Two Blind Men and a Fool
by Sherman Smith
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Chapter 4: Anrui
Henry tried but could not ignore the hostile looks, the anger and hatred that seemed to follow his every move during his first few days of orientation at the Veterans’ Hospital. He thought that he had been prepared. Now he felt insecure, anything but prepared, naked beneath a hot and unforgiving sun.
Prejudice is a living thing. You feed it and it multiples. You try to ignore it and it will surprise you with its ferocity. To kill it you have to cut off its food source, and he was that source. Like it or not, he had eight hours ahead of him in a ward filled with angry, dismembered veterans who had every reason to hate his very existence.
When he was first assigned to this ward, where men were still paying with their own flesh and blood for battles long lost or won, he wanted to turn and run. Every man has his breaking point and he knew that his was tracking his own shadow. If he bolted and ran now he would never get a scholarship to Stanford Medical School. He planned to study obstetrics, where he could bring life and hope into this world once so filled with death.
He stood at a window that overlooked a cold, windswept parking lot and the city beyond and watched as a wall of dense fog blew in from the ocean, obscuring the view one block at a time. He needed a warm, friendly sunset, not cold, gray gloom. Perhaps his father had been right: his dream of becoming a doctor was too lofty. Part of him wished that he could just go back home and grow artichokes alongside his dad. But the farm had been confiscated. While he had served his country his family languished in the Tule Lake Internment Camp.
“You’re looking chipper,” the ward nurse said. She lit a cigarette and handed him a clipboard. “You ready for this?”
It was their first meeting. She had been off duty during his orientation. He glued a smile on his inscrutable face and looked straight into her cool, emerald-green eyes. “No, but I’ll make do.”
“Stella Tate.” She held out her hand. Her smile was warm and sincere.
Henry took it in his as his heart fluttered a little. He had almost forgotten what the soft warmth of a woman’s hand felt like. And she was white and willing to shake his hand.
“I’ve read your file.” She gave a reassuring smile. A blue smoke circle danced between them as she exhaled. “You’ll do fine.”
“Thanks.” He took a deep breath and looked at his first patient’s chart. He did not need to read far before he knew there would be trouble.
Ivory Burch, age 28
Corporal, United States Marine Corps 1940-1946
P.O.W., Philippines. Escaped 1945
Dengue fever, malaria, etc, etc, etc.
If there was one patient in this entire hospital who would harbor a deep hatred of the Japanese it would be Ivory Burch. Great, Henry thought, hang me out to dry with a monsoon blowing up my ass.
In the wee hours of the morning Henry woke a patient, lifted his head for a drink, and administered a sleeping pill. The night shift had been quiet except for the mumbles, screams of terror, and whimpers that came every night. He suspected that in time he would get used to the night sounds, the sudden, startling cries in the dimly lit ward.
He had heard too many men cry out from where they had fallen on the battlefield. This was different. He felt useless. He busied himself reading the patient clipboards, familiarizing himself with every Tom, Dick and Harry. Their medical records said little about the real men who languished in the beds surrounding him. He walked on pins and needles to avoid conflict, knowing that his mere presence added to their pain. He did not want a confrontation and hoped for the best for the wounded veterans surrounding him.
Henry looked from the clipboard to Ivory as Ivory tossed fitfully in his sleep. Ivory was emaciated and looked a couple of decades older then his twenty-eight years. As a prisoner of war he had suffered severe weight loss, physical, mental, and spiritual deterioration.
His mental health was as much a cause of his infection as the multiple jungle parasites that plagued him. Ivory needed to have his stump ground to fit a prosthesis. If they waited much longer they would have to take more of the leg. Henry sighed, whispering aloud, “Anrui.”
“Pardon me?” Stella asked. She had come into the ward as quiet as an early spring breeze.
Henry bowed slightly, looking contrite, saying nothing at first.
Stella held her gaze on him until he answered. “Anrui,” he said in a low whisper, afraid that one of the patients might hear, “is a Japanese word that is difficult to translate.” His eyes roamed the room as he checked to see that they were not being overheard.
“Anrui is the kind of sorrow and pain that can’t be seen, a desperate anguish that takes away the will to live.” He held his hands up framing his face. “You see this face? It is the same color as the bastards who tortured and did everything short of killing this man. What do you think Ivory Burch is going to do when he sees me?” He looked Stella straight in the eye, “Please, I’m begging you.” This time he was too loud.
He hung the clipboard with Ivory’s charts at the end of his bed, changing his voice quickly back to a whisper. “Not this one, please. Move him to a different ward. Move me to a different ward.” They stepped out of the ward where they could talk easier.
“Doctor Garitty thought you might feel that way.” Stella said. “The answer is no. Henry, when you applied for the position you knew there were going be men here who have good reason to hate the Japanese. Men fed a diet of hate and violence don’t change easily. The politicians may have signed papers that says the war is over; meanwhile, men like Ivory Burch are thrown into a place like this because there isn’t any place else for them to go.
“If Ivory can’t find a way to confront his demons here he never will. And if he doesn’t it will kill him. You better than anyone else can help him get back what’s left of his life.”
She knew she was coming across too hard and softened her voice. “Henry, you have held men in your arms on the battlefield who just wanted to know why they were dying. You’ve seen the look of raw hatred in their eyes when they killed the enemy close up, or saw a buddy blown to bits.
“Hate and anger are two of the most debilitating wounds many of these men carry. How many Nisei have the same wounds and are unwilling to forgive the prison camps and the blind prejudice they and their families have lived through?” She searched his eyes with hers looking for an answer.
“Jesus, why do I feel like I’m a clay pigeon in a shooting gallery?” Henry’s eyes widened as someone in the ward screamed louder and longer than the others.
“Henry, you’re being summoned,” Stella said. “It’s Ivory. He’s asking for your help the only way he can.”
Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith