
‘Stress?’ he answered, coy.
‘TELL HER!’ Sheila playfully replied.
‘We don’ talk as much. She’s closer to the girls. But you’re right in a sense that she has been important in our lives. Mine especially. It has to do more with mother.’
‘What about your mother?’
Tzen sighed. ‘Do I really have to tell you?’
Nurul threw her cigarette out the window. ‘Doctor, in a couple of weeks, the lawyers and the hospital are going to come at us hard. The police won’t then be able to help your friend anymore and the legacy of Dr Sheila Thomas ends at that; the girl who jumped down a building for reasons “blank, you fill it”. They might besmirch her name even more. Is that something you want?’
‘NO, of course not!’
‘So, WHAT THE HELL is wrong with your mother?’
Tzen always had a hard time talking about his family out in public. Even Dr Satya himself only managed to get a good grasp of the story in his third session with him.
‘She has depression.’
‘Everybody has depression. That’s what so hard to say?’
‘No! I mean Clinical Depression, the “multiple attempts to kill yourself” kinds.’ Immediately he started imagining the parallels between Sheila, her supposed fall and his own mother trying to slash her wrists in the kitchen. It was odd he never made that connection before. He smiled. ‘She stopped her from doing it. They became close. And in some weird way, she and I also did.’
‘She was close to the family?’
‘She wasn’t just close. She was there when everyone first found out. She flew down even, took a day off several times after a weekend or post-shift and just dropped by to say ‘HI’. She went back to my hometown even more than I did. They helped each other. I still remember, all of us holding my mother’s hands slowly walking in to meet her new psychiatrist. Dr Low was good to her. He listened to her stories and his meds did wonders for her.
‘Sheila and I… We started wondering if we liked each other. You know? In that manner?’
‘You mean you developed something for her?’
‘I did. And I was convinced she did too.’
‘So, I wasn’t wrong about the lover theory.’
‘She didn’t love me,’
‘WHAT THE HELL ARE TALKING ABOUT ALVIN?’ Sheila’s apparition responded. Tzen knew that from memory. ‘That’s exactly what you said.’
‘What who said?’ Nurul looked to her side, wondering what Tzen was distracted by.
The houseman pondered long and hard. ‘We became intimate, for a short while, and then it was like she was ashamed. She just moved away from me and acted like it didn’t happen, like she never wanted it. Then I realised, she had never said it herself. She never told me if she felt the same as I felt for her.’
‘THAT’S NOT TRUE! I REALLY LIKED YOU EVEN BEFORE THAT!’ the voice answered. Tzen started tearing up again.
‘Then I did a stupid thing.’
There was suddenly more muffling and commotion outside and the company quickly got distracted. Constable Patrick headed out from the driver’s seat to investigate. There was banging on the door and Nurul quickly moved her hands to her holster. Tzen could make it that she was armed. His heart started pounding again. ‘WHO IS IT?’ she and everyone else was alerted inside the van.
‘I’ll check it out!’ One of the officer’s held position by the door ready to slide it open, gun ready, cocked. He dragged open the door and they stormed out at lightning speed, leaving Tzen inside.
‘HEY!HEY!HEY!HEY!HEY’ there was much commotion, random shouting and flailing of weapons. Tzen tried to move his head to see past the glare and noticed the police had now controlled the situation. They stood they, guns pointed, forming a circle over a man, on his knees, with both hands on his head.
‘WHAT?’ Tzen was shocked. ‘Dr Satya?’
Panicked but somehow pleased, the psychiatrist was glad the boy was alright. The headlights made him look like an angel, gleaming to Tzen’s eyes, with his calm demeanour and gentle voice. ‘Tzen, how are you, boy?’
There was now another member in the van now, like a double patty burger, sandwiched between two officers, along with Tzen, facing Nurul, her legs splayed out in the comfort of her jeans along with Sheila in all her posthumous glory right next to her.
‘YOU CAN’T DO THIS!’ Dr Satya screamed aggressively intimidating absolutely no one but himself.
‘Cute,’ Nurul replied, ‘but we have already been through this. You decided to join the movie late. Now, please sir. HELP or LEAVE,’
‘Dr Satya,’ Tzen was curious, ‘How did you find us?’
‘Ben told me you were being dragged into a van. I rushed and followed. Everyone saw it.’
‘SHIT!’ Nurul cursed under her breath.
‘You have really done it this time Ms Inspector. This is police brutality. That’s what this is,’
‘It’s OK Dr Satya. They are trying to help. I think she has a different angle.’
‘All they want to do is find a reason to blame the hospital. As though we failed the houseman girl or something. They tried looking at her psych records. They tried accusing others of sexual assault, and now, instead of accepting defeat, she’s going after her friends, fishing for just anything. It’s pathetic, that’s what it is.’ The psychiatrist replied.
‘How are so sure those things didn’t happen? Because HE said it didn’t?’ Nurul glared long at Dr Satya, seeing if he would flinch but the man stayed calm, as his training made him. He knew exactly whom ‘HE’ was.
Tzen was confused. ‘What sexual assault?’
The others looked at him.
‘No,’ Dr Satya exclaimed. ‘You will not put the boy through this.’ Dr Satya started to push himself free, holding Tzen’s hand, ready to follow him out to leave.
‘BOY? He’s a grown-ass man. He’s had sex with her for crying out loud.’ Nurul stopped them.
‘Low blow, Detective. That is really none of anyone’s business. I’m sure if it was relevant it would have come up by now. Tzen has never mentioned to me anything about this. ’ Dr Satya became furious.
‘Maybe you’re just bad at your job’ Nurul retaliated.
‘You think it’s relevant?’ Tzen replied.
‘You tell me!’ Nurul blasted.
The tension was at a high note. The detective figured it was best to change strategies.
She calmed herself down, putting aside her frustration with the politics and red tape and politely encouraged them to stay. She lowered her aggressive stance and decided to reason with the men. ‘I can’t force you to be here but I’m sure you want the same thing as I do. You want her name cleared because I know what the hospital is going to do, and you do as well.’
Dr Satya had a bad feeling about this, but a small part of him, his greater conscience told him to stay. So, he rested his back against the leather and looked at his patient, cowering, struggling with his own mind. ‘Tell her only what you think you should. Don’t worry. I doubt whatever information she gets from here would be any use tomorrow, seeing as though she might be transferred pretty soon.’
Nurul cornered her smile, amused by his little threat.
Tzen thought very hard, going back to the memories he was trying to put away. He tried so hard to bury those emotions. He was not ready, and Dr Satya knew.
‘LET ME HELP YOU!’ Sheila’s voice echoed in the boy’s mind.
‘STOP IT! PLEASE!’ He mumbled under his nose. Dr Satya furrowed his brows and gently caressed the boy’s stooped back, knowing how hard this must be for him.
‘COME ON TZEN. REMEMBER.’ He felt her hands touch his cheeks, her face leaning over just 2 inches from his. Her hair smelt of the jasmine flowers that graced her tombstone. Her eyes watered and a gleaming droplet splattered onto his thigh, cold.
‘Don’t do this to me. Please. I don’t want to remember!’ he said in his thoughts.
‘YOU DON’T THINK I JUMPED BECAUSE I WAS JUST STUPID, DO YOU?’ Sheila cried.
‘Was it because of… me?’
‘I CAN’T TELL YOU THAT. BUT MAYBE YOU CAN.’