“Don’t stop. We’ll tell them when we get to Loki.”
A swarm of locusts hit the windscreen in a blizzard of wings. She sprayed and sprayed and the smeared glass gradually cleared enough to make out the long straight road but in the rear view mirror, nothing but dust rose. No landmarks. She peered out at the rock formations to the east, the distant mountains.
“Don’t worry. They’ll find him.”
“And what if he was alive?”
The doctor shone a light into the boy’s eye. The pupil stared blindly back.
“When he wakes up,” the man told the nurse, the slightest inflection of anger in his tone, “Tell him he has let me down.”
The man said nothing else, but a voice she wanted to attribute to him rose in her. He wanted to be somebody. To rise out of the dust and be his own man. And instead he is going back to dust, and will never provide the descendents that would have made the man’s name last. If he could have lived small, kept to the side roads, whispered along like a ghost, he could have continued. Instead, he’d decided to deal with the dealers, to be a trader on the raids, to gamble on the possibility of power. Blown away by a single shot and lying for hours under the blistering sun, on the roadside, within spitting distance of the aircon, while the trucks rolled by, billowing dust.
“He doesn’t wake up, Father. He is just here to say goodbye.”
She fixed the white sheet, tucking it in around the thin form. She was curious about these people, their old fashioned formality, their dignity. What did they feel, who never cried for their dead, but stared stoically right through you with opaque eyes that gave nothing away? The man had come in and claimed the boy with a tap on his own chest, and then on the shoulder of the boy in the bed. He was dusty, dressed in a cloth, looped like a toga over one shoulder. He’d approached the ward with that same loping walk she had seen from a distance as they walked alone over long stone marked trails through scrub between remote homesteads, the same cruciform hook of wrist around cattle stick, hands limp on the knees now, spine still unbowed. The boy’s lungs were pumped in and out by the ventilator but the bullets had perforated the bowel irreparably, according to the young surgeon…