Tuesday, March 21, 2000

Fractions part 4

Note: To follow the story it is recommended that you first read the previous parts, or from part 2 and forward, where several of the characters mentioned are introduced.
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John tells Nano about Rickards suicide over the phone. He has not been easy to get a hold of since he has already left for Diyarbakir to find his family.
He immediately makes arrangements to go back home. -He has learnt that his biological parents has already passed away but that he has several siblings, and it's a lot to take in.
Two days before his flight home he is having lunch with his uncle and cousin at a cafe in the eastern part of the city, outside the walls, when a car bomb explodes. Nanos uncle dies and his cousin is badly injured. When Nano is able to reach Jon several days later trough embassy personnel, everyone are worried sick because obviously he didn't make the flight home.

We are shocked to learn that Nano is in hospital, with burns on his stomach and hands, and with both his legs amputated. He has had three operations, but now awake, they won't let him fly home. Jon asks around about ambulance planes but is told that since Nano is not critical and because he is also a turkish citizen, they can't send a plane for him. He talks to Nano everyday and makes plans to go to him, but we understand that he really can't stay there much longer, and three weeks in, he has caught an infection. Jon takes all the remaining money from the bar and Rickards savings as well as an emergency loan to pay for the ambulance plane and it's ready from him three days later.

The crew stays in touch with Jon and when the plane lands in Stockholm after nearly eighteen hours, we head to the hospital to meet up with Nano there. Once he arrives we can see him for a few hours before he can be taken into surgery. His legs are covered and both his arms are bandaged from his hands to his upper arms. -He is totally exhausted to the point of confusion but we try to answer all the questions he has about Rick.

And so, we find ourselves at the hospital again, waiting. It's a different part of the hospital, but it has the same smells and sounds as the last time that Nano was admitted, after the assault.

I’m freaking out because they need to sedate him, and I no longer trust the doctors to be in control. They call him lucky because he was not unconscious for very long after the explosion.
-I know it’s not the fault of these doctors, but we are all thinking it, -You should have just let him fly home right away, then maybe at least the infection could have been avoided.
Tess takes my hand and Jon says that he wants us to go home because I'm too distressed.
I refuse and I tell them that I just need some air. -There is no way I would let them leave Nano here because of me.  I wrangle out of her grip and leave them in the waiting room. Instead of going outside, I let my fingers touch the corridor wall and I start walking. I follow the yellow line with my fingertips and step by step I walk down corridor after corridor in trance until the line abruptly ends.  I'm at the main entrance now, and when I look up, I'm standing in front of the elevator. Without recording what I'm doing, I take the elevator up to Patriks floor. When I reach the door to his corridor I can't open it: they must have changed the code for the electronic lock. Desperation shoots through me and leaves me just as fast when I remember.  How can I see him if the door is locked? -My muscle memory must have taken me here.
I stand there looking through the glass door for several minutes before I manage to gather my thoughts, and shivering I go back to the others.
Jon is right. I’m not ashamed, but I’m shaken after nearly losing Nano too and from being back at the hospital.  

-But Nano is going to be OK. -He says so himself once he is awake, Jon says so, his doctors says so and I burst into tears. I want to believe them.

If someone would ask me what happened the following months I wouldn’t be able to tell them much. I know that at some point, we walked up to the stone ship and said goodbye to Rickard. But I was in my familiar, protective bubble, and Jon told me that when they held the actual funeral for Rickard at the cemetery, I refused to get out of the car and they had to do it without me. When he told me, I felt so horrible about it that I couldn't face them for days. Unforgivable. I should have been there with them.
I know that I was there for the first day of the trial, when the 31 year old and the 26 year old were released. Released but still suspects of manslaughter and assault.

But you know that feeling, when you hear the first birds of the spring? -When you switch to summer time and the days become brighter and longer?
-It’s the beginning of April, and I feel relief, sadness and anger. But when I walk home from school one afternoon and I hear the blackbirds song echo between the trees and the buildings I'm allowing myself to actually feel again. I don't know how I can have all these contradicting emotions at once. I'm glad that spring is here but I'm sad that Patrik can't hear his birds.
I have so much catching up to do. I’ve been in my bubble for way too long. Nano has left the hospital but is at a sort of facility (he doesn't want to call it a nursing home) for patients that are not sick enough to be in a hospital, but not well enough to go home. It’s not really a rehab, but he also doesn’t have anywhere to go, he can’t go back to the student flat because it has been passed on to someone else.
But he forgives me for not being present. I’m not sure that he understands what or why I’m asking, but he has enough respect for me to listen and play along.
I have to work harder on Christine. She feels like she has lost her best friend. I’m so angry at myself for being unable to be me, or the person that people expect, unable to handle both grief and life. Unable to be a good friend. The thing is; I might be stuck right now, but I don't want to go back to the girl I was before everything happened, I want to move forward. I can't really explain this to her. I'm angry at the people who hurt Patrik and Nano, and at Rickard for just giving up and leaving, -and I'm angry at everyone for letting it happen.
-The trial is over. The only person who could testify was Nano and he couldn't be there in person. The lawyer told us it wouldn't have mattered, they couldn't prove who had done what and no one was convicted.

I don’t really go to school more than two or three days a week because of this depression and instead, I visit Nano several times a week. It's fairly close to mom's place and I can come and go as I like. Nano introduces me to Ajje, the boy he shares his room with, and we meet each other with a cautious respect like you do while in hospital. He is from Diyarbakir and they speak the same language so the staff thought it would be a good idea for them to share their room.  
Like me, Nano has had to postpone dealing with his grief until now. While the others have been dealing with it for months -and not least, been dealing with us; we are kind of on the same level me and Nano. Like the initial shock and the acute state is just over. What happened with Rickard and what happened to Nano feels like a long painful extension of losing Patrik and it felt like it was just never going to end. Nano has his very personal losses on top of everything. His legs were both amputated above the knees; but his focus is not on his body, but his family. On good days he reasons with me that he is happier now than before his trip, because he found his family, his background. He has waited so long, and despite everything, he wants to go back more than anything. That is his goal, but first he has a long recovery period ahead of him.
Nano still has his quiet, dark and sarcastic ways but he talks a lot more now than he ever did while we were all living together at the apartment. I think that the interest that I have showed him, that I wanted to spend time with him, amused him at first and that maybe, he had previously thought of me as an annoying, unfortunate kid, who just got caught up on this mess because she had met Patrik in school.
He is more present now, and he takes initiatives for conversations. He talks to me for hours about his newfound brothers and sister and their families, and he shows me pictures of his parents when they were young, and another picture where they sit together with their grandchildren. He has two elder brothers and a younger sister. His youngest brother looks alot like him, and he plans to come and visit soon. He tells me about how he found out his real name, which is such a tongue twister and difficult to pronounce that we are both glad his adoptive parents shortened it.
He talks about finding out about his parents and realizing he will never receive the answers he was looking for, -and grieving that he could never meet them. He had not expected to pay such a high price to find them, but having a family means everything.
On bad days when he struggles with the physical bits he is very verbal for someone who is usually so quiet: cursing a lot, using these words to regain energy. He is not abusive to people around him, but I hear him curse the bomb, the assaulters, the embassy, the weather, his legs, his burns, his exes, the badly cooked hospital food, the dog that peed on his bike ten years ago, Patriks parents... he uses everything that has ever been against him.
-We make these talks a thing, an event where we meet every sunday afternoon just the two of us, to have an outlet for things that are bothering us. It’s his idea, if we are feeling especially down or upset during the week, we know that we can talk about it on sunday and hopefully feel better afterwards.
I end up telling him everything about Rickard, not so much about what happened in Oslo,
but about conversations we had, his tears, our long walks, how he took care of me when I was sick, how I would find him in Patriks room next to his bed, and about visiting the grave. He listens to me silently with a stern look on his face, only asking one or two questions.
It's even harder for us to talk about Patrik. We still blame ourselves for the abuse he was put through to some degree, and Nano has memories from that night outside the bar that he can’t forget. Physically, he only has a small scar over his eyebrow to remind him. And when I ask directly, he hesitantly tells me about the time before Patrik and I met. -Hesitantly, because they are not happy thoughts.
Eventually he has to sit me down on the edge of his bed, he asks me to help him sit up, and then he hugs me and says:
"-Lilla Lina, we are the only ones who really knew them, let’s not ruin their memory by only thinking about what their parents did.'
He is the only one besides my mum and grandma who calls me that, and because of the age difference, and because we are sort of looking out for each other now, it makes me feel like I could be his little sister.

At one point, he asks me if I want to see what's left of his legs, but I say no. I don't know how I would react and I don't want to freak out -and what if I don't freak out? -You are supposed to freak out right? Not be overcome by unexplainable curiosity. And I probably couldn't stomach it before it has healed completely.  I've seen the left side of his back from where they took his skin, and his lower stomach that is still reddish and pink with markings in a very distinct pattern. It looks like someone has thrown paint on him. -His right hand and lower arm has healed well but you can still tell that he has been burned. His left hand is still bandaged. I'm nervous of how he will receive my answer but there is no reaction, as if it’s no big deal.  But it is a big deal for me. The change that he is going through, no matter how challenging; also fascinates me.

The first impression I get of his roommate, Ajje, -is that he is extremely thin, only skin and bones, and that he doesn't seem well at all.  When I’m visiting he is always in bed, covered by the typical yellow hospital blanket. I understand that when he receives help with things, it’s because he really can’t move a muscle.
-That, and of course he had to be distractingly handsome. I'm not sure that he knows how good looking he is, but yeah, the smiles that he throws me; -he can definitely tell...
-It's so intimidating, that I do everything I can to avoid him, but I’m failing. How can I find this boy, barely more than a skeleton, so attractive?  Is it just because he is different? I’d like to think no, but it’s gnawing on me.
He has neatly kept, short dark brown hair and deeply set big brown eyes with these long dark eyelashes that always does it for me. When he smiles, he has these wrinkles in the corner of his eyes. He has high cheekbones and a crooked, cheeky smile. And his neck! I've never seen such a long and slender neck. The sharp contrast between his collarbones, his neck and his chin, and especially the way he moves: -everything about him draws me to him. His skin is slightly darker than mine and he has just a hint of an arabic nose and it gives him an intelligent and watchful look.
Unlike Nano who’s only visitors are me and Jon,  Ajje is always surrounded by family. -Parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, friends,.. There is always a buzz around his family who are loud, warm and friendly. Some days It’s difficult for me to listen to their laughter, but even as an outsider, it’s uplifting. But I don't want to admit that I am envious of the connection they must have with one another.  Sometimes I feel like a spy, observing his family, -so different from my own, but Nano and Ajje become friends and he encourages me to open up and let down my guard. Ajje even sends his little niece over sometimes to try to break the ice.
Some days his curtain is pulled closed and I see doctors and nurses rush back and forward, the silence is heavy, and so is that waiting feeling that I recognize too well.
Even with my awakened curiosity  -It’s so good to feel something other than anger, I force myself to try to not care for this stranger and I tell myself I’m still self-absorbed, consumed by grief and that I wouldn’t make a very good friend.
Once the ice is broken, I visit Ajje as much as I visit Nano. Thankfully, what could have become a growing obsession turns into a friendship. I don't make friends very fast, but Ajje must be an exception, but I'm also pretty starved of friendships.
What I enjoy the most, is listening to Ajje’s stories. When the kids are there, Ajje tells stories with a low, slow voice; fables, fairy tales, historic battles, and stories about his home and his family. He is a wonderful storyteller, and the kids loves him. Whenever he sees that I’m listening, he makes me bring my chair over and sit next to them and when he has to say something in kurdish the kids and Nano laughs and translates. Ajje has only lived in Sweden for 6 and a half years and he has a strong accent.
He hasn't asked me about it, but I know that Nano has told him about Patrik, Rickard and the explosion. He hasn't asked why I visit them so often, or why I’m not in school. I don’t know whether to ask him about his health, but since I did a paper on genetics and Duchenne in school, I sort of suspect it. We are getting to know each other, but with the constraints of the situation and the hospital, it kind of feels like we are doing things backwards, -there are so many things that we don't know about each other.
-What he asks for, is for me to take him outside one morning before his brother comes to see him. He asks me to wait while the aide dresses him and he sends one of the other aides to get his electric wheelchair that is parked in a storage room. I haven’t pictured Ajje anywhere but in his bed. It’s the first time I see a big; -huge- electric wheelchair; -a Permobil, up close.
It’s a lot bigger and more adapted than the smaller electric and manual chairs that are common for transfers around the nursing home, and I can't picture Ajje sitting in it or driving it, because he is so extremely thin. Thinking about it, I haven't even seen him sit up in his bed that often. She drives the chair with a joystick fastened on the back of the chair and she parks it next to the bed. Nervously I hope that Ajje is not expecting me to drive it, because I would most likely crash it. The chair is dusty, black and metallic blue with a high back and no extra head rest. At least she wipes off the worst of the dust, but I wonder how long it must have been since he used it?
The other girl puts her arm under his back and neck and pushes him up into a seated position, puts the sling behind him, folds his arms and then quickly lifts him into the wheelchair. I watch how his bony floppy legs hang there and how she arranges his feet on the footrests once he is in. I thought he would drown in this huge chair but he seem to fit pretty well in it.
“Are you watching carefully?” he asks me. I’m overwhelmed and I guess my mouth is gaping wide open and I must really look a fool.
The nurse pulls him closer to the back of the chair, and then adjusts his head a bit.
“You remembered” he says to the aide who smiles back at him.
“-I can't lift my head back up if it drops“- he explains to me.  “-Now lets see if either of us can drive this monster” he continues.
I follow them timidly when she drives his chair out of the room into the long corridor, and Nano yells to my back, laughing: “Don’t worry Lina, my chair is going to be a lot smaller than that!”
The nurse moves the control back to Ajjes right hand and moves his elbow forward a bit so that he can reach better, and his head drops again.
I realize that I’ve gone too far only after I have instinctively taken the step forward and adjusted his head. But Ajje only gives me a quick eye and gives the sign that I know is his way of nodding. On this sign, we take a step back and I watch him press his hand towards the joystick and the chair moves steadily, then faster, then he stops and turns around outside the door to the elevator, saying that he still needs help with the door. We take the elevator down to the first floor alone. He says: “That went well. Now we need to visit the cafeteria"
“Are you sure?” I ask, and he tells me he hasn’t been there for a while and that he wants to eat or drink something sweet.
I buy him a coke and a vanilla bun but when I come back he says:
“I can’t eat that. You have it. -And I need a straw. Buy me something with cream please. -Buy something you like.” he adds.
I get his straw and buy a new slice of soft strawberry cake with whipped cream. I open the can, put the straw to his lips, he takes a sip and closes his eyes in delight. When he opens his eyes, he sees my grin and smiles back.
"-Don’t underestimate sugar! It's the source of all happiness." I feed him small pieces of cake and cream but he asks me turn the spoon around - it’s obvious I've never fed anyone before; I've fed him the side of the spoon instead of the tip.
He demonstrates how far he can move his best hand towards his mouth -not far enough.
Before we finish the cake he says that he wants to go outside. It’s a sunny day and the air is dry but it's not that warm yet. We exit through the main entrance and he tells me that there is a small park to our left. We go there and we find a private bench where we can sit.
-In the daylight I can tell that his cheeks and eyes are sunken in, but when the sun dances in his irises, his brown eyes turn golden.
We sit and talk casually for a bit when he becomes serious and asks me if I'm feeling better.  
"-When you first visited, you wouldn't talk to anyone, not even Nano. I wondered why you would come and sit there quietly for hours." I tell him that I don't remember that part, and it's the truth. But I guess he must have been watching me too then.
'-Some days I feel fine, other days I feel like I should be in a mental institution." I speak openly.
"-Carolina?" he repeats.
"-I'm sick."
"-I know." I sigh.
He makes a quick face and moves his shoulder.
"-Ehm, could you pull me back? Towards the back of my chair."
Doing so, I need to stand up and lean close to him. I can smell him, and feel his warmth radiate from him. But when I place my hands on each side to pull him back, there is something hard and solid under his shirt, -plastic? and looking close, it seems to run along his back and chest up to his armpits. He notices my hesitation and says:
"-Uhm yeah, that's my back support, I forgot to tell you".
When I adjust his position he weighs so surprisingly little that I worry that I have pulled him too hard, too far. But he nods and asks me to lift his left hand that has fallen into his lap. I place it on the armrest, but all in all the touch doesn't last more than a few seconds.
"-But do you know why I am here?"
"-Carolina, when I go home, when I can get out of here, will you still be my friend?"
"-Of course we have to stay friends and keep in touch! We don't need to hangout with Nano to be friends."
I hadn't thought about what it would be like not to see him and his family anymore, but now that the thought is in my head, I don't like it at all.
"-Even after I tell you what’s wrong with me?" He says slowly. I hesitate before I go on:
"-I've read about muscular dystrophy in school, but I didn't want to ask you,.. in case I was wrong,.."  
I'm not going to tell him the whole story... He would freak out and wouldn't want to be my friend anymore...
"-Or in case you were right".
He is looking straight into mine with those eyes, focused but carefully questioning.
He has this ability, this focus that makes you feel like the two of you are the only two people in the world, that lets you forget everything else around you.
I know what he is really asking, and even if I'm not sure I could handle it, the answer is still yes.
'-I really don’t think it would change anything.”
It was not my intention to sound hesitant and regretfully I bite down on my lip.
"-So you know a little about muscular dystrophy."
He turns around and the shade from the building falls over him.
" -I have Duchenne.  -And you have met my parents and brothers. -Aram has Duchenne too.”
-”I'm sorry Ajje, I didn't know that he was not well. “
"-I had this stomach problem, and after that, I couldn't eat. I lost so much weight, I nearly died. And after the hospital, I had to come here, and I've been here for 3 months now.
-This is the third time I've come to stay here. Because my parents are too old. -They can't help both me and Aram with the things we need much longer. -My dad is starting to forget things."
He pauses to catch his breath and sip some more coke.

"-Ahmed -that’s my older brother, -came from Turkey with his family to help, but the Migration Board decided that they can't stay. That they have to go back to Turkey.  -We have a lawyer, but he said that we have to wait."
I just look at him with big eyes in disbelief trying to understand his situation.
"-Wait... -I didn't know your brother wasn't Swedish." Frustrated I continue:
"-I don't understand, -Nano nearly died, his relative died in that explosion, and they still want to send people there?"
Ajje nods and explains patiently:
“-Carolina, None of us are Swedish. Dad doesn't’ even understand much of the language. We have permits, but it takes too long to become a citizen.“
“-I think we should go back inside. I haven't been up much since I got here, I need to lie down again.  
-Thank you, really, thank you for taking me out. I don't think the nurses would have had the time".
I’m still shaken, still trying to gather my thoughts.
"I have a friend." He says as we go in. "He has Duchenne too. -Our lawyer says that if they decide that his parents can stay, then we have a much stronger case in the appeal. “
Riding the elevator up, his smile is back:
"-And if there is a chance that I can go home soon, I wanted to ask if you wanted to spend some more time with me."

Part 5

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  1. Intriguing story. Your characters are so interesting. Please don't wait so long between postings!

  2. You are a brilliant writer. This is so, so good. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us!

  3. I'm so glad you put up the next chapter! Lina and her friends are painted so beautifully that I become attached to each of them instantly. Thank you.

  4. Thank you all!. I will try, but part 1-3 took me a year to write and edit so I'm concerned the other parts will be too rushed. In part 4 a lot of things happen at once and then things slow down a bit... maybe ;)