Man is harder than rock and more fragile than an egg. (Yugoslav Proverb)

Isme thinks she will always have her brother, she can't imagine him not being there. Then suddenly, he isn't and yet he is. The horror comes not from his going, but the manner of his going. The hit and run wasn't a hit of run, and she need's Rob's help to prove this, even if he is dead.


2. A Spiritual Existence


We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. ~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

The hospital is lit up and rises heavenwards. The check-ups, the broken legs, things that made this building seem bearable are irrelevant now. It’s become an institution of terror because in there is the remainder that we are humans and thus easy to break.

Dad parks in the first space he sees his parking laughable in any other occasion. We jog across the car park to the doors.                                                                                            

Inside, the fierce light stings and shows up mum’s puffy eyes. Our paleness becomes a lot more pronounced. We look like a family of vampires. Mum takes my hand and waits as dad goes up to the desk. The woman is coldly efficient, writing down details and conferring in low tones. It’s impossible to hear what’s being said. Beside me, mum tremors. I huddle closer, hoping the combined warmth of our two bodies will make her stop. Again, it’s not the cold air that’s the issue.

We sit on chairs; anxious, alert and watching the stream of people that come in, each second another painful absence from Rob. My hands are twisting my fingers, and I don’t seem to be aware of it until I break from my nightmarish daydreams.  

Shoes click on the polished floors and as I look up, my eyes connect with the nurse as she walks towards us. Her face is unreadable and I have the urge to shake her until she gives in. Then I remember, they’re trained not to show anything. So Rob could be alive…or he couldn’t.  A shudder runs through me as the nurse stops before us.

“You can go and see him now Mr Clapham,” she says, her voice edging towards compassion but she has a long way to go. Dad nods and follows her, me trailing last. My feet are moving through sludge and I too am starting to shake. I’ve put off this moment for ages, reconstructing a scenario where he’s bandaged but sitting up and smiling. Everything’s fine. Lying to myself will not help me when it comes to the final scene.

It doesn’t. Tears flow down my cheek and my throat is scraped raw as I swallow. That body on the bed is not Rob. It’s a vestige of his former self. Mum hurries over, drapes an arm over his chest and buries her head.  Dad stands close by, confused. As for me, I edge closer, step by step, unable to accept that this waxen doll connected by drips and lines, his face a colourful tapestry of blotches, is the boy who I teased this morning. This is the boy who stole my phone, who chased after me, who teased when I had my first boyfriend. This was my brother.

I touch his hand and recoil at the ice that encases it. As I lean in to kiss his cheek, his breath is like the flutter of a bird’s wings. In that moment, I feel like I’m sinking. I know. Glancing up at Dad I see he knows too. A slight shake of the head and he warns me not to tell mum who is racked by massive sobs. Maybe she does know but doesn’t want to accept.

I’m hit by a wall of…everything. A wall built by bricks of emotion, of suffocation, of acute sympathy for not just Rob, but every sick person in this ward whose families must be going through the hell of what we are. Breath that has been a bearable rasp up till now becomes overpoweringly loud and croaky, sounding like there were creatures, not humans in the room.

Like a coward, I flee. Not like a coward, I am a coward. As I dodge the people that move like wraiths through the corridor, I feel a cord snap in me. I’m unable to understand what it is until I see one figure waiting at the other end of the corridor. Of their own accord, my legs slow down and I’m gasping, sobbing, my face wet with tears.


My breath freezes like nitrogen in my throat as does my heart. Breathing becomes irrelevant. He’s here. Perfect. My brother as he always was. A smile splits my face and I run forward, reaching out my arms. The doors slam into me as I pass through the space where he should have broken my sprint in a warm mass. Slowly, I turn. He is there. But I’m here.

My hand reaches out, trembling. An idea of what is happening is forming but it can’t be what I think it is. I don’t believe in this sort of thing. It’s nonsense. Or is it. Rob’s hand extends and the tips of our fingers meet. Swirling mist wraps around my fingers and sinks under my skin, leaving a cold tingle in my veins. Yet I can’t feel the warm roughness of skin. This is different.

Rob has gone.

“Why are you still here,” I whisper, hardly audible to myself.

“What do you think I am?” he sounds the same but it’s like he’s in a room where his voice bounces in an echo off the walls. There’s a tin melody as well.

“I don’t know!” I’m shouting now, waving my hands about. Why is he asking questions when I’m the one needing explanations! Why is he accepting this liminal existence? If I could touch him, I would shake him with all my strength.

“We need to find our rest. We leave behind unresolved situations.”

“What are you telling me? Stop it Rob! You…” I fade off as I realise what he is saying. My mind flicks through all those horror movies, all those news stories like a flip book. Neurons in my brain fizz. “You’re not saying…”  A small nod.

Then a black cloth is thrown over my eyes.


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