Chris stopped the car and we got out. We were in a hospital car-park and she led me past railings and through corridors reminiscent of the House That Jack Built, until we stood in a bright airy ward with nursery pictures on the walls. A screaming child, if child it could be called (for it was almost my size) hurled itself at Chris, who caught it in her arms, barely managing to keep the pair of them upright.
“She’s been like that since getting up, Sister,” a passing woman in white called out.
“Ally, Ally,” cried Sister Chris. “Calm down. What’s wrong? Show me. Point.”
Ally was holding a rag ball of tie-bleached denim, crisp with dried spit, onto which torn patches of hessian had been stitched to make continents. If you half-shut your eyes it was a fair likeness of the Earth, complete with clouds. Except it must have snagged on a nail because the stuffing was hanging out.
“Oh Ally! Your lovely ball!”
The child stopped screaming and settled into a steady drizzle of tears. Chris kissed her wet cheek and gave her a big hug.
“Sister will take it to her office and stitch it up again.”
I pondered that. Amid incoherent blubbing there had emerged evidence which could be acted upon to make things better for poor Ally, whose concerns were nearer home than a dirty great slush-ball still thirteen million miles away. Chris was doing far more good in her job than I was doing in mine.
“These are my children, Dave,” she said to me, as a nursing assistant led Ally back to the playroom. “I can’t go off and just leave them.”
Everyone was silent in the pub. There was a notice behind the bar stating that one particular topic was banned. Verboten. Taboo. The result was nobody had anything to talk about. Over our beers we watched TV in silence, eyes round with horror at events unfolding across the globe.
Burma filled the news that night. Not everybody was ready to go on living life as before. Some were determined to die in freedom—the cost no longer mattering. Hitherto the Army had been able to rule by fear. But now it was the Army, not the people, that had cause to be afraid. Trucks arriving at a neighbourhood to seize the residents were being overturned and set on fire. And the soldier staring through his gunsights at a charging mob knew that without a bullet for every one of those savage faces he was going to die—and never be missed.
I looked out of the window. Another glorious sunset. Was Mother Earth consoling her children in their last few days?
The truth was rather less poetic. Iran had thought it such a shame not to have the opportunity to use its precious nukes on the “Zionist entity” that on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, it had taken out Tel Aviv. That same day, dead on 6pm as the Sabbath ended, Tehran had ascended to the stratosphere, spreading out to powder the globe in fine brown ash. The result of that nuclear spat was the most spectacular series of sunsets I could ever remember.
How could people hate each other so much as to begrudge their fellow men a final week of life? Or were they the lucky ones—to choose to go out in a blaze of glory? One that others could take note of, and appreciate?