Paola Gonda

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This is an excerpt from one of the stories included in the anthology, Silver Linings: Stories of Love, Hope, and Courage in a Pandemic Setting. If you liked the story, please consider supporting the writer by buying the book.

I read the notes meant for her as I watched her sleep. There was never a day her family and friends have missed showing their undying love and encouragement for her, and so did I. I gently stroked her long and beautiful hair. That’s the most I could touch her without ever harming the both of us. 

Slowly her eyes opened. They twinkled with joy that she had again witnessed another day to embrace the hope of life. Yet they were brimming with unshed tears, of sadness that she had to endure again the pain of living in isolation, of seeing only me every day in this tightly closed, white room.

“Good morning.” Her chest heaved high and low as she took a deep breath, afterwards shutting her eyes firmly. When she opened her eyes, they seemed to wander around the room until they settled on me, near the window. Her lips called me underneath the mouthpiece. 

“Nurse Niko.” 

I pointed to the tray sitting at the table. “Time for breakfast.” 

She stretched a shaking arm at me, and I exactly know what to do. I grabbed her arm as she lifted herself up to sit on the bed. She pulled her mouthpiece down and put the medicine tablets in her mouth. The mornings became a routine since her confinement with coronavirus.

She stretched out her other arm with a forced smile. My eyes lingered on her tired yet beautiful face. I flashed a gentle smile behind my layers of mask and face shield, hoping she could see through them. With steady hands, I traced the old wound from the previous one with the syringe’s needle as I drew blood from her arm. I read the statistics and jotted down the progress in her profile.

“Thanks,” she murmured as she read all the recent notes, careful not to touch them. 

I took out my pen again with a sigh, ready for the special service I give her.

“Tell me what you want to tell them, Jenny. I’ll make sure they get across.” 

As quick as the unexpected rain, her tears fell. “Will you?” 

Oh, if she only knew. I will do anything so she won’t feel sad and I will fill all the empty spaces inside her heart for her not to feel alone.

“Please tell them I always read their letters, and that I am sorry I couldn’t write one back. Tell them I miss them, and it won’t be long before I come home. Please tell them.” 

I wrote them all, not missing a word, as I felt my shoulders shaking. I put the note in the pocket of my protective gear and left her room to attend to the needs of other patients suffering the same situation as her in this pandemic. I realized I have never hated quick visits until now. I want to extend these private moments with her. I didn’t know whether I was selfish or selfless.

The next day, I surprised her. 

“I’ll comb your hair.” I showed the brush I was hiding in my PPE. A beautiful and brave woman like her deserved a queenly treatment. 

She averted her eyes, and her face reddened. I snickered and stood behind her as she sat in the chair.

“Aren’t you afraid? You might get infected.”

I shrugged. “I am not touching you directly.” 

She nodded in understanding. She pointed to the brush I was holding and then to the trash bin.

“Throw it away afterwards.” 

More than anyone, it is I who was in pain when she treats herself like a virus. She crushed my efforts of pulling her back from the uncertainty of living whenever she spoke of yielding to the evil that has stripped away our freedom of action.

 It was the same freedom that allowed us to sense the tenderness of love – a love that can be found in another person.

“Do you do this, too, with other patients?” She pointed at her hair through the mirror.

“They are all bald seniors.” 

She laughed despite the pain of expressing it.

“Did you see the sunshine today?” she asked.

It was ironic that the rain has never fallen since this outbreak, and yet all I can see were fading, grey colors in the sky. The world had never appeared this lifeless to me before.

“I haven’t.” 

She closed her eyes and then whispered, “I will see the sun soon.” 

I tried remembering the last sunrise I have seen, feeling the nostalgic warmth it radiates in the cold and pinkish daybreak. I still found it in my memory.

“Can I see it with you?” I asked her.

“I want to see it with all of you.”

I watched her continue living her imagination, for we are all living today in the remnants of our glorious yesterday and the imagination of a brighter tomorrow.

Today, I pulled out another surprise from my PPE pocket. I realized that in the dark only can we see the colors shine. 

Her eyes widened and her lips curled to a smile at seeing the tiny, yellow flowers I was holding in my hand. She took them in her hands and began taking in the essence of the blooms that would have been left ignored and meaningless if we were in our normal state. I was seeing the beauty of the world, thanks to her optimism and radiance. 

Suddenly, her eyebrows scrunched. “Where did you get this?” 

“At the hospital garden.” 

I got another one from my pocket and tucked them in her right ear. Her smile became shy.

“Do I look better with this?”

“More than you could imagine.”

I was happy that my efforts continuously lifted her spirits up. But whenever I came home every night, I could not fall asleep. I carried a burden in my chest, wanting to stay by her side. 

I now understood, in great depths, the emotions that keep on troubling her at night—the worry of not seeing the same ceiling she wakes up to anymore. In my case, it was the fear of not seeing her to any further extent. The thought of only seeing her alive in her social media accounts and pictures haunted me, scared me.

“How are my results?” 

“They are way better.” 

She smiled behind the clear mask over her mouth. Her fighting spirit was working its way to defeat the unseen enemy living within her.

“I can’t wait to see the sunshine.” 

She can speak without restraint now. And it made me both happy and sad. The days I could spend with her grew shorter as the days went by.

I pulled out another mystery item from my pocket. She was wearing this bewildered look upon seeing my surprise. It’s my phone. 

I was breaching hospital employee protocols. But only by breaching the protocol can I show her the outside world. I wanted to boost her excitement and fighting spirit in multiple folds by showing her the magnificent things that await her outside.

“Your family and friends love you Jenny, and they are waiting for you.” 

I continued scrolling on my phone, showing her different sceneries I passed by from home until I arrived at work. There was longing in her eyes. She probably missed capturing every detail of her life as I have seen on her social media accounts.

And then I hit the camera button and set it. I took a photo of us and slid the phone back to my pocket. I now have a token of memory with her.

“You are becoming prettier each day. You’re also healing faster.”

“Thanks to you.”

We were healing each other in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Jenny, she was my source of strength and hope, second to God. She made me believe that I can conquer each day successfully. She awakened the compassion sleeping in me. Jenny made me learn to trust myself more. I learned to love the beauty within her from the times we have spent together. Her optimism and radiance were her parting gift to me. That was the charge I needed to my battery, the drive I needed to continue on in this battle as I faced other patients.

I felt the note in my pocket. This will be my last gift to her, which I want her to hold with bare hands. Tomorrow, they will discharge her. 

I slowly opened the door, my heart throbbing erratically. It must be because I was happy and thankful for her recovery. Or it can also be sadness that this will be our last day together. The note would be my last gift. It contained my feelings and everything I have learned, thanks to her. 

 “Nurse Niko!” Her voice was a real melody to my ears. 

The blush on her cheeks and the color of lips were signs that she is no longer the sick Jenny I used to take care of. She was a brand new Jenny who survived the deadly illness. She was a new Jenny, full of strength, hope and warmth.

“Congratulations!” I blinked back the tears that were brimming in the corner of my eyes. I can’t wipe them behind my personal protective gear. In the end, I just let them all out.

We were both crying. They were a mixture of happiness and sadness, but the former prevailed. I can feel it in her tight embrace as she let all her tears out. I can only sob quietly, for our front liners always had to be stronger.

“I’ll wait for you so we can see the sunshine together.”

“After this, Jenny. I promise.”

My heart was swelling with joy. Together, we had conquered this illness. Together. We conquered. We survived. 

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