I have heard the familiar drag, behind the door, just before she emerged through the corridor accompanied by those assigned to her custody. Now I see her from the bench where I’ve landed - after squatting on the floor of the E.R. for numberless hours. It is not the first time I’m struck by such vision. There must be a fast track, an open channel leading from the jail to the hospital. A very traveled path.
Each time, my throat squeezes with a feeling I can’t explain. First of all the shuffle embarrasses me: the piteous tug of the cuffed ankles. I ache for those ankles. Then the expression on her face hits me, though I’ve seen it before. There’s no shame… well, clearly there was but it has been juiced up, distilled and compressed so much it became something else. It morphed into defiance then into beyond-human dullness: her eyes, perfectly opaque, are one-sided mirrors, shields of darkness.
She wears the orange uniform meant to make her visible, should she try to run. I don’t know what she did in the first place. I don't know what brought her here and I shouldn’t care. My predicament should suffice me. But my heart goes to her. It leaps out of my chest. I would gladly spare myself such unjustified rush: my heart disobeys.
Then the tall boy with the handsome face is pushed in by his mother. In her language – that isn’t English but I happen to know – she wearily, almost hopelessly reassures him, while she relates the facts to the nurse sitting on the other side of the desk.
The tall boy drools incessantly while another nurse, armed with a cup and several gauze pads, tries to free his swollen mouth of an impressive flow of saliva. Mixed with tears. The boy’s eyes are bright, restless, mad. He cannot speak – the mother says – since he has been accidentally slapped, a few days ago, during a police interrogatory. Yes, you heard me: he can’t speak since, and he can’t swallow. Maybe his jaw has been crushed – his tongue has been injured. I have never seen anything of the kind.