It was the smell

It was the smell of hospital that woke him up.

At first, floating in the vast darkness of unconsciousness, he had the sense of having dreamed a wonderful dream, a dream that had eluded him for years, one that promised him light, warmth, sounds, and everything he had been deprived of since that fateful day. He could recall a little unpleasantness in his dream, but nothing that was serious enough to mar its glowing splendor. He had expected himself to open his eyes to that familiar darkness, to a world where hopes were no longer harbored and solitude was his only companion. But then the invasive smell penetrated his unconsciousness and seized him by his throat, so brutal and determined that he finally jerked back into the hospital ward, choking.

This caught the attention of the nurse nearby, and she quickly went over. “Hi Sir, are you okay? Do you need some water?”

The presence of another human being in such close proximity, the fragrance of a female, and the direction of her voice towards him gave him such a shock that he retracted involuntarily, shielding himself with his hands and wailing pitifully, all this time forming an idea in his head that said ‘stay away from me’, yet unable to put that thought into words. At that, the nurse stepped back warily as though afraid to tread on the tail of a cat. Once she did, though, the smell of her fragrance was replaced by that of disinfectants – so that he instinctively surged towards her, desperate to refresh the air around him with her fragrance. This took the nurse by such surprise that she shrieked – so that he was again shocked into cowering back, coughing and wailing, immobilized by the conflicting desire to be both near and away from her.

By then, two other nurses had come around, and the entire ward was watching this scene with curiosity. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing…he suddenly charged at me, so, I was scared…sorry.”

“Watch yourself, nurse. This is a hospital, and the last thing we need is for our nurses to start screaming together with our patients.”

As though to support her view, a patient at the back of the ward started to wail, so that this thin nurse turned and left, casting a cold glance at the offending nurse before she did.

The other nurse, a man in his thirties, had already started tending to him. “Sir, are you okay? Do you need water?” Seeing no response from him, the male nurse continued: “Sir, you need to sit up properly. Do you want me to prop up your…” The moment the male nurse touched him, though, he flinched violently and again started yelling. Backing up, the male nurse looked at his colleague uneasily. “Isn’t he a little touchy?”

In an attempt to make up for her mistake, the nurse poured a glass of water and offered it to him, at a distance:

“Here, water.”

This time, the gentle tone and softness of her voice found its way into his heart, gripping it with nostalgia –  he looked up with tearing eyes to find a clear glass of water before him.

He grabbed it from the nurse, gulping it down in desperation, choking and coughing and taking in the wonderful smells of water and woman in the meantime.

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