Nobody talks about this, this rare lapse in time. I guess everyone is too busy worrying about some emergency, they don’t realise the eeriness of the hour.
Blinding lights. Fading white walls. The doors slamming wide open every few minutes, letting in a brutal draught that exists only past this time of night. A draught that triggers goosebumps beneath the hair on your arms and creeps down your spine. A spine already in shock from the freezing metal of a chair. A chair that creaks more than the bones of that elderly lady making her way across the hall.
Hushed voices. A middle-aged man’s gasping breaths two rows behind me. He doesn’t sound okay. More voices. Are they talking about me? The background stomping of the night-time staff. Their boots walking in time with their over-caffeinated heartbeats. Wrinkling my nose, the hairs burning. The smell of antiseptic leaves this ugly, tingly feeling in the back of my throat.
Why am I even here? Muscles cramped from sitting too long. But no position is comfortable in this awkward, slippery chair, too slim for anybody. Ugh. Magazines rotting in the corner. Exhaled on with bacteria-infused coffee breath, touched with too many unclean hands. What is the point of investing in all these hand-sanitiser stands, parked every half a metre around this room?
And then some old pamphlets. Or some new ones. I’m not sure. They’re too scandalous to be picked up. Made to convince you that you’re unwell. As if everyone didn’t already know. For God’s sake, it’s the 21st century, who isn’t unwell? Oh, the middle-aged man’s name has been called. Jared. Finally. Poor guy, he’s been waiting longer than I have and I feel like I’ve been here for half a lifetime.
A wailing siren gets louder and louder. I rub my tongue against the plaque that has now developed on my teeth. It’s got a sour taste. What did I eat last? Yuck. The doors blast open again. I forgot how cold the draught was. Makes my skin crawl. No. It wasn’t the draught. It was what it brought with it. A person on a stretcher. Or was it? I don’t know. It was dripping. Red. The white sheets had turned a red so deep you could have wringed the blood out and saved a whole life.
The body was whimpering. No. It was howling. Laying on its back, arched so wrong and its legs – no- leg twisted up awkwardly. Blood spurting from where the other leg was supposed to be. Bandages already soaked through the head and neck. God.
The paramedics shouting words that didn’t exist in my vocabulary. The boots of the night-shift staff thumping towards the stretcher. Unlocking the wheels and pushing the body into some ward. There was no one else around anymore. Oh wait, the reception nurse. She looked at me apologetically. She must be used to making that face, being able to conjure it so easily, so lifelessly. She looked so tired. I turned away from her, groaning, and sunk lower into the chair. Crossed my arms. Huh. There was a window here this whole time. Hm. It wasn’t pitch black anymore. There was a crinkle of light, a crinkle of dawn. I rolled my eyes, hard. My name hadn’t even been called yet.
We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and emerging. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.