Twenty one thousand six hundred

The room shakes. Curtains flutter. A nurse shuts the windows to block out the noise, a compounding whirr. On the phone, a doctor wearing scrubs urges colleagues to act as the helicopter nears.

I accidentally tore the nail almost off my big toe. Well, it was accidental, all right. The imagery is stomach-churning. Your nail is ripped off your toe and hangs open like a welcoming door, as blood pours from your revealed inner flesh. You don’t want to do that purposefully. And it was almost, all right. Because like that door, the side of my nail was firmly hinged to the wall that would be the side of my toe.

So, I looked down and I saw the open door and I speechlessly shut it. Then I patiently waited for the clerk to ring up my bottle of water and nine packets of chewable vitamin C tablets. She took her time ringing up those nine packets. She counted them. Satu. Dua. Tiga. Empat. Lima. Enam. Tujuh. Delapan. Sembilan. Nine packets. And I looked down at my red toe, red sandals (in fairness, they were already red, but they were redder now, I tell you), red fingers, and then I wiped those fingers together to disperse the blood, lest I startle the clerk with a scarlet sight. Nine packets. She asked me if I wanted to donate a portion of the cost to charity, or I assume that’s what she asked, because I just said yes so she’d get to the next phase of the transaction.

More rumbling, but this is just a rather heavy person walking around.

As I was saying, I said yes. Then I paid, and she, who expressed concern to the extent that she thought I’d innocently bumped my foot and oofed more in surprise than pain, was none the wiser to my predicament. Good for her, she doesn’t need that stress, she’s just a kid. But the man I passed on the way out was not so fortunate. He saw me stumbling ever so subtly on the surface of my sandal, made slippery by the flow of blood, and involuntarily had his face drop. There went his day, for five minutes, anyway. After that, it might have been a funny story of the bule who— 

“Jokewim Beta?”

That is when I was called and today is yesterday’s tomorrow. It turns out that I would go on to survive my ordeal, and so I will now complete my description of the events leading up to my hospital rendezvous. More rumbling, but it’s still people.

Well, the bule who stubbed his toe in such a way that he punctured it (because how was he, the observer, to see the displaced nail through all the blood). A trail encompassing drops of blood followed me as I walked home stiffly and awkwardly, accounting as much for the slippery sandal as the sting of wailing nerves. The last time I saw so much blood, it was coming from my bottom lip, some 16 years ago, and the last time my sandal was so slippery, it had flown off my foot as I dashed across a rain-slickened road. A motorcycle nearly hit me a moment later, reminding me—by proxy of a verbal warning—that it’s better to walk across a busy road than to run. That way, people aren’t forced to react suddenly to unpredictable movements. So, stiffly and awkwardly it was, and calm.

I didn’t panic until after my fiancée had cleaned and wrapped the toe, although maybe panic isn’t the right word. Perhaps I didn’t panic, I just chose an improper method of expressing my anger and disappointment in myself. Well, how ever you describe it, I expressed it only after. Before that moment, I’d arrived and saw her talking to her mother and sister, all sharing in a funny story. Too bad I had to take that momentary happiness away from them, but such was it to be.

Hold on, she’s home now. I’ll say hello.

It was a quick hello. Such was it to be, as I handed her the bag of bottled water and nine packets of chewable vitamin C tablets, my stony face poorly masking my limp’s true motive. The next thing I remember is sitting on the toilet, opening that door to inspect the inside of my toe, before deciding the destruction I’d unintentionally caused was too much to fix alone. Destruction is so melodramatic and vulgar, but it’s what the visuals demand. In my most composed manner, I went back out and called for her help. I downplayed the severity. It was bad, but not that bad, but bad enough that I didn’t want to be the one to clean this bloody mess of mine, but still not that bad.

We sat on the sofa. She examined the toe and I scorned my luck, my over-eagerness to pay for the water and nine packets of chewable vitamin C tablets, my tendency to ruin perfectly good days with a foot injury—no, the fact that I’d ruined that exact day. She reassured me. Then we moved to the bed in her mother’s room, and I pushed my palms into my eyes to block the sight of her washing the blood from my foot. Why do I keeping hurting my feet? I know they’re wide for my miniscule size, but you’d think I’d know how to use them correctly by now. When I expressed my scorn with a curse and frown, she excoriated me for responding to this mishap so negatively, advising me instead not to let it ruin our day. There was nothing I could do to change what had happened, after all. I scorned. That’s better than I panicked. Anyway, I summarily took her advice.

Back in the hospital, the nurse inspects the toe and informs me she won’t be using any anaesthetic to remove the nail, because most of the work was done by the counter I kicked. She’s a nice woman, who doesn’t seem to remember dealing with me once before. Or if she does, she is very kindly sparing me the embarrassment of informing her that I didn’t do what I’d promised to following my last visit. No anaesthetic, so it must not be so bad, but she offers it anyway, if I’m too afraid of the pain. I decline. And sure enough, the nail is off with barely a tickle. I could have done this myself, I realise, with the toe now dry and scabs damming off the blood. The hinges were not so firm, and the nail matrix, she tells me, is in the centre.

Outside the hospital, cold air permeates the descending evening’s silence. The ICU had rushed to prepare for the incoming helicopter, but now it sits quietly and untended on the landing pad. The images may last forever, but the pain was only temporary. And the memories—they, even more so.

Maybe I would have done it myself—back when I was feeling the sting of an open wound and rush of adrenaline and endorphins—if I’d known that it’d be so easy and painless. But knowing my nature, I resolved that it would be better to have a shield above that wound. I didn’t know what the result of keeping the nail there would be, but I did know that those wide, unwieldy masses of skin and bone were going to be slammed again, sooner or later. My sandals were red enough.

An hour later, my decision was justified. Shifting around to get up, I pressed the top of my foot down, and suddenly, I felt a surge of heat emanate from it. But since the door was closed, no blood stained my bandage. It was the heat of nerves sending a march of signals forth, advising my brain to cease whatever it was doing to cause this pain. It summarily took its advice. I got up and sat next to the woman who’d so lovingly washed away my blood, and then we were pronounced man and wife.

 
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Introduction

I lived in central Europe, once, in a small city that ebbed with time. During the week, it jittered with energy; on Sundays, and particularly Sundays during holiday periods, it was deserted. It came to life as the sun rose, and died once... Continue →