1.1 Miracles

Disclaimer: The character you'll recognize isn't mine, but Vertigo's. But you probably know that and the rest. On to the story (.

There's a story I'd like to tell you. It isn't a sad story, or a happy story, but I think it's a good story. I'll tell you and let you judge by yourself.

I was living on the borderline between Central and South Africa, fifteen when both my parents were killed in an accident, leaving me with no legal guardian. I didn't let the authorities put me in an orphanage, or boarding school or whatever, even if I had to physically hide from them. Sometimes, I did.

There was this children's hospital on the edge of the neighborhood where I lived. They brought there kids whose lives were almost over so they can die in a sterile environment or with false hopes that they'll live. That's where I found a job. The staff took me in, like I was everyone's son in there, and they gave me food and clothes and a place to sleep when there were empty beds, and I helped them with the work there whenever an extra set of hands was needed. And it was almost always needed.

It was a small place with bad conditions, the white paint was peeling off the walls in ugly cracks, the beds were raw, uncomfortable, the blankets had holes in them by the dozens. There were good people in there, but they were driven to the edge of goodness. I didn't know God's Work can be so difficult, sometimes I wondered why God wouldn't do it himself and get the taste of it. Perhaps he could do them better than we did.

We received children from all the surrounding area, poor little things that looked at us and begged us silently to make them better, even though we knew we could not. They were all ending, sick with AIDS or cancer or other such awful things we might've been able to do something about across the ocean, but not from where we were. Basically, we just put them in beds and tried to make them comfortable, and perhaps drag them through a few more weeks, a few more months with oxygen tanks and painkillers. Once in a month we'd get a medical shipment from Europe, and in the following week there was the horrible job of deciding which kid gets what. Those who had a chance of seeing a few more mornings got their share and for the others we had only our prayers left.

I spent a couple of years there, with death wherever I was looking, and I learned to forget about death and try to keep them alive a few days more. Sometimes I'd wonder what we were keeping them alive for, who knows it they won't be happier when dead. They were all very young, nine years old or less, and some of them didn't even know what was happening to them. We've had some of what it took to make them better, but nothing with which to make them feel better. There were rooms full of them on these tiny beds, pale and barely moving. They were always still and sprawled, almost always silent. Sometimes they would cry, but I've rarely heard them talk. Maybe they were playing when I wasn't looking, or maybe one of the nurses read them stories when she didn't have too big a workload, but if not I don't know how they kept on doing nothing but lying all day. I thought I was going to die too just because of the silence. We got used to talking in whispers and there were no real human sounds anywhere we turned. The world around me seemed less and less real.

Then there was this afternoon… I'm not sure if it was the afternoon, or late in the evening. It was winter and everything was shut all the time, and it didn't make the place any happier. I was sitting in a plastic chair in one of the "wards", where we put the kids who could still breath and sit on their own. I sat back and listened to the rain outside, and I guess I might have dozed off, just for a few moments. We'd sometimes work fourteen hours straight, if we were needed, and you can understand that I was always tired.

So I was sleeping, just for a little while, maybe I just had my eyes closed. Just that suddenly I was aware that I was falling asleep, and I quickly opened my eyes, a bit frightened. At first, I was sure I was dreaming.

But I was not, she was really there, standing right in front of me.

She was eleven, maybe twelve. My first thought was that she wasn't properly dressed, where'd she get these fishnets. Isn't that weird? She was a total stranger, not one of the kids I knew from the ward. She was older than these we had, but she was a lot more childlike than most of them. She had this astonishing hair, swirling and twirling with all the colors of the rainbow, and I could swear there were – bubbles? Coming out of it like balloons. One of her eyes was blue; the other was a vivid green. She smiled at me.

I blinked. Thinking back, I know I should've called one of the adults or grab her and demand an explanation, how she got here and where were her parents, but I just half-lay on my chair and looked at her go around the room. The kids were just staring at her, as if transfixed. She circled the room and went near one of the beds.

As if by some cue, the boy on it started laughing.

She went to another bed and smiled at the girl there, and she started laughing too. She went to another one, and another. The first boy was sitting up, smiling a big childish smile, one of the other boys was clapping excitedly. The girls were all giggling, some of the babies that couldn't laugh yet just smiled at the whole world with their large eyes gleaming. She went around the room and petted all their heads, held a hand here or said something there. She had an odd voice, bubbling and jumpy, and it just made the kids laugh more. For a few wonderful minutes, the entire hospital was full of giggles, claps and children's game shouts. And me, I just sat there and felt warm.

I don't know how or when she was gone, or when did everything turn so quiet again. I guess she must've been a little crazy… I don't think she even knew where she was. But I'll never forget how the children laughed when she came near them.

As I grew older, I studied medicine and became a real doctor. Even so, I couldn't help the poor children, who died one by one with time and the hospital's gradual shutdown. I built myself a new life. Now I work in a real hospital miles away from my old neighborhood, and I still believe in miracles.

Why, you ask me?

I knew – everyone knew – that these children would die, that there was nothing we or anyone could possibly do for them. I always knew, from the moment I first saw them, that I would see them die.

But I never knew or hoped that I would see them laughing.

2 Fin