Ahmed watches as they remove the bandages from his leg. The surgeon had told him the operation was a success, and the physiotherapist would be around as soon as the wound was cleaned and bandaged again.
His attention, however, continues to drift back to his problem. Being in police custody doesn’t fit in with his plans. As soon as he can manage to walk, he’ll use his money and his influence and his network. There is no way they’re going to keep him here for a trial. Spending a lifetime in South African jails! Forget it! He, Ahmed, is used to a life of luxury, and he intends keeping it that way.
The physiotherapist is a surprise. She’s young. Cute. Dressed in a well-fitted uniform, Ahmed cannot but help to think she’ll be on one of his lists soon. A girl with such beauty and such a body would surely fetch a good price. He’s reasonably sure she’ll have to spend quite some time with him during his rehabilitation, so he’ll have ample opportunity to find out all he needs to know about her.
She’s working on his operated leg. The one they plated and screwed back into place after the unfortunate incident next to the road near Upington.
“Is it sore here?” Her liquid-brown eyes seem concerned as she presses against the muscles of his calf. “There’s some swelling around your ankle as well.”
His whole leg ha been sore since the femur fractured. He shrugs and tells her so.
When she lifts his leg, the change starts.
It’s a strange feeling – a type of rushing in his chest – something that makes big beads of sweat suddenly appear on his forehead. He tries to speak, but then the pain in his chest kicks in, leaving him quite literally breathless.
He sees the girls face blanch, her eyes widen in fright.
“Are you alright?” Her voice is louder than he expected.
He tries to tell her about the pain in the chest with anxious hands clawing at his ribs. No, damn it! I’m not! Can’t you see? I’m suffocating! Give me air! Help me…!!! But something has gone wrong. He knows he wants to shout out the words, but somehow his tongue, his mouth, his lungs, won’t cooperate.
She rushes off to the corridor, shouting something about Code Blue. Maybe it’s only a second, maybe it takes eternity, but soon he’s aware of a lot of people around, busy with machines and pipes and injections.
And….suddenly…strangely…inexplicably so, he’s aware that he’s looking down at himself, where a team of doctors and nurses are working in quiet desperation to resuscitate the dying body he used to inhabit. It doesn’t upset him to see them pulsing electricity through his unresponsive heart muscle. He can hear the ribs crack under the pressure of the hands doing the cardiac compressions. The tube forced down his trachea doesn’t hurt him.
They really try. When at last they stand back, his body lies still. The tracing light on the monitor is a flat line. Even now, Ahmed looks down on the scene in unconcerned distraction. Somehow it doesn’t matter. His life is over. He feels himself lifting away, swept upwards at an alarming rate, through a tunnel of white. So this is what dying is all about? It is so peaceful…
But then the screams start. Raging, ragged howls of fury. Skeletal finger reach for him, dragging him away from the light. A thousand – no, a million –grotesque faces combine to form a mosaic of disgust and revulsion. And then the little band of children appears. He recognises some of them. The little Arab boy. The Italian girl. And there –there is the small kid who cried so much, pleading him to take him back to his mother.
All of them, every one, are coming to get him. Ahmed, the child smuggler, is about to find out what it means to spend eternity in Hell.
Doctor Goedhart calms the young physiotherapist down.
“It’s not your fault, young lady. Pulmonary emboli are common after such injuries. We had him on prophylaxis, but it’s no guarantee.” He looks into her pleading eyes and wishes he could take away the pain of losing your first patient. “Look, the transition from life to death is instantaneous. He had no pain. He’s at peace now…”
She lifts her chin and tries to smile. “Thank you, Doctor,” she whispers.
She’ll cry herself to sleep tonight, wishing she could believe the well-meant words. There was something so terrifying in Ahmed’s eyes when they closed them afterwards…