“It’s a very good deal. You will not find such a good price as this”. The surgeon adjusts his glasses, flicking through his little black notebook. He peers down at his watch, time is short. He shows the notebook to the man. “See, forty thousand, that will buy her a new heart. We cannot guarantee it will work, but it is her best shot.”
“I only have half of this, doctor, it is my daughter, I beg you, please, she is only a little girl. . .” The old man’s eyes are heavy, his skin wrinkled and grey. He has not slept for days. He has sat by little Meriam’s side, praying to Allah that she will survive.
“There is no more that can be done. I’m a busy man, there are many others that got hit in the blast.”
The war has not subsided. It was only yesterday the bombs continued to hit. The sounds of blasts and shrapnel haunt the old man. But he has not the time to think of it. All he can think of is his little girl, who lies in Ward C, the cardiac ward, fighting for her life.
Meriam and her father have lived in Al-Hasakah their entire lives. Meriam, a young girl of twelve, dreams of becoming a doctor. Her father, a natural craftsman, fixed shoes and made keys and silverware for a living. The pair lived alone in a small clay house, for Meriam’s mother died of cancer years ago, a byproduct of being born during a time of many civil wars. Meriam would walk along the Jaghjagh River, a place her mother loved to visit. Her father would point out the turtles and trout, and tell stories of her mothers beauty, kindness and grace. Meriam does not remember much of her mother, but she remembers her gentle warm smile and her long, curly dark locks of hair. Meriam has these same locks draping down her shoulders, messy and wild, just like her mother. Tears well up in the old man’s deep green eyes.
“If you will excuse me, there is nothing more I can do. I cannot go further without the payment”. This doctor is young, he has only been in medicine a few years, before it, he was in the Army. He is in his early thirties but has not been in Syria long. Unbeknownst to the old man, this doctor is an emergency worker, sent from America. A man that detests his job; detests being sent out to a country he feels no compassion towards, a country he despises for the atrocities he saw during his time at war. This is a man with very little love in his life. The lack of empathy glares through his eyes, and the old man feels it. An insatiable rage overtakes him.
“This is what I have! Twenty thousand American dollars!” He pulls lira’s from his pockets, throwing it down onto the table. “Take it, all of it, it is everything I have, it is all that I own!”
“Sir, calm down, I already told you. . .”
“I will not calm down! This is my daughter’s life, not your American television shows! I will give my own heart if it would take!”
“I cannot use your heart, nor your blood, it’s not a match, we have discussed it already.”
“I want you to tell me what can be done, what will be done to save my daughter? I am not leaving until you agree to help her! You will not let her die! She cannot die here!”
The doctor sighs. He is tired of hearing the same patients, day in and day out. He would prefer to go back to the army, but he was discharged, for various crimes that were never convicted, nor proven. Just more reason for him to detest this country.
“There is one method we can try. For twenty thousand, I can try a new method. But it has not been tested entirely, it is completely experimental. But it’s the best shot we will have. I can transplant a pig’s heart into Meriam. The valves are quite similar, and as she is young, it is more likely to be successful.”
The doctor flicks through his notebook. “See here, read on. The heart of an animal is a lot cheaper than one of a human” The old man peers down at the book. He does not like the way the doctor says ‘cheap’.
“Now as I say, this is not something that has been done in many. But this is really the only option we have. And we haven’t much time to do it.”
The old man appears confused, as he looks through the pages in the book. He sees nothing of a pigs heart in the notes. The doctor bursts out in laughter, a cruel joke. “Of course, we can’t use a pigs heart!” he says. Then he looks straight at the old man, with viscous cruel eyes, “Your daughter likely already has the heart of a pig”.
The old man drops to his knees, his hands over his eyes, crying out in torment, furious at the evil he has just heard. The doctor calls security to drag the man out, but not before taking the money on the table, shoving it into his pockets.
The man is shaken, torn, walking in a daze, pushed by the guards towards Ward C.
He sits by his little girl’s bed. Her skin is white, her hair draped beside each cheek. He holds her hand, closes his eyes, and prays. He prays all the way into the next morning.
The old man awakens as if from a deep sleep, to find his daughter is no longer by his side. He runs out of Ward C, screaming at the doctors and nurses that he passes, “Where is my daughter! Where is Meriam!” The ward looks different. As he runs, the walls appear to be getting smaller, the light is stronger than usual. He feels a distinct thump in his heart, something is not right. But he has no time to stop, he must find his little girl. He hopes she has made it through surgery. He runs through the ward, searching, screaming out her name.
The doctors and nurses do not notice the old man. They look through him, as if passing a shadow, a ghost. The man stops in his tracks and looks down at his open palms. He looks over at a water fountain, seeing a nurse take a drink. He waits his turn, then holds his hand under the sensor. The water does not come. He stares around the ward, noticing the colours merging and submerging amongst one another. He holds his hand to his wrist, nothing. No pulse. The man suddenly realizes, he is not of this world. Something has happened to him during the night. The suffering he endured for Meriam, has resulted in this. The old man needed to rest, and so he did. His heart stopped in the middle of the night, by his daughters side.
He wanders around the hospital, thinking now that he is dead. But if he is dead, why has he not crossed over to the other world? Why has he not met his beloved wife again? It is as if he has fallen asleep, only to awaken in another time and place, between life and death, real and unreal. Nonetheless, his mission is still clear: He must find Meriam. If she has made it out alive, it will all have been worth it.
He steps into the emergency ward. Here he sees other young girls and boys, suffering from wounds and screaming out in pain, their parents sobbing by their sides. He feels another distinct thump, a sharp pain in the center of his chest. It is the pain of knowing what that feels like, what it is to be a parent that is losing a piece of themselves. He sees one woman holding her little boys hand. The boy is dark in complexion, his eyes shut, his mother with a steady flow of tears streaming silently down her face. The old man places his hand on her shoulder. To his surprise, she turns her head, as if she has felt the touch. She grasps her boys hand tight, and prays to Allah. The old man prays for them both.
He continues walking through the hospital. He hears the bombs still dropping, not far away. He sees ambulance beds rolling through the halls, carrying men, women and children. Many lie on the floors, blood dripping from their heads and limbs, and no bed to place them in. Thump… thump… the pain grows stronger.
Then, a window. A tiny window shows him the way. And inside that room is his little girl, lying on the surgical bed, doctors surrounding her. He walks inside, and is shocked to find his body lying on the bed right next to hers. One of the surgeons informs the other: “He suffered a heart attack last night, sitting by the poor girls side. We thought maybe if we put them together. . . it’s a long shot, but it has helped patients before”.
The old man cares not for his body, it means nothing to him now. He cares only for Meriam. He knows he can protect her, love her from the other world. But she must awaken. She must live. Suddenly, the doctor walks in, the man that had used such evil words towards his daughter. He feels his blood boil, his temperature rise. Thump… thump…thump…thump… his heart begins to beat. He feels his soul enter back into his pale, limp body. The old man gasps for air, as the surgeons and nurses act frantic around him. “He’s awake, he made it!” they shout. He sits up, staring at the doctor, his eyes a blazing fury. The doctor feels an intense shame upon himself, a terror he has not felt before; as if the old man has brought back a powerful force from another world. He backs away in terror, fearing he is in the presence of a ghost. As he frantically stumbles, money falls from his pockets, along with the little black book.
The old man cares not for the doctor, nor the book, nor the money on the floor. He looks at his daughter, tears welling up in his eyes. “Sir, we need to take you to recovery”.
“I am not leaving here” he says firmly, breathing heavily. He slides his hand down his little girls face. “I will not leave until she comes back to me”.
Minutes go by that feel they go on forever. The Electrocardiograph machine makes a distinct long beeping sound. He knows the fight is done.
“I am sorry sir, she is gone.”
The old man cries, for what feels like a lifetime, as they pull his hand away from Meriam. He is rolled to recovery, where he continues to cry out in pain. His heart has been healed and broken all over again.
That night, he sleeps. He has the deepest sleep, for what feels like a lifetime. He sees himself by their favourite river, picking white flowers with beautiful little Meriam. He holds her hand, walking up the hill towards the figure of a woman. Long brown flowing hair bouncing in the breeze. He reaches out to hold her hand. The old man picks up Meriam in his arm, she smiles and kisses her fathers old wrinkled cheek. He reaches out to hold his beautiful wife. She grasps his arm, and does not let go. The three walk up the Jaghjagh River, the sun beaming down gently upon them. “I found you both, I finally found you” the old man says, smiling. His wife kisses his hand with immense love. “We were always with you, father.” Meriam wraps her arms around her father’s neck, holding him tight. She will never let him go.
Youth Justice Worker, Teacher. Writing a memoir. From beautiful Australia, with Italian heritage. Much love to you all and to all that send me tips and love for whatever wierd stuff comes out of my head, it is very much appreciated. xx Mel