By J.D. and M. Blais
Things had settled into a monotonous routine since Luka had moved into the tent with Thomas. With the weather damp, he'd found it easy to stay in bed until late morning, once awake he would force himself outside, a trip to the showers and his once a day visit to the mess tent. It was easier that way, the fewer people he had to face the better. If only he could find a way to get Thomas to understand that he wanted little more then to be left alone. He'd begun to take a longer route back to the tent after the midday meal, a part of him hoping that the man would be gone when he returned. Not that he didn't appreciate the privacy of the smaller tent of course, but all he wanted out of the arrangement was the bed. As he reached the tent he pulled the flap aside so he could enter and stepped inside.
Thomas looked up, pushing his glasses back on his nose in that familiar gesture. "Hey...there you are."
"Yeah..." He moved over and carefully sat...cautious of sudden movements to the newly unbraced knee.
He laid his book aside on the table, face down with the pages splayed out. "You know, if I had a girl that pretty talking to me all the time, I'd say more than 'yeah' once in a while." He grinned toothily.
He looked a little confused by the man's comments. "What?"
Thomas tapped his left foot on the floor, where it rested. "That girl...Claire? Yes, her. I got to meet her."
"Oh.." He started to lean forward to pull his shoe off, he didn't want to think about Claire and how badly he had messed things up...better she forget about him anyway.
"She dropped something off for you." He pushed a wrapped bundle towards him, where it was resting on the small table.
He left the shoe untied and sat up...reaching for the package as if it might somehow explode in his hands. Laying it on his lap he slowly opened it.
Thomas sat up, his curiosity evident.
He lifted the small things out first...the razor...soap and a toothbrush..then sat them on the bed as his eyes widened before he withdrew a tee and a pair of grey sweatpants. He swallowed before replacing them back on the paper. "She look okay?" He asked the question quietly as he fingered the items.
Thomas merely raised an eyebrow, interested but not thinking it was all that special. "She looked pretty fine to me...not that I know what she might have looked like before. Was she injured or something?" He screwed up his forehead, thinking. "She had a limp. That's about it. Twisted an ankle maybe?"
Only then noticing the item that had slipped onto the cot without his having seen it. He retrieved the cocoa pouch then lay it on top with the rest. "Yeah..something like that."
Thomas glanced over the items again. "Is that everything you needed? Because she seemed keen to talk to you."
He looked over to him. "She said that?"
Thomas nodded, pushing the glasses back then lacing his fingers together. "She was real disappointed that you were out, said she didn't have much time or something. Then she said that she was hoping to talk to you."
He sat the package over on the table. "She say where she would be?" He leaned forward to retie his shoe with the question.
Thomas shrugged. "I said I didn't think you wanted to go anywhere....you stayed in the tent alot. I guess she's back at her own tent." He glanced to the flap of the tent. "Getting late anyway."
He nodded and reached for the crutches to pull himself up. "Doesn't matter maybe..." He started for the door.
"What doesn't matter?"
"Ah. Have fun then. I didn't realize you two were still friends..."
As he reached the door he pulled the flap aside...swallowing his response before exiting. Were they friends? He made his way through the camp slowly, ignoring the chill coming with evening, by the time he reached the row which housed the Northstar's tent though he was having doubts, what if her Father was there? What if it was her turn to tell him good-bye." He hesitated a few tents away..eyeing it and trying to make up
his mind as to whether he should continue or turn around. Drawing a breath he released it and approached...pausing again at the door. "Claire?" When there was no answer, he wet his lips and looked around before moving forward and lifting back the flap enough to look inside. "Claire?" The tent was empty, and somewhat sparser than usual. The foot lockers were closed, and the sheets on the cots were undisturbed. The water
pitcher was gone although the cups were there. Behind him, footsteps sounded, quick and hurried. He turned to the sound of the footsteps letting the flap close behind him, readying his excuse for whoever it might be.
An older man, with a heavy, gray beard and darker skin approached, carrying a child no more than two in his arms. "Doctor?" he said, in Croatian. His eyes were wide, and he panted a little. "I am looking for the woman-doctor, who speaks Croatian..." The child in his arms, a little boy, wasn't moving, his eyes closed.
"They're not here..." His eyes moved to the boy, not much older then Marko would have been..the lump rose. "What's wrong with the boy?" His words had naturally returned to his native tongue. "Bring him inside..."
The man seemed relieved he spoke the familiar language. "My grandson.." he offered, holding the boy a little away from his chest so Luka could see him. "He was being treated for infection....I was just feeding him."
He pushed the tent open and moved inside..."Put him on the bed...what was he eating?"
"He doesn't eat much." Tears welled in the man's eyes. "He only likes the things he can't have. I think he had found some candy, from one of the other children."
He followed him in, going over to Claire's cot and setting the boy down. He moved to the footlocker...then glanced back to the door before opening it and pulling a stethescope and some forceps out before returning to the boy.
"He went to run outside....he was fussy and upset all day, and kept crying too. Then when I go look, I find him behind the tent, all quiet like this." The man bit his knuckles, disraught.
Easing himself down on the cot Luka dropped the crutches on the floor before settling the scope in his ears. Opening the boys shirt he listened to his chest...then frowned setting them aside. "He's having troubled breathing.." He picked the boy up, trying to rouse him. "What's his name?"
"Matte." He hovered, looking over Luka's shoulder. "I looked in his mouth, I saw nothing. He said all day that he didn't feel well, but I thought he was just bored."
He lay him back down then tilted his head slightly before picking the forceps up...biting his lip he slipped them into the small boy's mouth...reaching almost too deep it seemed...
The old man kept his hand over his mouth, pulling at his beard a little with his worry.
"Something is there." He leaned closer to the boy as he maneuvered for it and finally withdrew a half chewed taffy. As it came free the boy began to cough and Luka lifted him up again...rubbing his back slowly. It was then he felt the small lump on the back of his neck...brushing his hair aside he looked at it. "You said he isn't eating?"
His grandfather fell on him, taking up his hands and kissing them repeatedly, overcome with relief. "Yes.....he is fussy." He smoothed the boy's hair with a gnarled hand, tears in his eyes.
The boy, startled and pained, started to cry, although he was comforted by the old man.
The bite was red and raised. "He's been bit by something...maybe allergic...take him to the hospital tent...show the older woman Doctor...Angelique. Can you remember that...the French Doctor." He released the boy to the Grandfather before leaning forward to retrieve the discarded crutches so he could stand.
"A bite?" He leaned forward, looking at the reddened spot. "Oh, you poor child," he cooed, gathering his grandson back into his arms. "Of course you did not feel well....I should have noticed that." He looked up at Luka, rising to stand. "Thank you, Doctor. I
did not know what to do...he is all my family."
"I'm not a Doctor...now go, you should hurry."
He nodded. "I will go. But even if you are not a doctor, I am grateful that you could help us. Thank you again." He clasped Luka's free hand tightly, his eyes still moist, then turned away with the little boy, hurrying to the main med tent.
With the man gone he gathered the equipment up and carried it back to the footlocker... wiping each off on his shirt before replacing them. As there was another sound of footsteps at the flap of the tent, he shut the lid turning towards the entrance, already readying himself for the consequences.
William ducked into the tent, looking fatigued. He drew up short as he saw Luka in there already. Lifting an eyebrow, he said, "Luka? Is something wrong?" He set down the medical bag, but his eyes didn't scan the tent, not wanting to imply Luka was a thief.
"Someone was here looking for you...an old man and his grandson...I sent them to Angelique." The chewed taffy still lay on the now rumpled cot and he picked it up as he spoke. "I was looking for Claire....I can go."
"Ah....they needed a doctor?" He seemingly ignored the comment about Claire.
The way he was holding his leg made it obvious he had removed the splints since leaving the Northstar's tent. "Yeah....the boy was hardly breathing...he'd swallowed candy he had found."
Immediately, William shifted into doctor mode. "An obstruction in his airway? But you got it out, yes?"
"I had to get in your trunk.." As he explained he began to slowly ease his way to the door.
William nodded, quickly. "Yes, all the equipment is in there. Now I am glad I left it all. What had he swallowed?" William hadn't moved much farther, so he still was within the
Luka opened his hand to reveal the taffy. "Chewy candy..he was a small boy." Small... like Marko..too small for that candy. His mind twisted itself with thoughts he didn't want
William nodded, a little to himself. "Good thing you were there, then. How is your leg? I don't see the splint.."
"I took it off...needed to shower."
"Of course...wasn't meant to be permanent." He regarded him still, the same shrewd look. "And it's healing well?"
He shrugged. "Doesn't hurt too bad."
"Good, good." He took off his coat, lying it over the foot locker before picking up a tissue and extending his hand for the taffy."Candy...strong temptation. Now, how is it with Thomas?"
"It's okay..it's a bed."
William sighed, depositing the candy in a small wire trashcan beside the main table. "As talkative as ever. I admit I was worrying about you."
"You don't have to." He released the man from blame even as he was unable to hide the dullness that had crept back in his eyes, the same as it was when he first arrived.
"You don't worry about people because you have to," William said, gently. "You do it because you care about them."
He fidgeted a bit with the crutches. "I'm sorry I messed things up...it's probably better I'm not here anyway."
William rubbed at his eyes a moment, then the bridge of his nose. "No, you didn't mess anything up, Luka. Perhaps I was too harsh with you. All this going on around us..." He let it trail off.
He sighed quietly not sure what to say to the man and sure he had ruined whatever had been there. "I should go, it's getting dark."
"Why did you come to see Claire?" William asked, quietly. "Have you decided to leave?"
"She brought some things by..I wasn't there when she did...thought I should thank her."
"Is that all, then?"
" No, I wanted to see how she was doing too..."
"Okay.." He moved over and sat on his cot, with a small grunt of tiredness. "You can always come back and see her later."
"Sure..." He used the man's moving away as his escape and walked closer to the door. "Night."
"Luka.." he called.
He stopped and turned back at his name.
"Are you going to come back to see her?" he asked, his tone serious. "I'm not going to tell her you are, and have her get her hopes up. She's barely spoken to me since you left." That last was said with a wry half-smile.
"I still need to thank her."
"Very well," the man conceded. "And you can always come speak to me, you know. I miss adult conversation." He shook his head.
"Lots of people here to talk to..." Too many he wanted to say especially when you didn't want to talk.
"Alright, Luka," he relented. He looked up, his gaze more worn than usual. "I won't force you to do anything, anymore. I said I would let you alone, and I will, if that's what you want."
There it was..the hinge he couldn't know...if Danijela had forced him to leave his family would be alive...if his teacher hadn't forced him to leave he would be dead...he had to be forced...his decisions were always the wrong ones. "I'd better go..." He moved to the flap again
He nodded, a slow goodbye, then disappeared silently into the darkness...
To be continued...