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by Oonah V Joslin

She knelt down and held the man’s face in her hands. He was soaked in blood, whether his own or that of others, and rain and tears streaked his face with grime and falling dust.

“You’ll be alright,” she lied. And then, as loud as she could shout over the cacophony of vehicles and din of confusion, “Is there a doctor somewhere? A medic? Paramedic?”

The man looked up at her, his eyes wide with terror. He could make no sound with half his jaw exposed. “This man needs...” But her voice was swallowed up in the welter of surrounding noise and when she looked again, the man didn’t need anything. She stood up, and stumbled towards the next heap of offal-coloured rags.

She’d been in a café and could still taste coffee on her tongue. She never saw a flash or heard a blast. It was like she’d been propelled out of the chair and then the world had begun to fall slowly about her and she’d run out — except there was no “in” to run out of. The roof had gone. All the roofs had gone. The shopping Mall had gone and the street was filled with rubble and bits.

When the numbness wore off, she became aware that emergency services were arriving and wandered over to the briefing. There must be something for her to do. Her nursing experience might be invaluable here. Triage could make the difference between life and death.

They didn’t seem much interested in medical skills but they needed lots of people to go around and just, “pick up the pieces,” they said — not a nice job. Volunteers were issued with yellow, heavy-duty rubber gloves, plastic bags and a town centre map. Anything from a tie pin to a spleen they said — anything that could be used for DNA or other identification and if you could mark down where you found it — even better.

That’s what she’d been doing when she found the man — the man whose shattered face would haunt her forever. The stench of death and dust clogged her nostrils. The rain trickled down inside her clothes and into the gutters in eddies of mud and blood.

On she plodded through it all, searching now in the twilight, wondering if anyone was going to bring her a torch. A few torches had winked on at the other side of this pile of rubble and a street lamp glimmered beyond the area of devastation, as if nothing had happened.

In its weak glow, she saw something — a hand. She yelled for someone to come and help. “I think there’s a woman buried under here!” Surely the woman wouldn’t still be alive after all these hours. But you heard such amazing survival stories. There was always hope.

Perhaps, if she could move some of this debris... She touched the hand to determine whether there was any warmth in it. As she reached in the hand came away. It wasn’t a woman, just a hand — all that remained.

A ring on the finger flashed in sudden torchlight from behind. It was clearly visible and very distinctive — shaped like a daisy, four petals of gold and four of platinum, a central raised crown and five small diamonds — why, it was just like hers.

She removed one yellow glove to check the similarity, then looked for an answer in the face of the fellow carrying the torch. But his gaze and the light went through her like the realization that there was no hand inside the glove.

Copyright © 2008 by Oonah V Joslin

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