The Fifth Horseman

red-school-blur-factory.jpgThe Stage is Set

It was high noon under the sun of the blazing equinox. One would think people would rather stay indoors as long as they could. But on the contrary, it was a horrid mess in the waiting room of Sepang Hospital Emergency. The triage doctors were swamped with cries and complains and only seconds to think before tagging patients. The EMTs wheeled in more and more pale and shrivelled civilians from all identifiable groups and nationalities. Distraught visitors were ready to set up camp outside the waiting area both in the lounge and outside the ER. Opportunistic food vendors slipped past the guards and started selling merchandise whilst past the heavily tinted windows the nurses of the 1st floor stared downward looking outside in horror. They had their shift cut out for them and none were too happy about it.

An afternoon shift nurse mumbled under her nose as she walked into the lobby to start her shift. She held her latte with both hands and walked hastily while eyeing the crowd. She hurried for the elevator and got in. 2 other nurses were heading up, looking tired. One of them looking easily 7 months pregnant in her maternity uniform. ‘Ending your shifts?’ She greeted them and they pleasantly nodded. To the corner of the elevator was a woman dressed in business wear just coming up from underground parking. Her hair out, bangs, her jewellery, subtle and she said nothing but watch the numbers rise on the panel. As soon as the doors opened she was the first to get out while the others moved aside paving a way for her. She tried walking hastily but she was distracted as her eyes were too busy absorbing all the chaos around her.

Siti Rahman finally moved to side and scanned the perimeter of the hospital lobby from the 3rd floor corridor balcony before she decised to head down to the ER. ‘Everytime,’ she mumbled under her nose as she navigated her way past a multitude of restless visitors loitering the scene. She scanned her access card and walked in through the back entrance right into the observation bay. She furled up her sleeves and furrowed her brows. An ER Medical Officer in brown scrubs walked right up to her stunned by her untimely presence.

‘Director! I didn’t know they brought the whole calvary down here,’ he said jokingly.

Unamused by his remark she lifted up one of the charts and started flipping pages. ‘Not the calvary, just me,’ she continued, ‘are all these patients just in here for heat stroke?’

The Medical Officer nodded while flicking on a vein of a resting patient’s arm fervently looking for venous access.

‘Datuk?’ Yelled another. Siti turned her immediate attention. ‘Dr Ros!’ She exclaimed as the department head approached her shaking his head in apparent discontent. ‘I told you once before and I’m telling you again, I needed more staff in here yesterday,’

Siti sneered back and almost chuckled a little. ‘I understand you’re swamped but this isn’t why i am here,’

Ros attentively listened and so did the young medical officer after finally setting up the iv cannula.

‘There’s been a situation which calls for an emergency meeting,’

‘you didnt have to come down here to tell me that,’

‘No, i just wanted to,’ she turned to walk out before she stopped. ‘Oh and i need a list of all the house officers working today,’

‘This is about her isn’t it?’ the medical officer interjected. Siti gave a glaring stare before turning back to Ros. They exchanged nods of agreement and she trotted off as her loud brazen heels clattered against the floor tiling. Ros sighed and placed both hands into the wide pockets of his white coat. ‘Carry on Jamal, I’ll be in Yellow if you need me.’

Her next visit would be the paediatric wing where she would need to meet Dr James Wong, the only certified neonatologist in the hospital but a phone call stopped her in her tracks. She starred at the screen for a good 2 seconds before sliding right. She kept walking with the phone to her ear. ‘What is it? Is he not eating? Is he pooping too hard? What is it this time?’ The man on the end of the line was her poor helpless spouse who had just been recently out of a job and was indeed having a tough time managing the chores at home. They had a 2 year old who apparently kept screaming while rolling sideways on the floor for the past hour.

‘He just can’t handle the change, just leave him be,’ she retorted. ‘Yes he will have to get used to it soon enough. Daddy is the new mommy now or at least till Kak Wani comes back from Indonesia that is.’

She had finally reached the reception counter of the NICU. A young lad in blue scrubs sat at the PC typing away as the 2 nurses around him stood up to greet authority. ‘Doctor,’ one of them whispered from the side of her lip, ‘the director is here,’

‘So what if the bitc…’ he stopped to see her smiling at him right back knowing awfully well how he was going to finish that sentence. He froze for a second before his neck nodded ever so slightly. ‘May i know where Dr James is?’ She asked politely choosing not to start an unnecessary conflict. The young house officer got up and immediately felt obligated to find him for her. So overwhelmed with guilt he quickly fled out of sight.

He scurried around until he reached one of the cubicles, each one filled to the doorway with babies in cots. ‘God, how many cows went into labor yesterday?’ He mumbled. ‘Excuse me?’ A shrill voice from behind. He turned abrupt stunned to be caught twice in the same day. ‘Doctor James, boss, sir,’ he fumbled. ‘Speak up boy, we don’t have all day. I have yet complete my morning rounds.’

‘Yes, exactly. What is it you want? We are busy,’ whinned a fretful looking medical officer right next to him. ‘The director is here to see you,’ replied Daniel.

‘No the shoot is not till next week,’ he replied perplexed. He turned his neck to see the end of the narrow hallway, Siti waved back as he smiled. ‘You meant the hospital director,’ he smiled shy of feeling actual embarrassment. The medical officer burst into an obvious chuckle while she gleefully slapped his shoulder.

Dr James walked steadily toward the reception counter, his stance steady and on each stride his scrubs hugged his chizled physique and teased any onlooker who was paying attention.

‘A meeting? Sure i will be available. Do you need Daniel?’ They both looked over at the young house officer standing awkwardly with doe eyed wonder not knowing what to do with his hands so repeatedly shifts them from pockets to sides to crossed then pockets again.

‘Yes, him too. Most definitely,’ she replied with a stern expression. Daniel pretended to look puzzled but deep inside he figured what this was about.

After the rounds Daniel finally managed to find 10 minutes to himself. He walked into the pantry only to realise that all the snacks had been devoured and all that was left was empty plates. To the corner in an airtight translucent tupperware was hot food and not just any hot food but ‘Chicken cordon bleu’. He salivated just looking at the steam moistening the insides of the tupperware. ‘You’re not seriously thinking of taking that are you?’ A gentle voice approached him from behind. Jenny, a fellow house officer walked in. She was a sweet petite little woman with a full dye of golden brown hair, thin framed glasses and thin lips. Her skin was almost albino for a person of Chinese Malaysian descent but it never stopped her from all the sunbathing during her vacation times.

‘No lah, why the hell would i? To add another excuse for them to fuck me over?’ Daniel replied.

Jenny washed her face, and starred at the mirror. Her stomach made awkwardly audible rumbles. ‘I heard about the meeting,’ she exclaimed. She took out a case from a bag and opened a little make up set. She added some blush to her cheek and re-applied her lipstick.

‘Why would you wash your face and reapply all of that?’

‘Because it’s been 8 hours’

‘What? That doesn’t mean…’

‘Shut up,’ she stopped him. As soon as she was satisfied she smacked her lips and kept the case back. Before she left she gave Daniel a long hard stare. ‘All the best, i mean seriously,’

The evening was radiant and the skies shone red and purple. It was almost 4pm and meeting was just about to start.

I’m sorry i am a bit tardy. Traffic,’ said Mr Jamal, the head of Orthopedics. Present at the table were all the head of departments of respective fields all which were deemed relevant to attend, that is from Internal Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Pediatrics, Orthopedics, Emergency Medicine and General Surgery. Datuk Dr Siti was of course there seated next to laptop waiting patiently for one more member to walk in the door.

The latch opened as soon as she thought of it and in came Dr Satya Segaran, Head of Psychiatry. ‘So?’ Siti was ever curious.

While closing the door behind him, he nodded and smiled at everyone gathered there and turned to the director. ‘We talked and i think he is ready,’

‘So will he testify?’

‘I didn’t coerce him to say anything,’

‘Of course you didn’t Doctor and i would never accuse you of such a thing but will he be on our side of the story is what im asking?’

‘He will be heard and we should give him his time.’

Just moments before the meeting was set Daniel was called to see Dr Satya on an urgent matter. He had to handover all his remaining tasks and see to it that he was present for the meeting. He quickly changed into his formal wear while alone in the changing room. Jenny barged right in. ‘Jenny this is the boys…’ but before he could finish she launched at him with a kiss. ‘You can do this,’ she said while straightening his tie at his collar. She dusted his shoulders smiled. ‘Thank you,’ said Daniel as he walked out of the NICU remembering to breathe. He walked passed the bustling lobby while a few people noticed him having a labcoat on immediately harrased him about their loved ones. ‘Im a pharmacist’ he kept repeating to deter them and had one look past the horde before the elevator doors shut after him.

‘So my boy, I’m guessing you know why you are here,’ Dr Satya had a very warm yet hardened paternal voice. His demeanour was calm as he gestured the house officer to sit.

‘I think this is about her,’ Daniel replied while he caught the doctor surreptitiously nod, ‘and why she killed herself.’

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The Fifth Horseman

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2 years ago around the same time, things seemed a lot different. It was the first day of orientation and new house officers had finally gotten their long awaited job postings in respective hospitals all over the country under provisional licence contracts. They had to leave their homes, their parents, their spouses, their girlfriends, as well as their kids. They left early in anticipation of traffic. Some in cars, some by train and some already came the night before after long flights. 5 young house officers in brand new pressed and glistening white coats, walked into the Assistant Director’s Office of Hospital Puchong and waited to report for the first day of duty. They exchanged pleasantries, names, contact details and even social media information. In mere 5 minutes, they had become instant friends.

‘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 capital letters. They lot of them got up excited, but couldn’t decide which one of them would go in first, so they kept paving the way for each other with little hand gestures but nobody seemed to want to take the lead. ‘Today, please,’ remarked the perhaps not-that-nice lady as she went back to her phone.

The door from behind them busted open all a sudden. A petite looking young woman hobbled before just falling to the ground as it did. It startled the entire office. Everyone approached her to help even the ladies at all the way at the back.

‘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.

‘Come,come!’ a deep yet friendly voice echoed from within the assistant director’s office.

Ram, Daniel, Damia, Jenny, Tzen and the newly welcomed, Sheila. The first 3 days of orientation was arguably the best time since their med school days. They had explored the city, found places to eat and gram their food, helped each other set their rooms in the hospital quarters. None of them were local except for Damia who was already a young mother of a gorgeous 1 year old girl. It was literally all her social media was about. Jenny and Sheila took one apartment for themselves and the other three boys took their own just one floor below. All three nights they had dinner together and on the last day they watched 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 when she finally got hold of the perfect spot. It was a beautiful water feature, of glistening streams going down a valley of sorts and a faux Sakura Tree branching right above it. Along with that a multitude of strategically placed light-bulbs just to add a more celebratory feel to it. ‘Aww, I always wanted to go to Japan,’ cried Sheila. Jenny took center stage and started prepping her look using her own phone. ‘Are you taking photos for a photo?’ sneered Daniel. ‘Well it’s hard to be good looking, not something you would understand,’ she retorted and drew a disingenuous smile. ‘What?’ Ram appeared perplexed.

Damia carefully positioned the tripod stand exactly the way she wanted, just enough to have all of them in frame, along with everything else.

‘Make sure I don’t look fat in under this tree,’ cried Sheila.

‘You look great Sheila,’ Damia yelled adjusting her focusing lens.

‘You sure?’

‘YES!’ all resounded abruptly in unison. It was evident that Sheila’s weight was brought up frequently, only by her and her alone. Damia set her timer and quickly trotted to position. ‘OK, POSE!’ she yelled. The 6 of them did various awkward and silly gestures. Ram went crazy with his legs, so much so he tripped and fell backward into the water. The camera shot that exact moment. They all had a great laugh over it and will so more for time to come. “Oh wait, now i get it, she meant you’re not good looking bro,’ Ram spouted excess water from his mouth, while his dripping wet hair covered half his face. It took a while for the rest of them to follow. Jenny burst into a contagious laughter and Sheila was pleased with her photo finishes.

‘So,’ asked Dr Satya, now seated across a nervous agitated house officer. ‘You can take off your coat,’ he said. Daniel complied and loosened his tie.

‘Yes, the tie as well,’ he continued. Daniel stripped it right off. He reached for the glass of ice cold water placed right before him and gulped the whole thing down while sweat exited his pores and trickled down his chin. He placed a half emptied glass back to the exact position on the table.

‘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, he shrugged his shoulders and shook his head in the cold AC breeze blowing behind his back. Daniel’s eyes scanned the room. It was a small space, claustrophobic with only 2 doors; one of it an exit, another lead into a wider office space he gatthered. He heard muddled voices and soft rustlings from the other side. The lights above him shone bright and were only getting brighter. His fingers started to noticeably shake and he kept them close to the table to calm them down.

‘All is good,’ he replied.

‘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 breaths to stop the shaking. He didn’t want to relive those moments but his mind kept going back. Split second flashes of the poor girl standing on that ledge, saying her last words to him before facing up and taking the leap. The lights weren’t as bright anymore and he found it slightly easier to focus once the thought had finally settled in. ‘You know nobody has said that yet,’

‘Said what? ‘that she died’?’

Daniel nodded.

‘Have you said it, you know, to your self?’

Daniel shook his head.

‘You have thought of 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 made a soft ‘hmph’. 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 of water on the table, white a soft mist surrounded it, the flashes kept coming back. Daniel felt entranced by his vision, zooming in the tiny droplets surrounding his glass. Deep down his subconscious needed the escape, and the water provided the illusion of a never-ending pool, an ocean to slip away into, and keep swimming till nothing was as sight to call or cast blame.

‘Daniel?’ a slight touch on his fingers brought him back to reality. ‘What are you thinking right now?’

Daniel felt as though time had long past only to realize it had only been seconds. He tried to recall Dr Satya’s previous words.

‘It was not an accident,’ he exclaimed.

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes,’

‘Well, sometimes our eyes have a way of us telling us different truths,’

‘It was not an accident,’ Daniel interjected defensively jerking his body forward. Dr Satya didn’t flinch.

‘Alright, alright!,’ the psychiatrist was forced to retract, ‘in your own words then, please tell me everything you can remember about what happened that night.’

The Fifth Horseman

Why me?

‘I remember standing there, watching her just 2 feet away. I tried talking but i was afraid. The lump in my throat grew each time I tried to say something. In my mind I was screaming for her to move back. I wanted to remind her that we were friends, that tomorrow it will all seem like a distant memory, but frankly i was not even sure if she heard me.

We all go through the motions, that’s just what this internship is like. We learn by getting our assess handed to us and we pat ourselves on the back each time we do something right, because by God it would go against the natural order of things to just get a compliment every now and then. She wasn’t so lucky though. She could only see the world from a defected lens. In truth, it wasn’t always like that. She was vibrant, opinionated, and smart. Everybody knew that, and maybe that worked more to her disadvantage. She upstaged everyone, in rounds, in the weekly “Teaching” sessions, in the OR and even when we all just used to go out and hang. She would complain the least, and always find the glass half full. Maybe she was just waiting to crack. It took a while for them to break her but they did eventually. We started noticing her avoiding dinners, giving some bullshit excuse about dieting. She was always concerned about her weight. She looked good by the way but for some reason she was always obsessed about calories and diet. She used to hit the gym, run in marathons, and even joined some weird cross-fit cult. But all that declined slow and insidiously and just like everyone else the job was getting to her, eating up her personality, her time and eventually she too turned into a walking zombie. Enough time had past and one by one piled on the reasons to not meet up or see each other. Things just got busy and our priorities consolidated. We still had our WhatsApp, Snapchat, IG, Facebook and whatnot but then daily messages became weekly, then biweekly and soon enough we just used it to share viral stuff. Just two days before I noticed her social media got a little quite. We all knew she wasn’t really having a good time in Surgery, and there were rumors that she was considering quitting from the job altogether. That should have been it; the moment of intervention but nothing happened. We should have been there just as we were for Ram. But we kept calling it off.

‘We should have dinner again, and watch another dumb movie,’ we ended almost every conversation the same way over the last couple of months.

Were there signs? I can’t really say. Because I was never there to notice them. Was she depressed? The DSM says you gotta have pervasive sadness for 2 weeks or more. ‘Pervasive’ being the key word. But she is always smiling. How would we know then?

Was she stressed out? Any quirks? Addictions? Vices? OCD behavior? Nothing! Just that ‘weight’ thing that’s been there from God knows when.

And the countless times I would ruminate and ask myself over and over again, Why? Why? Why was she was on that ledge, smiling at me. She texted me earlier, just me. I think it’s obviously because she wanted me to be there, but not to stop her, not to convince to be rational but to just…witness it. I guess she figured I wouldn’t have done anything,’

‘And why would you think that?’ asked Dr Satya clearing his throat after a long silence. I almost forgot he was in the room.

Maybe she thought I would agree with her. That life isn’t all that important. We see new babies being born and people dying everyday. Maybe it’s the desensitization, and maybe she wanted to know if it something still felt real.

‘Wow, you’re beginning to sound like me,’ he smiled to lighten the mood. ‘Cynicism is something you tend to develop in this carrier even if you never thought it was in your nature to begin with. Do you feel that way? Like death has become nothing?’

‘It’s always been nothing, I mean the world was once war-torn, and people in Palestine and Syria still see it everyday. So, I don’t know, maybe that’s why she chose me, either that or…’

‘Or?’ Dr Satya interrupted when I started to swell in my throat. I was on the verge of tears, and he slightly nudged a box of tissues just to hint at me that it was there without seeming too pacifying.

‘Or that she thought I was a coward,’ I allowed the waterworks to flow, and flow they did, like an patched leak in a water damn just burst open.

‘I’m such a horrible person aren’t I? I mean she is dead and all I can think is how she thought of me; a coward,’

‘That’s not how I see it,’ Dr Satya handed a few tissues over, ‘she was going to do it regardless, but she needed a friend, someone to support her on her final day. You said she was always confident, opinionated, and strong willed. So there was no changing her mind and she wouldn’t want someone who would desperately try at that. She needed a person that wouldn’t waste her time but rather understand her why she did what she did. Her suicide was her decision after all wasn’t it?’

I wiped away my tears, but my eyes were balling endlessly. I knew Dr Satya was trying but I was not ready for the silver lining, not just yet. I was angry, upset, in denial, and all the damn stages at the same time.

‘I’m not so sure about that,’ I paused to study his reaction.

Dr Satya nodded. ‘You’re safe here Daniel, just know that.’

I’m sure he meant well, but I wasn’t too sure if he was right. Was I really safe here? I noticed rattling from the door ahead, the one that lead to another room. Exactly how many people were there? Dr Satya caught my line of sight being away from him and soon turned around himself. ‘Yes, there is a group there waiting, but only for a statement,’ he confessed, ‘I ensure you that whatever we discuss here will be kept private, and if I feel it needs to be out in the open I would advice you to do it yourself.’

I stared long and hard at the Doctor’s expression. I wanted to trust this man so badly but I couldn’t. I couldn’t betray her memory. No! Not like this.

‘I don’t know, maybe I was just confused,’

‘You don’t have any reason to hide something Daniel, whatever it is I promise you discretion,’

‘Please tell them that it was not an accident,’

‘We don’t have much else to go with here, unless you can help us’

I sat quietly for a moment, and Dr Satya knew he wasn’t getting anything out of me today. He got up and left into the next room without dismissing me though. I sat there for quite a bit, alone, I wasn’t just going to up and leave disrespectfully, but the longer I waited the more it bothered me. What was going on behind that door? The noises got louder, muffled and incoherent and it was all in my head, I knew that.

I couldn’t contain myself any longer. I barged open the door only to find so many important personnel seated together like it was the council of Elders. They looked at me in shock.

‘Please Daniel, give me a few minutes and I’ll join you,’ Dr Satya got up from his chair. I stared hard into all their faces and particularly one Dr Jamal who stared back at me, defensively, as if he knew I was looking at him with disdain. ‘What?’ he barked. This man was a conceited prick, and that was public knowledge but he thought the worse of house officers or at least that’s how he projected himself. But today I knew something that he didn’t, or maybe he did.

‘It was not an accident, it was a suicide, and it was because of…’ I hesitated.

Dr Siti scanned through all the faces in the room and was starting to build her suspicions. Her intuition served her well. ‘Does Mr Jamal know something we don’t? She joked. It gained a laugh or two. Mr Jamal however wasn’t all that amused. ‘If you’re making accusations boy, make sure you can defend them,’ he said with an intimidating voice.

‘Nothing,’ I retracted. ‘Please Daniel, get back in there. Listen to me will you,’ insisted Dr Satya. I pulled back and turned away realizing that I had just drawn attention to myself and that all eyes were now on me especially two that belonged to a very agitated man.

The Fifth Horseman

black and white dead die diving

You have gushed everything

‘Shit! It’s late,’ screamed Daniel out of a sudden, breaking the waves of deep slumber as his body jolted out of bed, naked in his underwear. He walked to his study table, found his phone to check the time. He rubbed his eyes for clarity and saw ‘0730H’, and that only meant he was dead meat. He rushed to the toilet, hit the lights on and gargled some mouthwash, sniffed his armpits, moved his face away repulsively and then haphazardly patted talc powder on himself. Just before he rushed out, his bladder gave him stinging signals to relieve it, to which he reluctantly obeyed and delayed himself further.

Jenny watched her boyfriend apply an insufferable amount of deodorant, clumsily put his clothes on, top that off with eau de parfum, walk out of the room with his hospital access pass, only to come back in remembering his tie. She laid still under the sheets, exhausted from her shift last night. Her eyes tracked his movements, watching everything that was going on but all she could do was smile in amusement. She commanded herself to get up and her legs obediently got down from the edge of bed. She straightened her back, flung her arms wide open and stretched while the sheets fell unwrapping her to greet the morning sun, nude and proud. She had her one morning yawn and then immediately approached the closet. ‘This would go better with the shirt,’ she said still half asleep holding a blue skinny necktie, and handed it over to him. Daniel threw the one he was holding onto the floor, although he had already prepared the knot and laid it out days before. He fashioned the tie just handed to him around his neck and started the process, trying to catch his breathe.

Jenny swooped her hands in and took over. ‘I thought you did your prayers at Dawn,’

‘I did,’ he replied. She gave the last pull and it was a perfect Half-Windsor. ‘Then you went back to sleep,’ she chuckled and patted his back. ‘Go be a hero,’ she added. Daniel winced as he caught some of her unapologetic breath. ‘Oh and you’re so clean,’ she snarkily retorted.

As Daniel fumbled his way to leave for another day in the hospital, Jenny was supposed to enjoy her one day off a week and today was just that day. The first thing she did as most people do was immediately check her phone for updates. ’31 pending notifications’ littered her screen. Most of it was just trash but then there was that breakfast that she was supposed to have, the ‘just us girls’ kind.

And then there was all the news about the recent events, the string of condolences, prayers and regrets, and all the long eulogies from self proclaimed friends on the departed’s Facebook profile. That and all the personals texts as well, some even not so sincere,

‘hey so I know this isn’t the right time, but her room is empty now right? I wonder if I can move in, I need to give a quick notice to my landlord cause it’s quite expensive out here.’ Jenny simply replied, ‘you’re right, this isn’t the right time.’

Jenny, unlike many other house officers never really identified herself to a single clique. She had varied group of friends, most of course from the same profession as her but some were also from her old music school, where she worked teaching hip hop to adolescent girls part time before she got the job she was currently in. Her friends too were interim job holders who now do different if not better things. Jenny being the only one who had ‘Dr’ prefixed to her name still found herself riddled with insecurity around them. According to her, they had better lives then she did. She loved to hear about their stories, their latest projects, travels, and people they have met. Today she was meeting with just 2, one whom everyone just refers to as Ain, the law student turned public defender, and another Rekha, a travel blogger who so happens to be in town and would just die if they did not all meet at least once. Another friend of hers from work, a young house officer by the name of Syikin, wanted to tag along because she was ‘Off’ too and had nothing else better to do today. Plus it was such an inviting weather.

They met at descent looking cafe, with glass windows and a veranda overlooking a serene reservoir in the heart of mid-town Cyberjaya, just 20 minutes away from the hospital by car. Lakeside Cafe, it was called; where all the Baristas were men, brewed exquisite high priced coffee, and even looked equally as good. ‘Two for the price of one. What are you doing later?’ Rekha casually flirted with one of waiters who served her a hot latte with a slice of macadamia nut cheesecake. The girls chuckled among themselves as the young boy walked away hiding his flushed face.

‘Never change girl,’ said Jenny, all toasting their glasses and cups before sipping them. ‘So, life?’ started Ain, instigating a tradition that these girls had whenever they hung out together.

‘Life, is waking up everyday at 6, getting to work by 7, finishing everything by 8 and then getting yelled for the remainder of your time until the next 7,’ started Syikin, trying to impress her possible new friends.

‘Life, is the futility of one’s efforts leading to the inevitable, where the one with the most resources walk and the looser in turn rots in jail,’ Ain flexed her courtroom muscles.

‘Life, is a spiritually charged journey, one that intrigues you, titillates you, and leads you off into an almost sexually charged race. A finish line so clear, that you exhaust all your energy. And when you finally tear that ribbon, you’re so wet you have gushed everything,’ Rekha slowly realized that was gaining looks and stares from other tables. ‘Wow this country never changes.’ she said in response.

‘Life, is…’ lost for words, Jenny thought hard to describe her week in just one clever quote. The truth was it was just an appalling mess that she couldn’t really come up with anything new to say. ‘just an appalling mess,’ she ended eventually.

The girls talked for a bit and Syikin initially being the odd one out found it surprisingly easy to socialize with this crew, loving her new found friends. Jenny however wasn’t quite enjoying herself though and Ain being the perceptive lawyer she is, saw right through her. ‘I know when somebody is lying, and you child are not in this realm at the moment,’ she joked while gently tapping Jenny on the head.

Syikin immediately took notice but despite understanding what was wrong, she didn’t want to be the one to tell Jenny’s friends. It had to be Jenny and Jenny alone. ‘No, what are you talking about?’ the young doctor defended herself, putting on a smile, and tried to shift the trajectory by talking about her friends’ necklace and when she was finally going to marry that dimwit of a fiance of hers. There was a moment of awkwardness but Rekha and Ain quickly dismissed it and continued to enjoy your time. That is of course until a loud metal clang was heard from a few tables away.

**

Sirens blared, and the EMTs had finally reached the cafe. Mr Badrul had woken up that morning feeling good about his upcoming shift. He performed his morning prayers, had a descent breakfast and headed quickly to work. Not 5 minutes in, he was rushed for an ambulance call. As the driver, it was his duty to ensure his vehicle was always prepped and ready. The dispatch was to a ‘Lakeside Cafe’. Someone in his late teens had passed out, lying on the floor gasping for air and loosing consciousness by the minute. Mr Badrul clapped his hands twice, ‘OK’ he called out to the two paramedics just as soon as he checked the tank and ensured the vehicle was ready, complete with a stretcher, filled O2 tanks, masks and of course a cardiac monitor with functioning batteries.

On site, Jenny and Syikin were standing before the young man now lying on the floor breathing heavily, with eyes constantly rolling up. It was the waiter from earlier, who suddenly collapsed to the ground, dropping his tray along with everything on it. He squirmed and squirmed and held tight his chest.

‘Oh God! Rekha shrieked. Jenny stared cold at her newly adopted patient. Syikin quickly called for an ambulance, and started yelling out details over the phone. There was so much noise and clutter while people took out their phones hoping to catch some action. It should have put a lot more pressure on the two doctors on site but all Jenny could think of now was, ‘What am I doing here? Why is this happening? Why now? Why are you testing me?’ She found herself ruminating in her own thoughts as though the universe had decided to bestow her an emergency uniquely for her at this moment. ‘Jenny!’ called out Ain. ‘Is there anything we can do?’ she cried out.

As if by reflex Jenny knelt to inspect the boy. She saw the way his hands were clenched on his chest.

‘Hey!’ she shouted. ‘What’s your name?’

‘Riz’ the boy answered between breaths. Jenny looked up to his coworkers for confirmation. They unanimously nodded. ‘Do you have any medical history I should know about?’

‘I have… I have…’ gasping unable to complete his sentence. ‘Allergies? Asthma?’ she cried out. He shook his head and pointed to his chest. ‘A heart condition?’ He nodded.

She felt for his pulse and noted his heart was racing at a precarious pace. An older person presumably the manager, brought a knapsack and opened it before her. ‘This is all his stuff,’ he said.

‘Any medication in there?’ asked Syikin. Jenny kept zoning out, asking herself ‘Why? Why? What would you do now?’ and at the same time there was almost like another part of her working independently piecing together clues on what the diagnosis might be. Syikin looked through the bag and found emptied medication strips. ‘Warfarin?’ she cried out.

Jenny snapped back as soon as she heard that. She had an inclination, ‘so he’s on long-term warfarin, and by the looks of that old strip he has yet replenished it,’ the patient nodded and tried to speak before Syikin sarcastically interjected, ‘and you were just thinking of getting them sometime this week, yea?’

Before she could figure a preliminary diagnosis, Jenny instinctively reached for his neck and started positioning her fingers to grip both sides and gently started rotating in clockwise motion while she told the others to help him stay calm. ‘Do you know what you have Riz? SVT? AF?’ However the boy wasn’t looking very responsive at this moment.

The ambulance had arrived and the EMTs barged out to attend the patient. They took his vitals and set an O2 prong. ‘Dr Jenny?’ one of them called out. She looked up to smile at a familiar face. ‘Even on my off day right?’ she joked, ‘can you put on the leads?’ she instructed. ‘Yes, we have that,’ Mr Badrul cried out.

The paramedics worked fast to apply the ECG leads and Syikin turned the machine on. ‘What’s that mean?’ cried out Rekha. From afar Jenny noted the Heart Rate was at 200, and the recording was typical of something called a Fast Atrial Fibrillation or Fast AF. Her inclination was right but she was doing nothing at the moment that was of actual help.

‘The massage is not working,’ cried out Syikin and Jenny concurred.

Ain looked over to Rekha’s shoulder, ‘Am I following this correctly or is she really giving him a neck massage?’ Rekha stared back at her, ‘I believe she is.’

Syikin paced to and fro flipping through her phone. ‘Rate control?Shock?’ she cried out trying to bounce ideas off her colleague. Jenny couldn’t focus as she was constantly being pulled back and this time she was gone for a quite a bit. She found herself floating in an endless inescapable limbo of her own.

‘Why do you want to shock him? Is he dying you idiot?’ she recalled her Medical Officers insulting her sometime back. ‘Congratulations, you have killed the patient,’ shouted a fleeting vision of her consultant. And from afar, her own voice closely approached her, getting louder and louder. ‘Why do you bother? You don’t care. You let her die, and it was all the more convenient. Of course nobody should hog the spotlight except Jennifer, the honor student, the apple of daddy’s eye, the star of the show, and now that she is gone you can finally have the stage again, all to yourself. But who’s watching this time? A soon to be corpse, just another to add to the list of victims. Pretty dark for you Jennifer, pretty dark.’

She saw a vision of the boy’s spirit detaching from his body and being pulled up.

‘SHOCK HIM!’ Jenny screamed as the young boy withered out of consciousness. ‘Riz, Riz, she called out. His pulse was gone. ‘200?’ asked the paramedics. ‘200’ she concurred.

‘Guess the neck massage didn’t work,’ said Rekha arms crossed in the background. They realized they could do nothing for their friend but stand and watch, and maybe just wait for instructions. Jenny wasn’t aware of the sheer admiration her peers had for her. ‘Everybody clear!’ she cried and the paddles shocked him once. The sheer jolt shook the crowd as they gasped in unison. The manager tried to clear them from the scene but then realized it was a fool’s errant.

No pulse.

‘I’m initiating CPR,’ Jenny exclaimed. She climbed on top of him, pressed both palms right below his sternum with her elbows locked, and started compressing synchronously. ‘Ready!’ the paramedic alerted as soon as the defibrillator was charged. Jenny got off to the side.

‘CLEAR!’ and another jolt.

‘Pulses are back, regular’ and they all looked at screen unison, even the bystanders. ‘Sinus rhythm,’ Syikin called out, ‘but just for now. It might come back. He needs monitoring,.’ Jenny exhaled and fell backwards to the ground, breathing deeply in relief as she heard the crowd applaud in the distance. She smiled just a little before her friends came to her, towering over her, lifting her back up. They gave her a bottle of water to drink from, which she gulped down vigorously. She tried to catch hold of her breath while she consolidated her thoughts. She glanced at Rekha, looking perplexed. ‘Now that… that is what you should have said about ‘Life’,’ Rekha summed up.

Syikin had decided to accompany the patient back to the hospital and see things through. She started him on iv beta blockers. Lying on the stretcher, the young boy mouthed ‘Thank you’ to Jenny before the ambulance doors closed after him. While Jenny offered, Syikin insisted she spend more time with her friends. They bid farewell and hoped to see each other again soon. The group of friends remaining had a free meal on the house as a sign of gratitude.

‘Well my plane leaves in 2 hours, so I best get going,’ cried out Rekha, disappointed but excited all the same. She was heading out to Vietnam for her travel blog, fully sponsored of course, and was about to meet more long lost friends over there. ‘I can’t believe you call that work,’ said Jenny. ‘I can’t believe you call yours’,’ Rekha retorted. ‘Well mine still is,’ Ain joked. The three friends parted ways and Jenny drove back by noon. She still couln’t bare step foot in her old apartment, and just skipped a floor up the elevator.

Back in Daniels’ she had taken a long hot shower. She sat quietly in her bathrobes on the couch facing the apartment balcony overlooking the city under the evening sun. She had the same view upstairs only that from here you could see pass the windows of opposite apartments and everything in them. ‘So that’s why,’ she smirked. She checked her phone to find in her feeds that her video had gotten some traction online.

‘Wow, local hero, Dr Jenny in the house,’ someone posted. She opened the link. It was a good video, crisp in quality and you could see the whole incident play out like a scene from a movie. Jenny was transfixed on the expressions that she was constantly making, which was a faded and distant look, and so unlike her. It didn’t feel like she was watching herself, but someone inadequate, inferior and guilty. ‘Why?’ again the voices played. Her nose started to redden, her cheeks puffed. She started to sniffle and then her eyes just couldn’t hold it in anymore. ‘I’m sorry,’ she cried out, ‘I’m so sorry.’

The Fifth Horseman

Let’s

Damia needed her beauty sleep, and she had warned her husband beforehand that the kid would be his tonight, and no matter the call; a nightmare, a bed-wetting, hunger, or just plain attention seeking behavior, it would not be her, and he understood, because Atirah, the apple of their eye, was not getting any of her mamma tonight. Tomorrow was a big day for mamma, and she had to be up by 7am for a long drive.

She had married her college sweetheart. They crossed paths during an excursion back in 2nd year of med school while tracing the steps of the Pyramids of Khufu, when they heard another voice speak in familiar language. They both said ‘hi’ and decided to have coffee. And on started a beautiful friendship which blossomed into a lifelong commitment. Salim was a good man, and her father immediately loved him. They got hitched as soon as they graduated and soon after, their first miracle took center stage in their lives. Despite being a mother and an doctor, Damia did her best to balance it all out. But in truth, she would barely be standing on two feet if not for Salim and vice versa. Her success was owed all to her God and her family and despite coming home weary and exhausted everyday, the smiles of their little baby made it worth every minute.

‘Remember the Fatwa,’ her husband joked.

‘You have nothing to worry about dear, I know my faith. I am only paying respects,’

‘I am kidding dear,’ her re-emphasized, ‘I know she was a close friend. They might be non-believers but we are to still respect their rights just as they would respect ours.’

She tucked Atirah’s blankets underneath her in her tiny bed for a snug fit and kissed her goodnight before catching up to her husband already in their bedroom from across the hall. ‘It won’t take long. Just the burial, and maybe some prayers.’

The early morn was a sombre grey, where the densest of the cumulonimbus clouds gravitated to mourn as the people did as well over at St Ignatius Church. Sheila had a rather large family, and everyone came from all over the country to pay their respects. Some even flew over from overseas. Her heartbroken grieving parents stood strong, and braced through to prepare for the funeral rites. The priest was noted the night before and was kind enough to attend the wake at their home. The church was booked for the morning, the van fueled and ready, the casket bought and prepped exquisitely and in it the body already embalmed and decorated, vibrant and immortal as she might have on her wedding day. Daniel stared at the flower arrangements she was made to hold, frozen firm in her hands but cleverly disguised to look and feel warm and dainty. She looked beautiful. It was like she was still asleep, like the many times they have seen her between her shifts in the on-call room, the counter top, or sometimes even the elevator. It was the last image he would ever have of her. All her smiles, her nods, her jokes, and her tantrums, all gone, not even the silent rising and falling of her bosoms as she breathed in rest. Death was different, and she wanted you to know it. All was to be missed, because what lay before him was not the friend he knew before but who she was now, just a still inanimate doll, a memory to be revered, respected and that was all.

‘She was a poet, and I didn’t know that till 2 days ago. I remember when she was 9 and she would write these little notes down. Her teacher said something about poetry, and she wrote the cutest little line, ”I like bees because bees are yellow, if they sting you, you cannot swallow,” ‘ her father chuckled midway into his eulogy. ‘It was rather bad, but I told her to hand in whatever she thought was good enough and she got a ‘C’ for poetry that class and never wanted to do it again. And this was from last week,’ he held up a piece of paper and started to tear, just thinking to himself how different things were just a mere week ago.

‘ ”He looks for the colors in his life, and he sees plenty, yet the colors unseen brings him no worry, rather he be blind would he? He thanks his maker, begging him to see, the one color that he may not be,” Mr Timothy patted his eyes gently with a handkerchief. ‘I don’t know what I missed sweetheart, but I hope you found that color you’re looking for. The Good Lord knows I saw every color in the world every time I saw you my baby girl. I am so amazed, intimidated even, at the remarkable woman you grew up to be. Your mother and I are still going to be proud of you, even now, even though you decided to not talk to us anymore. But nothing changes. We are still your parents and we will wait for you, keep an empty room for you, and pray in our hearts for you. So until we see you again, be safe up there sweetie.’

Karen, the mother, wept until there weren’t any tears left from her sockets. Her face was swollen, her tear ducts dry leaving a trail of salty residue over her aged wrinkles. She buried her head in her napkin avoiding the light as the dehydration gave her a blasting headache on top of all the sleeplessness and exhaustion. The family was very supportive though, and helped in every way they could. Daniel and the few friends did some light lifting as well, whenever permitted.

The men of the house carried the coffin into the van, as the poor mother knelt at the church steps wailing, with a few other women beside her rubbing her back and shoulders doing the least they could to provide solace. Her daughter was leaving her, for good this time and no amount of prayer and pleading could bring her back, not a for another meal at home, not for Christmas, not even for a hug or a kiss goodbye.

There was a heavy drizzle, and the casket was already in position about to be lowered. Ram was afraid to make his himself known, as he had not seen his friends in a long time, and all were present of course, heads down while the Christians sang their sombre hymns. He tried to hide in the background amongst the crowd, but he couldn’t help himself but make way forward to see the casket being lowered. It was a desperate cry to have one last look. Sheila was now in the ground and a mound of dirt and sand were being shoveled to encase the gorgeous mahogany. He wanted her to scream and stick her hand out, like in the horror films they used to watch, or open the casket and scream ‘what the hell are you people doing?’ but nothing happened, just rain and damp dirt, mud and grass, piling on until there was 6 whole feet of it.

The service was beautiful, and the crowd slowly dissipated as the rains grew more intense. Under a little gazebo, the five friends waited, just watching the rain and Ram’s boots while it sloshed in rain water and growing puddles heading for them. He closed his umbrella and gave the others a hug. Jenny didn’t let go, she needed just a second longer before she released him.

‘It’s different when it’s one of us isn’t it?’ said Damia.

‘You’d think you’d be desensitized, but no’ said Tzen, ‘it fucking hurts even more,’

‘Last I heard from her was a via a text,’ said Ram, sniffling, the rains obviously triggering his allergies, among many others. ‘She texted, ”please send the blood tubes to the lab, it’s the one thing I forgot before I headed home” and that was almost 6 months ago.’

Everyone took out their phones, Daniel read, ‘No, I hated that Eli Roth movie, no more stupid recommendations from you. I rather sit and watch regular pornography than all that torture shit. LOL.’

Tzen gave him a weird stare, ‘Hostel?’

‘Daniel replied, ‘Hostel’ and they both smiled a bit.

Damia read, ‘Girl, I want to buy a T-shirt for your baby, what’s his size like?’ to which she replied, ‘I’ll send you photos, you decide.’

Tzen had a long winded message, something he didn’t want to enclose. ‘She just said Hi,’ he said while he scrolled through a really long winded conference, which happened during a certain hard time he was going through. She was the only one there for him texting him to get through the night.

‘Girl, bring home some instant noodles,’ said Jenny reading her text aloud, ‘I’m starving’ it continued. She laughed and snorted, tearing a little. ‘And I texted back, “K”. She did enjoy those noodle though.’

‘To think this WAS her,’ said Ram. ‘That’s actually HER,’ he said poiting at his screen with all the text threads open.

‘Last thing she ever said in the group-text, ”Guys, let’s go for another movie,”. Nobody replied.’ The others surprised to hear Daniel say this checked it out themselves. They were all seeing it for the first time, hidden somewhere down, in the long lost stream of forgotten notification bubbles was one text sent just 2 weeks back, something that was directed at all of them and as Daniel mentioned earlier, not one reply.

‘Lets!’ said Ram. Tzen nodded, so did Daniel. Jenny seemed reluctant at the idea. Damia however was almost certain but as much as she would have loved to honor her deceased friend’s probable final request, her mind was more preoccupied with Salim and her kid. Her poor husband would be working an afternoon shift that day and they didn’t book a sitter in time, so she had to be ‘Mamma’ at home.

‘Sorry guys,’ she apologized, ‘maybe next time.’

‘I have an afternoon shift too actually.’ said Jenny. ‘I mean I could make the movie if it’s now, but then I would be in a rush to get to work on time. Rain-check?’

As happenstance would see to it, the rains immediately died down as if it heard her say that. The pavement safe for a few puddles here and there was alot safer to walk along to where their cars were parked lower down the hill. Tzen suddenly remembered that he had to be somewhere that afternoon and needed to cancel as well.

Daneil looked at Ram. ‘What about breakfast? Just the two of us dudes I guess,’

Ram couldn’t pass on the offer. He had questions, many questions. He had not really spoken to the girl for the past 6 months and suddenly she was in a coffin in the ground. Still, Ram was going back and forth in his mind whether or not he should bring the whole rooftop incident up. He understood that whatever it was, he needed to be Daniel’s friend first before anything else.

Tzen sat in the driver’s seat for quite a bit before leaving. He watched his friends go ahead while he grasped the leather of the steering wheel with both hands breathing heavily as cars honked ‘goodbye’ and drove off. ‘It brings back memories Sheila. It really does. You knew so much about her and all that she was going through. You were the one who diagnosed her at that dinner table when we invited you over. You said my mother walked funny and had little querks about her, and not healthy ones. And I remember when I opened up to you, you just stuck a diagnosis on her. I was upset, very upset. But i guess it was more at myself, at the very fact that she was depressed and the whole family didn’t see it but you. And you insisted she seek treatment. Everyone was so sour with you then, the bitch that caused a rift in the family. But you didn’t care because you did what was right and you insisted because i was your friend. Even today nobody wanted to come. She is alot better now since the therapy Sheila and they should be here. They know and I know they know but call it Asian pride, I don’t know. They might not see it yet but I’m sure they’ll do someday. I promise you that’ll happen.’

‘You will?’ Tzen startled as for a mere brief second it felt like a figure of Sheila was sitting right next to him in the passenger seat talking to him. ‘God, i really need some sleep,’ he calmed himself, turned one last glance to the hill and pressed the ignition.

The Fifth Horseman

Did she say goodbye?

It was somewhere around the late of October, almost a year ago, when Ram had his first encounter with the girl that would change his entire life. It was late in the evening and Ram had arrived early to the new place. Employment was about to start tomorrow, the first ever for Ram as he had never even held an interim job before. He sat quietly by himself at the corner table in ‘Ali’s Restaurant’ and ordered himself a cup of The Tarik and some Roti. He caught a glimpse of her by sheer accident, having coffee and gleefully eating her meal. They sat two tables apart from each other. There was something about her, Ram thought. Maybe it was the way she sipped her hot coffee or how she twisted her fork every so fastidiously, rolling up all the wet noodles into a little greasy ball before treating herself to a juicy mouthful. As she did, it would leave a thin coat of oily residue that painted her lips before she would gently peek out the tip of her tongue to clear them; something about it was attractive, tantalizing even. Perhaps he was paying a little too close an attention, because though it never struck her at first, she quickly became aware. Her eyes just immediately turned to him as she kept sipping. ‘What a creep? She would have thought,’ Ram of course never confronted her about this. Not even when they officially met the next day in that office, -the day she was late for some reason. In all that chaos and confusion, either she had no recollection of seeing him the night before, or she was merely toying with him to see if he would bring it up himself.

‘And did you?’ asked Daniel, curious. The duo were just done with the funeral service in the morning and had decided to dress the gloom away with some breakfast and a movie. Much to their disappointment, there was nothing that peaked their interest in the theatres. Everything was either a sequel or a reboot, a cheap horror flick, a continuous barrage of mind numbingly CGI packed explosions or just bad comedies. Either that or the fact that the two young doctors had finally learned what it meant to be cynical. Ram decided to invite his friend back to his rented terrace unit, a little further from his old place at the apartment they used to share, but he valued the freedom more than the distance. He never really completely furnished the place though. The living room had two sofas and a coffee table on top of a rug carpet. He got himself a 30’’ television to watch football matches and connect his gaming console to and that was pretty much all the effort he put into interior decorating. The rooms were all empty except for the largest one, the master bedroom, where he housed an untidy queen bed, littered with used clothes. The only time he remotely considered tidying up was if his parents were going to drop by or on the off chance, a female guest stays over for the night. Apart from those two explicit exclusions, he keeps his home exactly how he defines his version of ‘HOME’ to be; lived in. Still, his closest of friends though were never put-off by his whole ‘slob’ persona and lifestyle, because those who really knew him saw him as an open book, transparent, as someone you can always confide in, and that was something rare to come by these days.

‘Yes man, of course I did. Not till about 2 months later I think,’

‘You were both in the same department,’

‘Yes, that was hell, being the only two black skins,’ he lit himself a joint of freshly rolled marijuana, and smoked a puff before offering it to his guest. Daniel declined.

‘OBGYN, I fucking hated that place. It was like herding cattle and holding them in a barnyard, waiting for them pop one out and leave,’

Daniel chuckled at the analogy, ‘that’s mean man,’

‘Oh come on bro, don’t act like you never thought about it. They would be waddling around the wards, hoping their cervices dilate, just to wake you up screaming in the early hours of the morning. And when did call buttons become not enough?

‘You should get married, man. Go get yourself a wife in that position. I’ll bet you will be singing a different tune,’

Ram smiled at the thought. ‘It’s not like I never had the idea. Getting married off course, not getting a girl pregnant,’

‘Really?’ Daniel prodded. ‘Didn’t you try with Sheila?’

Ram pulled himself back, resting his entire weight on the sofa. He breathed in all the smoke from his joint, and exhaled a sizable cloud to the ceiling. He kept offering the joint to Daniel, but it always ‘NO’ for the young doctor.

‘I was stupid,’ he tried recalling the events that took place. ‘It was really the nurses’ idea you know. They would ship any minority together. You know that right?’

‘But in this particular case you were interested,’

‘I was infatuated,’

Ram remembered the first time Sheila and him even actually shared a real conversation; something from the heart. It was probably after a month into their new jobs. ‘It’s almost surreal when you think about it. She was having a bad day. It was just one of those days when you’re completely swamped. I think she was heading down to the lab or maybe coming up, that I am not too sure. However, she must have stopped. She was not holding anything, not any papers or blood samples in bags, just sitting by herself between levels Ground and Basement I think. She curled herself up in the foetal position by the corner of the stairs, just crying underneath her white coat. It was the emergency stairwell man. Only staff use it, so you won’t expect that much traffic but happened to be there. I think I went down for a smoke or something and on my way back I decided I’d take a slow incline. You know, get some exercise, pass some time. To hell if I cared if another cow was going to pop, the nurses all had midwifery skills and I had successfully finished by delivery quota. So then…’ Ram had seemed to have lost his trail of thought, and was more focused on the way the smoke circled above his head ‘what happened?’

‘Maybe stop at one joint ah?’ Daniel cackled.

‘You kidding? This good stuff is the one that’s making me remember.’

Ram took a final puff, burning the last bit, holding it in his chest for a moment before blowing it all to the high ceiling. The living room was already foggy, and it was immaterial at this stage whether or not Daniel wanted to share, as he was already feeling his eyes dry up and head ever so slightly swinging. ‘There’s more,’ Ram gestured at Daniel to hand him a casing on the coffee table. He opened it to reveal several ground, filtered and neatly rolled reefers stacked together. ‘What the hell,’ Daniel smiled as he took it for himself first. ‘It’s been a long time,’ mumbled Daniel to himself before lighting it up and taking the first puff. Ram was deep in concentration, his eyes tightly closed.

‘Oh yes, she was crying. And I stood there. Didn’t know what to do at the moment you know. She was my friend. I did kind of like her too. I felt it would do her injustice if I didn’t approach. So I walked up to her. She realised someone was there and immediately wiped her tears while desperately attempting to hide her face. Still for some reason, after she knew who it was, she wasn’t so guarded anymore. That I distinctively remember. For a second, maybe even smiled, happy that it was me and not anyone else.

‘‘Bad day ah?’’ I started hoping to engage.

‘‘What day isn’t?’’ she replied.

‘‘You wanna talk about it?’’ I sat next to her, facing the same direction. I couldn’t just wrap my arms around her, we weren’t that close yet, but I really wanted to help in any way I could, maybe it was partially my feelings for her at that time talking.

‘‘You ever feel like they don’t see you. Like you’re there, and they see you but they don’t ‘’see you’’,’’ she tried to explain.

‘‘I want what you’re having,’’ I joked. She smiled just a little and continued, ‘‘like you do all this, the slogging and the slaving and I know it’s just part of the job but it’s like they think it all just happens magically and things are just laid out before them. When it does, you continue to disappear back into the background,’’

‘‘Yes, of course I do. A simple “thanks” wouldn’t be so bad, right?’’

She continued speaking, and rather passionately too, like she was really meaning to get something off her chest. ‘’No, but when it doesn’t go the way you want it to, that’s when it all turns to shit. Like when the lab results just haven’t showed up on the monitor yet and nobody knows if it did, because well, it’s fucking 8am in the morning, and somethings take a little longer, you are suddenly on the spot. They look at you,’’

‘‘Expecting answers,’’

‘‘See, that’s what I thought initially. But then I kept playing it over and over again. Just the body language, and sometimes even ‘’actual’’ the language. It’s not answers they want. They just want to point their fingers.’’

‘‘Did someone blame you for something?’’

‘‘I’m a big girl Ram, I can handle taking the shit from others. But it’s almost like a pattern sometimes. I sat here thinking that maybe IT IS me. One half of me convincing myself it isn’t and the other half saying it is. But what’s the point. It’s still going to be me, my fault, my responsibility.’’

‘‘Hey if the lab guy is late, he is late,’’ I retorted. She turned to look at me, her eye sharply focused on mine, her face swollen, red. She started to tear again this time just openly, without any shame or attempt to hide her vulnerability.

‘‘I feel helpless Ram,’’ she started letting loose with all the waterworks. I went for the embrace, understanding quite well I was digging my own grave, walking into the ‘’friend-zone’’ category but at this moment I had no choice. I mean what else could I have done?’

‘I feel like it’s just me, even when it’s not, when it’s clearly not. It’s always me they’re looking for. It can’t be race thing right? I just want to cut her fucking finger Ram. So it stops pointing at people, for good.’

Daniel was now lying back on the sofa fully relaxed as well. ‘It felt like she was just here man, like I saw the scene happening before my eyes,’

‘Of course it is,’ replied Ram at Daniel, ‘she is still there. Only there.’ Daniel tilted his head to see his friend deep in thought, his hand reaching to the ceiling , with just a small trail of water having paved a way down his cheeks from the corner of his eye. Ram was feeling the moment, as if it just happened. Then he suddenly sat up, straightening his back, surprising Daniel to an unexaggerated amount that he immediately got off the sofa.

‘I think I told her a joke, maybe something like ‘’ok you tell me who it is, and I’ll make sure she doesn’t have any fingers tomorrow,’’ or something else, I’m not too sure. But I remember laughing, and so was she. She headed back up. I watched her ass from behind, because you know she had a very nice ass,’

Daniel coughed. He took in another puff. ‘You’re such a pervert man,’

‘Screw you man. Everybody knows she has a great ass. Well, had. Now it’s probably all flat like old dough,’ Ram suddenly changed his tone, attempting a morbid and distasteful joke.

‘Oh God man, we’re talking about our dead friend here,’

‘It’s not offensive if she can’t hear it,’

Daniel started looking around. ‘You really think that?’

‘Yes, she isn’t here. She is no more. Her existence obsolete, and,’ Ram wiped his face, ‘and it fucking sucks. It really does.’

Daniel sank back into the couch, unable to stand the weight of it all. ‘It can’t all be just over man,’

‘Yeah man. Don’t you think I don’t know that. But it is what it is. She didn’t even say goodbye did she? The bitch decided on her own to just up and leave.’

‘Well,’ replied Daniel. Ram turned to him. He figured this was the best time to prod. ‘You were there, in her last few seconds of glory. Did she say goodbye?’

Daniel didn’t answer and Ram was already getting agitated. ‘Nothing?’

Daniel looked back at him. ‘What do you want me to say?’

‘I need you to tell me the truth, fucker,’

‘She didn’t say anything,’

‘Really?’

‘Look, I cannot help if everyone wants an answer. I was there but I wasn’t really of much help. I don’t know why she chose me, I don’t know what she wanted except for someone to witness her do it.’

Ram launched at Daniel, his hand firmly pressed against Daniel’s collar bone.

‘Tell me the truth,’

‘The fuck are you doing man?’ Daniel shouted, his hands holding Ram’s wrist, trying to push him off.

‘I’m sorry, man,’ Ram retracted. ‘I don’t know what that was.’ He started pacing. He left to the kitchen and brought out a can of beer only to realise that Daniel was a Muslim and he that didn’t drink alcohol. ‘Fuck, I am so sorry,’ he walked back and exchanged it for a can of soda instead.

Daniel grabbed the can as Ram sat down and closed back the casing. He had reached his limit for now. ‘It just doesn’t make any sense,’

‘No it doesn’t,’ Daniel replied. ‘It really doesn’t. And I don’t know what she was planning to achieve from all this. At least leave a note so we can catch him, right?’

Ram was still trying to clear his head but it didn’t mean he wasn’t paying attention. ‘Catch him?’ he asked, ‘Who’s him?’ he glared at Daniel now looking back with an awkward expression.

Daniel opened his eyes wider. Maybe it was the marijuana, or maybe he needed to say it out loud. He knew the next word craving to escape his lips had a nuclear effect and it was probably not the smartest thing to do, but on the one hand this was his friend, desperate for closure, mourning, and seeking answers. If anyone could keep a secret it would be Ram. It was eating Daniel up inside, just the idea alone, no matter how significant or insignificant it might be. Nobody can just sit still if they’re holding a gram of unsteady uranium in their hands, no matter how important it was to do exactly that.

‘Jamal,’ he blurted out. Ram looked aghast. ‘The surgeon?’. And now it was out there, in the open, volatile unpredictable. Daniel sighed but he wasn’t really feeling all that relieved. Ram was smiling. ‘I fucking knew it.’

The Fifth Horseman

Some days are good

‘Ahhhhh!’ a young woman kept screaming from the top of her lungs. She violently tossed and turned on her bed. The commotion had alerted everyone. ‘YOU! YOU! I WILL KILL YOU!’ she yelled, her eyes transfixed to Sheila, the doctor retracted standing back horror-stricken.

‘And what are you doing?’ asked Dr Julie, shaking Sheila’s shoulder. She noted the needle in her hand, uncapped, sharp dripping blood from the tip pointing away from her. ‘Sheila, put the needle down.’

Sheila shook her head and collected herself. ‘Oh sorry Dr,’ she quickly disposed of the syringe needle in the sharps bin right next to her.

The nurses called in for back up, and immediately 2 broadly built Medical Assistants came rushing in, exactly what you needed for a situation like this. They held the patient down, tying her wrists to the side of the bed. She kept kicking, screaming, and even spat on one the nurses’ faces. Sheila winced, pitying the young nurse, her dear friend. Sheila was the one who called her in to accompany her while she took the patient’s blood for thyroid levels. So, naturally Sheila felt somewhat responsible.

‘Tranquilise with a dose of midazolam 5mg stat,’ commanded Dr Julie. One of the nurses nodded and proceeded to prepare the drug. The syringe was handed to the Medical Assistant or MA in short. The patient kept screaming at him, her eyes wide open, her neck moving away from the needle that came closer to her. Just as timing was right, the MA pulled up her sleeve and punctured it through her shoulder. The patient threw an even larger tantrum but enough hands were on her to keep her down while the medicine coursed its way through her muscles and into her bloodstream.

Sheila wrote in her documentation, still playing the events in her head. ‘KILL ME?’ she asked herself. ‘Poor Nabila,’ she thought thinking of the nurse who had only been the sweetest to her since she started working here. As soon as Sheila was done with the ward tasks, she crosschecked her to-do list once more just to be certain. In precisely 5 minutes, the specialist would come back from her lunch and expect all things be as immaculate as the way she left it, with all orders carried out systematically and without delay.

‘OK, get the CT request, the bloods from Bed 2,5,17,28, 37, and 42, call up pathology to trace cultures of Bed 3,4, and 8, and what else…’ she seemed to have a sneaking suspicion that she had forgotten something. ‘AHHH!’ she heard screaming again from the very same cubicle. Dr Julie exited with a group of nurses right behind her. ‘Sheila, come here!’ said Dr Julie. Sheila immediately ran to her Medical Officer’s call.

‘Here,’ she delivered a tube of the patient’s blood sample to her. ‘Run it to the lab,’

Sheila was grateful. ‘Thank y-‘. Before she could finish her sentence, she had Dr Julie’s hand in her gaze. ‘and I need an explanation letter. For how you handled yourself. That was not professional and certainly not safe. What if she had like HIV or Hepatitis or something? Did you read her file? Let’s just say she has made some questionable decisions in the past. You don’t want any accidents.’

Sheila nodded humbled. Dr Julie was a good doctor, in fact one of the best around. She was her unofficial mentor, unlike the bloke they had initially assigned to her in which the most exchange they ever had was ‘Hi’. Dr Julie had good skills, immense knowledge and great ideas but she was a judgemental prick. Still, flaws aside, Sheila admired her work etiquette.

Sheila crossed another task from her check-list. Her stomach growled but lunch break was now over and the Dr Lily, the specialist was back for afternoon rounds. Dr Julie recounted the events that took place while she was gone. Dr Lily didn’t seem at all surprised at what happened, in fact her first retort was quite sound, ‘why didn’t you just call in Psychiatry and ask them to take the bloods? It’s their patient anyways, we are just helping to hold their patients for them. This will only create panic among our other patients.’ Dr Julie heeded the counter-point and nodded at Sheila. That only meant that it was Sheila’s responsibility to call Psychiatry the next time that happened. If there was one thing Sheila learned, it was the pecking order of the hospital. Sheila couldn’t turn around and nod at anyone else and that was what people meant when they told her that she was going to be at the bottom of the food chain.

As rounds continued, Sheila confidently updated her specialist stressing the parts that she personally crossed out on her checklist. Still she felt strange and anxious that she missed something. ‘And when is the CT planned?’ asked Dr Lily sternly. Sheila flipped through her notes. ‘Shit did I forget this?’

‘23rd this month,’ a voice sounded from behind. Sheila turned to see that it was Ram. He smiled. ‘Good,’ Dr Lily replied.

‘Really? 23rd?’ Sheila asked softly at Ram’s ear. ‘No! I saw the appointment book earlier, and it was a clear date. If you go now, you might still get to book it.’

‘You lied?’

Ram turned a smug look toward her. Sheila was impressed and deeply grateful. Ram had helped her many times this month. She knew she couldn’t ask for a better friend and partner in crime.

As soon as afternoon rounds were done, Dr Julie gathered all her interns around her. Like children in preschool, they ran toward her, nodding and smiling, relieved the day was over. Some had plans for the night, a movie, hitting the clubs, dinner with family, or just plainly sitting in front of a TV. Sheila had one final task before the 5 pm clock-out and that was the handover. She gave her colleague notes on the cases and the instructions that came with them.

‘So? How will you be spending your Saturday night?’ asked Remy, the aforementioned colleague, excited to make small talk. ‘I’m gonna head back. Jenny said she cooked pasta. Gonna try it out,’

‘That’s it? Pasta with Jenny? No PLANS?’ Remy winked.

‘Aren’t we a little old for PLANS?’

‘Nonsense. We’re exactly the right age. This is the point of time we still get to keep our youthful bodies and have disposable income. So we should be doing things with them, both our bodies and our income,’ she nudged Sheila’s shoulder, in case the euphemism wasn’t clear.

Remy was right, but Sheila couldn’t see things that way, not anymore. The moment she steps foot into the hospital, everything stops being about her, and becomes about the people in the beds. And the problem is that doesn’t stop when she leaves the hospital either. As she recalled, most nights, she and Jenny just sat and talked about patients, their Medical Officers, their specialists; day in and day out, always the same thing. This endless circle was what her life was now and ‘PLANS’ was just something the past Sheila would be obsessed about, now the more mature, wiser Sheila with the budding grey hairs.

‘OH SHIT!’ she smacked her forehead. ‘Sorry Remy, gotta run.’ She cursed her way down the stairwell and dashed for Radiology. ‘Oh good, still open,’ relieved. She asked the guy at the counter for the appointment register and quickly booked in the 23rd for the Mr Richard’s Abdominal CT. It was imperative that she had the date. He had a slowly growing abdominal aneurysm, and she had promised him earlier that they would see the results together.

She walked out of Radiology with a huge sigh of relief. Ram patted her on the back while he walked pass. ‘Going home?’

‘Yeah, what else?’ she snarkily replied. She couldn’t see Ram’s embarrassed face walking out. He was not the best at small talk.

There was already a long line eagerly waiting to clock-out holding their punch cards in their hands making small talk with fellow staff. Sheila slowly approached and stood with the rest as more followed behind her.

She felt a towering presence behind her. A large figure loomed over her. She turned behind to notice Mr Jamal, the General Surgeon. He immediately noticed her. ‘You are a house officer here?’

‘Yes,’ inclined to respond.

‘So many of you,’ he sighed.

Sheila nodded tightening her lips. ‘When will this line end?’ she mumbled to herself.

‘Tell me girl, how old are you?’

‘Erm, 28.’

‘Really? You look easily 16 I tell you.’

Sheila smiled again. Her stomach kept growling and her pores kept sweating, drenching her already filthy white-coat. The awkwardness of the whole situation was unbearable to her.

‘Hey!’ someone called out, another specialist but not someone she recognized approached them and shook Mr Jamal’s hand. They started to chatter while Sheila tried to increase the distance between them. ‘Come on, come on, come on,’ she mumbled and as soon as the two nurses were done ahead of her, she placed her card in the machine and heard that glorious sound of freedom. She hurried slotted her card back in the holder and dashed for the exit.

‘Don’t be a stranger girl,’ Mr Jamal called out waving his hand at her while she sped. Reluctantly she turned to smile and nod and then continued back to her car in the parking lot.

As her routine, she would remove her white coat and throw it on the floor rug in the back of the car. Though she once judged people for treating in insides of their cars like laundry baskets, she was now one of them but ‘only till the internship was over’ she always told herself. She straightened her back and massaged her sore neck. Her eyes caught a glimpse of a crow and she trailed it until it reached the balcony of a roof. It was four storeys above A&E. The bird’s eyes wondered, scavenging. ‘Must be a good view,’ Sheila mumbled under her breath before she climbed into her car gently smiling

**

‘Really?’ Jenny didn’t know which story astounded her more; the physical harassment by the schizophrenic, or the attempted flirting by the creepy specialist twice Sheila’s age.

‘I know right?’ Sheila covered her mouth, ‘it was just too awkward. What do I tell him?’

‘And 16?’ Jenny thought, ‘that just screams pedophile.’ They laughed about it, reducing it to a dinner joke, something women did to diffuse such situations so they can go on about their daily lives.

‘What about you?’ asked Sheila.

‘Well, Daniel is still trying to ask me out,’

‘Are you kidding me?’

‘I’m not,’ she smiled, ‘he keeps saying I owe him dinner for some help I asked him once,’

‘The central line,’

‘Yes, and he is good at those things, so I asked him to help because I want the patient to feel better you know. Why poke the patient so many times when you can just get an expert to do it?’

‘So?’ When is the dinner?’

‘Shut up!’ Jenny’s face was no poker face. The blushing, the folding of hair at the back of her ears, the awkward and random smiling were all tell-tale signs just too obvious and familiar, juvenile even. But Jenny couldn’t even realize that they had not spoken to each other for about 15 minutes easily. She just smiled to herself twirling her pasta in deep thought.

‘Well I’m happy if you’re happy,’ said Sheila. ‘And the pasta is amazing,’

‘No! it’s bad!’ Jenny retorted, pouting her lips in disappointed.

‘Yeah, it’s bad,’ Sheila confessed, ‘I didn’t want to hurt your feelings,’ she laughed.

‘It’s OK, I’ll give it another go next time,’

‘Does Daniel like pasta by any chance?’

‘Shut up, Sheila,’ Jenny stormed out to the kitchen. Sheila smiled, ‘you’re adorable.’

All things considered, Sheila had interesting day, and when her parents called her that night, she made sure she only told them the good parts.

Sheila took things a day at a time, because that was the best advice everyone gave her. Some days were good and some days were not so good. Even though her bosses were indifferent to her coming and going, her colleagues loved her and her nurses too. Who wouldn’t if you bought them food apologizing for letting a patient spit at you? Who wouldn’t if you did your job well enough and did perfect handovers? Who wouldn’t if you knew their stories and made them feel more than just sick vulnerable bodies to be poked and prodded?

It was a random day after work. As per her routine, she threw her coat in the back of her car. She looked up and there it was, that same bird again. Something told her to go back in, and find the stairwell. Something told her to go up and open that roof door. She didn’t know until she got there. It was the view, and the peace it brought. She reached the end of balcony and stood next the crow on the ledge. Far away the city lights coming alive in the distance, the lake waters shimmering, and beneath her, all the way down, like ants, a charade of endless sirens and casualty victims begging for help; the kind of help that she was proud to be a part of. She smiled as the wind kissed her cheek, and smiled at the crow next to her. ‘Thanks’ she muttered.