Hallo! How’s things? Well, we’ve made it to Chapter Four, which means we’re a bit over 1/3 of the way through Comrade! Let’s get into it!
A beam of sunlight shining in my face woke me a few hours later. At first, I could not remember where I was, or why I was in so much pain, until it all came rushing back. Where had Simeon gone? He’d treated and bandaged my ankle and head last night. But where was he now?
Panic gripped my stomach and I twisted over, nausea washing over me. What if Ben Simeon hadn’t wanted to help me at all? What if this was all a trap that would end with me thrown into a prisoner of war camp? What if he wasn’t coming back?
I clenched my fists, then forced myself to breathe out. No, there was something trustworthy about Simeon. There was something honest in his face. I trusted him. He wouldn’t betray me.
But still, I had nothing to do until he came.
If he came…
Of course he was coming.
He did come. At one o’clock he stepped into the room without even bothering to knock. He frowned at me, lying there in bed with my head swathed in white bandages. “Can’t you stand the sight of your own blood?”
“It hurt. A lot.” I retorted. “You weren’t very gentle.”
“It’s best to get it over with,” Simeon replied.
“Be quiet. I’m thinking.”
I clenched my jaw at this, but I dutifully kept my mouth shut.
“I’ve an idea. It might work.” From his pocket he drew out an identity disc and tossed it to me. “I promised you’d be a new man, Alan.”
I turned the disc over and noticed, etched into the aluminium, my new name: Alan Bennett, X3473. I glanced up. “Where did you get this?”
Simeon shrugged. “That doesn’t matter. This idea’s a good one. Just outside of Dover, there’s a war wounded hospital. Specialises in shell shock.”
“Shell shock?” Again, my tongue had trouble pronouncing the foreign words.
“Yes. It does strange things to soldiers, I’ve seen it. Deafness and dumbness are two of them.”
“I don’t understand.”
Simeon looked as if biting back his sarcasm brought him physical pain. “You go to this hospital, pretend to be a deaf and mute soldier. Shell-shocked. That way, you don’t speak at all. You get your ankle treated by a doctor and I organise your passage to France. It’ll work.”
My stomach twisted again. “But…but to get into a war hospital, wouldn’t you have to be a soldier?”
“You are a soldier.”
“Not a British one! I don’t have any papers or anything.”
Simeon rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I’ll handle that.”
Legally or illegally? I wondered, but I didn’t say it.
“I’ll get you there,” he nodded once at me. “Let’s get you clothes.”
With that he left, leaving me behind to have nothing to do again.
I lay on the bed, trying not to dwell on the events of yesterday. Trying to think of anything but Ernst’s limp body and the stench of canvas burning.
I shuddered and rolled out of my bed, hitting my ankle and biting back a cry. I sat there for a moment, and then crawled to the only window in the room. Pulling myself onto a chair, I pressed my forehead against the grubby pane like a child.
In desperation, I got out of bed and crawled over to the only window in the room, where I pulled myself onto a chair and pressed my forehead against the grubby pane, like a child. For a long time, I amused myself watching the people who wandered past the window.
There was a young boy playing with a football, kicking the ball against a lamp post, an angry expression on his face. He looked ten years old and I wondered why he was so unhappy. Are you angry because you’re too young to join the war? Trust me, I chided the boy. Be glad they won’t conscript you. Be glad you’re too young.
There were women too, queuing in front of a building on the other side of the street. They all wore black and had hunched up shoulders, shuffling ever forward as the queue crept on. They were collecting ration cards and I laughed, bitterness edging my voice. England and Germany are not so different after all.
Beyond the women in black, I could see two young men in uniform strolling with ladies hanging off their arms. They were laughing with each other. Enjoying what could be their last few precious moments on earth.
If this war was over and done with, we could all get on with our lives.
Twenty minutes later, Simeon returned with bag of clothes. “They’ll fit,” He told me, thrusting them into my arms.
I shook each item out and examined it. I was eager to take off my bloodstained, too big clothes, and I thought these would do. It was a simple outfit, just a white shirt, trousers, a felt cap and a pair of lace up boots. No sign of a leather jacket.
“You can get changed later,” Simeon said. “You’ll spend one more night at the hotel, then I’ll arrange for you to get into this hospital.”
I took one more glance at the boy with his football, at the women in black, and I felt my heart squeeze inside me.
At ten o’clock sharp the next morning, Simeon appeared at my door again. He helped me out of bed, paid the hotel owner, and helped me to the waiting cab. It was seventy miles from Dover to the hospital, but the cab didn’t take us all the way. There were several train rides and a few more cabs before we arrived. Exhausted and in pain, the hospital, which looked more like a prison, did nothing to improve my temper.
“It was a mental asylum—before the war.” Simeon muttered by way of explanation.
Fantastisch. I was going to spend goodness knows how long in an insane asylum turned hospital.
The cab stopped in front of the gates and we got out. Simeon paid the cabbie, then turned towards the long iron gates, which were wide open. When our cab stopped, Simeon helped me out, gave me a crutch and then let me lean on his arm as he led me up the gravel drive.
Simeon opened the oak door and then I led me down a long hallway to a reception desk.
The receptionist, a young woman whose glasses gave her the appearance of an owl, glanced up as we entered. “Bennett, Alan?” she asked, in a disinterested voice, rifling through some papers on her desk.
Simeon gave a sharp reply in English and saluted the woman.
The receptionist peered at her papers, then asked another question.
The receptionist ordered us to sit down by waving at two chairs against the wall.
We sat down. I kept my mouth shut. Simeon’s words from yesterday were still burned into my mind—don’t squeak or you’ll end up with a bullet in your head. I closed my eyes, letting my memory wander over my childhood, my parents and my sister. The memories comforted my racing heart.
After we’d been sitting there for about fifteen minutes, a door to my right opened and two people entered the room. One was a tall, spectacled man with black hair and a clean-shaven face. He wore a long, white coat, and looked weary, as if the weight of the world was resting on his shoulders and crushing him.
He was a picture of defeat, but the nurse who followed him was brightness personified. She wasn’t pretty, but her smile lit the room and made her brown eyes sparkle.
She met my gaze and her smile grew wider. Dizziness struck me and I gripped the edge of the chair until my fingers turned white.
“Bennett?” The doctor glanced at me.
“Yes, sir.” Simeon jumped to his feet, gripping my arm and helping me up. We followed the doctor and his nurse into a room which was bare, apart from a tall examination table. This the doctor motioned for me to lay down on, and I did so, shivering as the cold table touch my spine.
“I am Dr Roberts,” the doctor said by way of introduction. He went on in English, speaking often to Simeon, Simeon answering him briefly each time. I caught the word ‘shell-shock’ several times in their conversation.
Dr Roberts listened, then he turned to look at me. He explained something, even though he believed I could not hear him, and that I couldn’t understand him at all. Then he unwound the bandages around my head and began to inspect my wound.
After he finished, the nurse re-bandaged my head and I felt little thrills go down my neck as she touched me. This is as foreign as the English language. What on earth was happening to me? I’d hadn’t known this woman for a quarter of an hour and yet she was already making me feel strange.
It must have been the hit on the head.
While the nurse bandaged my head, Dr Roberts examined my ankle. His face grew tight and grave and he probed the wound, causing me great pain. I clenched my teeth, concentrating on the gentle touch of the nurse, rather than the fire in my leg.
Dr Roberts looked at Simeon, said something, then paused, and added another sentence. He spoke to the nurse and gestured to my ankle. She nodded and fetched a needle from a tray, which she passed on to Dr Roberts.
I lay still while Dr Roberts injected me, again my only comfort being the nurse’s hand against my ankle. Drowsiness started to grip me, and through a mist I heard Simeon saying, “Good bye, Alan.” He was patting my shoulder.
I jolted myself awake again, terror at the prospect of being alone in a hospital full of enemies gripping me. I wanted to cry out, to struggle
But he was gone. An aching wound seeped into my heart and I closed my eyes, tears touching my eyelids. Loneliness covered me, dulled a little by the morphine, but still there…aching.
“Alan!” The nurse’s singsong voice broke me out of my desperate reverie. I looked up and her and her smile warmed my heart.
Orderlies carried me into the ward and put me to bed and I fell asleep not long after that. Dark shadows dragged at my mind, trying to pull me down into nightmare-ridden sleep. I clung to the smile of the nurse, frightened and alone, numb with the effects of morphine. But the nurse brought a ray of sunshine to my heart.
If I could cling to that sunshine, I would be all right.
I have no more prompting questions :l How are you, guys? What are you thinking of my poor little story and my poor little Wolfe so far?