I stared down at my leg. There is something so incredibly shocking about injuries. In the movies and in our imagination we think of them as causing searing pain. But usually, well, for me anyways, I’m usually just really, really surprised.
It took me several moments to understand.
Barbed-wire on my leg. No, in my leg. Ok, so that’s why I can’t lift my leg right now. Wicked-looking barbed wire too.
Well, pull it out.
I bent over. Searing pain that you imagine in movies. I could see the tip of the barb under my skin, moving along the inside of it every time I moved. I wanted to throw the vines I had been pulling along the barbed wire fence but that would mean moving.
“Channon-” I said, trying to not move, balancing on one leg in this ball of wire.
Perhaps you remember Channon from my previous post. The gangly, elfin boy from Serin. The troublemaker. The boy with the perfect smile that flashes in his dark face, especially when he is making trouble. Well, I had the bright idea of making him part of my crew for my weekend task of cleaning out the back of the boys’ dormitory. I figured I could see if his unwillingness to work in the classroom was due to laziness or due to something else I suspect of him.
I suspect that Channon feels overwhelmed in the classroom. He spoke a different language when he came to the Home of Hope and he had no formal schooling. So not only did he have to learn another language, but he had to jump into classes without a basic understanding of them. So he makes trouble. My suspicions were heightened by the fact that this boy had worked harder than any other boy on my crew today.
Anyways, Channon had already seen the look on my face and he stepped to my side. I was standing across a little drainage ditch and I reached over and grabbed his shoulder. His eyes got a little solemn when he saw my predicament.
“Don’t move.” I said. Of course he couldn’t understand me.
“Pagulaap!” He called over his shoulder, staring at my leg. Pagulaap is what they call Kathy. It means Aunt Rose.
I bent over and pulled on the wire, thinking it would slip out. It did not. The wire was twisted and my skin had slipped between the coils somehow. I would have to twist it out, like a corkscrew. Also, I had a little audience.
“Oh my goodness!” Kathy reached the group and gasped.
She bent over and touched the wire.
“Ow.” I said, enunciating.
“Oh honey.” she said, trying to pull it out like I had tried to.
I laughed because crying was not an option. “Well that hurts like the dickens.”
“It’s caught somehow, dear.” Kathy said, looking at it over the top of her glasses like she does when she’s reviewing my lesson plans.
I realized I was squeezing Channon’s shoulder pretty hard. I loosened up. He looked grateful for that. There was general hubbub all around as more boys noticed the group and joined to see. I felt very much like a science exhibit. Perched across the ditch, surrounded by barbed wire, vines dangling from my one hand, the other clutching Channon.
Exibit A: Teacher Eliza once again illustrating what not to do. Boys, remember, do not be like Teacher Eliza.
I threw the vines across the ditch and almost hit a few of my spectators. They dodged expertly and resumed their positions. I bent over and watched as Kathy twisted the wire just a bit. The wrong way. I saw the tip jut up under my skin, making a small tent with the tip about to tear right through. I felt surprised again.
“Sorry, dear.” Even while wounding me, Kathy is solicitous.
“Here-” I decided that pulling it out couldn’t be worse than what I was experiencing. I grabbed the wire and twisted the other way. It came out. I jumped across and looked back at the wire. “Why do they have this here?”
I was looking at everyone else’s vulnerable legs with new eyes.
“I don’t know. But you need to go and get that cleaned. That wire is filthy and rusted.” Kathy pushed me towards the girls’ dorm where they keep a first aid kit. I walked away. A boy coming the opposite way was grinning at me. News travels faster than anything else here. Doubtless he was heading to see me tangled up in the wire.
After enduring the treatment and having a bandaid almost the size of my foot applied to my wound, I went back to finish. When I reached my pile of vines I looked at the wire across the ditch and narrowed my eyes. I would have hissed threatenings and slaughter, but the boys had paused their work and were watching me closely.
I gave one last scathing look and continued my weeding. We cleaned out the ditch and dragged piles upon piles of junk out of the covered porch to be stored in the basement of the school.
The little boys reveled in the filth and the older boys meticulously avoided the little boys. Channon is a leader. He became my right-hand man. There’s something about being relied on that grants a boy dignity. He may be the most rambunctious troublemaker in a classroom, dancing and singing during lessons, but he can organize a rowdy group of first and second-graders faster than anyone I know. I’m hoping that our new working relationship carries over into the classroom.
Throughout the rest of the day, my leg throbbed at strange times. My second mistake of the day, with the first being the dance with the barbed wire, was looking up symptoms of tetanus.
It doesn’t matter that symptoms only show after five days with three days being the quickest and most lethal case, I started overthinking every twinge. It starts with a headache and muscle spasms. Then it progresses to violent, uncontrollable seizures wherein broken bones and bruises are the norm. The most typical cases end with the muscles of the face contracting and the jaw locking then asphyxiation or cardiac arrest.
Once I read the articles, I was already planning where I would like to be buried and what flowers I want planted on my grave. (Abigail, you already know what to do)
I went for a nostalgic walk through the rubber tree groves, tripping through a creek like I used to when I was young. I lost my flip-flop and it got carried down-stream, also like when I was young, and my legs got all scratched up in brambles. I walked towards where I had seen the spooky lights at midnight last night. I was going to die anyways, no sense in being careful.
I found nothing but did walk into several spiders that had spun their webs between the trees. There is nothing that will make you feel more foolish than walking into one of those and twirling and whirling madly. You whip your arms around and shake the webs and the spiders off, then, when you are walking away, still twitching and shaking occasionally, just at the thought of the spiders still being on you, you see that there are two boys watching you through the trees. They can’t see the web. And the smiles on their faces tell you all you need to know about the latest rumors that will circulate.
Since I will die, it doesn’t matter.
In the evening, I was standing on the steps of the school, watching the kids play in the yard. The boys had gone to the chicken coop and returned with cornhusks and feathers. The feathers had come from the helpless fowls and the cornhusks were from their dinner troughs.
The boys had stuck the feathers into the husks and wrapped rubber bands around them. When they started throwing them, I realized with shock that they had made badminton birdies. They spiraled through the evening air perfectly. Once again I found myself impressed with the children’s ingenuity. They can make anything.
They threw one to me and I sat and admired the craftsmanship. They were pleased that I was so impressed. I think most of the time they are amused with how easily they can impress me with their little creations, but they don’t know that I come from a society that buys toys and would never pluck feathers from a chicken to make them.
Eat. It was dinner time and a girl stepped out of the mess hall and yowled those two words. The response was instantaneous. The boys rushed the hall. The girls were only a little more sedate.
I turned towards the call. It was Rose and Judyanne, two of the Philipinno girls.
“We are walking up the road for some food, want to come?” Rose asked.
I had smelled what dinner would be earlier. Since the food is on a rotation, you start to be able to tell what it will be by sniffing the air. I wasn’t particularly excited about cabbage and pork.
“Oh, yes please.”
We walked up the road in the evening air, away from the orphanage. The crickets were already singing. The shadows in the rubber tree grove were lengthening. The two yellow lines down the middle of the road reminded me of home. But the smell on the air was the earthy and sweet smell of Thailand.
“This makes me feel free.”
Judy laughed. “Me too.”
There is something about being able to get away from your responsibility for a while; even a pleasant responsibility. Something about walking away in your own power, not riding in someone else’s car, bound to another person’s schedule. I never knew how much I missed that freedom until I tasted it tonight. We meandered into the village up the road, peeking into the two shops that the little place boasted, looking distrustfully at the bags of food and pinching the rolls to see if they were fresh.
Then we ate fried rice in the one shop, sipping our tea and coffee drinks, talking about nothing and everything. We walked back in the twilight, with the moon high above, shedding its light on the uneven road curving before us. When we reached the path to the orphanage, we hesitated.
“Let’s walk down to the rice paddies. They will be beautiful in the moonlight.”
Rose and Judyanne looked distrustfully at the storm brewing behind the mountains. Lightning flashed.
Rose is always very certain about everything. She cast her vote with confidence and started walking without waiting for Judy’s answer.
Judy just giggled. Judy is prone to laughter and facial expressions. Her English is not as concise as Rose, but her face makes up for it a hundred-fold. That and her ‘tsks.’ She can ‘tsk’ like no other.
We tripped down the road towards the stretch of fields below. The mountains were visible even in the dark. The breeze quickened and brought that delicious intensity that comes before a storm. We stood still at the edge of the paddies and looked over the night. The moon was shining clear in one half of the sky, the storm was brewing in the other half.
It was with regret that I tore myself away and followed them back up the road. I had forgotten all about my impending death somewhere along the way. The night was too beautiful to worry about something you could never control. God knew. And to trust the God that created this night is enough.
The storm is still brewing, the rain will come soon. Maybe I’ll beat it back to my room. Somehow, I hope I don’t. Goodnight 🙂