Hills Like White Infirmaries
By Wagiha Mariam
The story focuses on the point of view of a young girl watching her mother get treated for a cold at a local clinic. After her mother is treated, she is unrecognizable.
The cobblestone ground and tall street lights of uptown Manhattan remained luxurious for an eleven year old. On this side of town there wasn’t any heavy marijuana scent, nor were the sidewalks littered with fast food and plastic bags. Close to the side of the 6 train station, office workers began to pour from buildings. My mom, who was silent the entire train ride, squeezed my hand, and said that we had to enter through the back door. I asked her if Dad would pick us up, and she said he refused. I thought to myself that the building looked to be the same size as my middle school, around two floors tall and quite wide. I saw the figure of a woman storming at us, angrily shouting at my mother.
“JESUS LOVES YOU; DON’T DO THIS. YOU’LL REGRET IT!”
My mother kept her head down and continued to walk quickly while gripping my hand. I turned around to look at the scowling woman as she tried to claw at my backpack. I quickly jerked forward, petrified, and clung to my mother as we darted to the back door. A man pulled us into the entryway and forced the door shut. I heard the woman’s screams again before we were guided to a seating area to wait.
I watched them wheel my mother into a medical room. Mom told me she’d been going through an awful cold recently. She said it was a really bad cold and if she didn’t take care of it soon, the doctors said it might even kill her. I had pneumonia when I was younger, but it was nothing like this.
Two doctors walked side by side. One wore a long white cloak. She clicked her pen against her board.
“We should check the echocardiogram to make sure she doesn’t have tachycardia.”
“She says she’s been dealing with paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnoea at home.”
“She’s dealing with orthopnoea right now.”
“It’s fine. She’ll be alright when the treatment is over.”
The staff told me to sit in the waiting area because it wasn’t safe for me to be around my mother right then. They told me my mother would be treated in an hour, which was really long to treat a cold if you ask me. I couldn’t explain it, but the very thought of us staying there made me uncomfortable.
The entryway was blocked with security officers. All of a sudden, two teenagers began shouting at one of the ladies at the front desk.
“What do you mean I can’t get it done without a doctor’s approval? If I wait another week, then I’ll have to get it done in another state. I need to get it done here, right now.” One of them shoved the lady and walked to the door behind the front desk.
“Ma’am, you are over five months. You know you cannot get it done here.” The yelling became muffled, and the couple was forced out the entryway, where I could still hear the screams of the lady outside.
Her voice croaked and I felt her trembling from across the room. Something about her— bloodshot, unfocused eyes, her dress hanging off her body as if it were a clothing rack, giving the appearance of something there—made me feel like there was something wrong. Even in this place, where everything indicated it was a regular hospital. There were hand sanitizer dispensers on the wall, but no one was using them. There were beds with rooms, but they were packed and I heard arguing from inside of them.
In the middle of my thought process, my mother came from the room. A nurse was holding onto her. I couldn’t read her face, and I couldn’t tell if it was a blank expression. Her walk was a step slower, and her hands were weirdly placed, as if they wouldn’t leave her stomach. Her mouth was pursed shut as if she had surrendered her ability to speak. She looked sicker than when she had entered. Incessant streams ran down her cheek when she saw me.
I didn’t know if it was proper to ask her if she was okay. People always say it’s rude to tell people to “feel better,” but to rather say things like, “I hope your symptoms get better.” But I didn’t even know what her symptoms were. At this moment, it felt like the entropy of the hospital stopped.
At this moment in time, I felt like I could not recognize my mother.
I knew we would go home by train again. Would we sit in silence the entire time? The nurse tilted her head at me and frowned. She told me to hold my mother’s hand while she brought out some papers.
“Do you feel better?” I asked.
“I feel fine,” my mother said. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.”
I originally told my mentor about the topic of the piece, and she introduced me to Hemingway. We dissected the first paragraph and I decided to introduce the piece from the perspective of a young girl; I wanted to imitate the same level of tension but with a simple, central plot. I thought the dialogue did not have to be complex for it to convey the same ideas. The piece was not written to convey any message about the procedure, but was simply a way for me to re-interpret another short story in a more local lens.
Wagiha Mariam is a student who challenges herself with her pieces. She loves writing for different purposes. It allows her to express moments of resonance and reflection: the feeling of making brush strokes to a piece without seeing a single color or physically speaking without uttering a word. She has written anecdotes, some of which are her own, but explore important topics like honor killings, race, and some of her personal interests like sign language. In her free time, she can be seen exploring a true crime podcast or catching up on a thriller novel.