• Light.

    I can't make out his face very clearly through the small, dirty window, but he will be my roommate. The woman next to me opens the door on a pathetic sight.
    He rocks back and forth, tears streaming down his pale face, mucus running from a red nose. The sight of this makes my stomach lurch in something I haven't felt in quite a time; pity.
    He mutters under his breath, a short mantra:
    "Mama loves no more than two, no more than two, no more than two"
    My head shall burst I know, if I am to listen to this day in and day out for the next three weeks. All the same, the woman gives me a less-than-gentle shove on the back and closes the door behind me. I hear the lock click and give a great, heaving sigh.
    An asylum. Why an asylum?
    I'm here for processing, as I'm foreign. All the hostels and inns in this town are full and I've been placed here, temporarily. Perhaps temporarily, I remind myself, recalling the horrible stories of people like me, placed in a filthy excuse for living quarters and forgotten by the State.
    The place really is filthy. The tile floor is cold and grimy, caked with dirt. The walls on one side have been scratched by fingernails, it seems, till the wallpaper is nothing but ribbons.
    The one unoccupied bed, which can only be mine, has a gray frame worn with age, a thin mattress, stiff with stains, and a threadbare little blanket. Hanging from the bottom are thick leather straps.
    There's a small lavatory in the back. No door. I'm guessing my roommate and I will be seeing a lot of each other. The toilet is disgusting and the small shower head is green with lime and calcium deposits.
    The one source of light, a window, is barred shut.
    What a dismal place, no wonder anyone who comes here must stay here, anything as unkempt as this would drive even a saint to insanity.
    I gaze over at my roommate. His complexion disturbs me. It's the kind of color you can only achieve if you've been inside for many years. He's got dark hair, long and matted, in need of a good brushing. He has blue eyes, which might have been attractive once, but now look bloodshot and puffy from constant crying. It's pathetic.
    He seems to take no notice of me, as yet, however.

    After a while, just when my stomach begins to rumble with hunger, the same woman from before walks in and sets a tray down without a word to either of us. I take my share and eat it quickly. It's not bad, surprisingly. The meat is tender and the vegetables taste fresh.
    When I've finished my meal, the light outside my window has begun to dwindle. My roommate's food remains untouched.
    I take what's left of the water and splash it on the floor. I use the hem of my skirt to begin to scrub at years of neglect. After another hour, the floor looks loads better and I smile at my work.
    I notice a chart at the foot of the boy's bed, and being the busybody that I am, I begin to read it.

    Patient Surname: ---
    Patient Name: Nuri
    Diagnosis: Severe dementia
    Prognosis: Condition is stable and permanent.

    It's not very in-depth, but it satiates my curiosity for now.
    Nuri. I remember the name from somewhere, it means light. A pretty name with a pretty meaning for one so very ill.
    I put the chart back and sit on the bed, finding myself quite tired.
    I lay back and let sleep take me.


    I wake to Nuri's face, only inches from my own.
    A fat tear drips from his eye onto my cheek and I jump back, surprised.
    "Excuse me," I say, pushing him away. The pity is back with a vengeance
    "Who are you?" He asks me, coming closer, he has the accent of one whose family is well off, like mine. This boy might have been rich once.
    I'm surprised he still remembers how to communicate.
    "My name's Gemma." I answer.
    This seems to be enough knowledge for him, as he walks back to his bed and sits down.
    "You cleaned the floor." He says suddenly.
    "Yes." I say standing and adjusting my dress.
    He nods and begins murmuring to himself again, a signal that our conversation has come to an end.
    The woman comes with breakfast and I use my share of the water to clean the toilet. Someone must know I'm cleaning, as there's a scrubbing brush next to my food. I've never been one for women's work, but this has to be done, if only for the sake of my health.
    I scrub for a while, listening to Nuri's chatter. When I'm finished, I notice that he's stopped.
    When I look over at him, he's asleep.
    I shrug and wait for lunch.

    When it comes, Nuri sits on the floor, picking at the tray of food, but not really eating any of it.
    "Not hungry?" I ask.
    Nuri turns on me, glaring fiercely.
    "It's mine." He says, his eyes narrowed.
    I'm bewildered to say the least, and I back away.

    He goes to his bed and falls asleep, seemingly exhausted by his outburst.
    In the morning, he still hasn't woken. Two days pass like this, Nuri sleeps most of the time, not eating.
    Despite my usually hard character, I feel myself beginning to worry for the boy.

    The next day, the woman comes in with breakfast. I'm worried, so I decide to ask her about Nuri.
    "What happened to him?" I ask quietly, looking at Nuri.
    "'E's a murderer." She says. "Killed 'is own sisters and mother, 'e did. Wen' crazy after that, like 'e knew what 'e done was wrong."
    My mouth falls open and I blink a few times. The pallid, listless boy in the bed seems a far cry from a murderer.
    "Ah," I squeak, and she leaves.

    I shrug off what she's told me, even though it makes sense. I tell myself that they wouldn't put me in a room with a murderer. But after seeing the dismal condition of the room, I can only wonder: What wouldn't they do?

    One morning, I wake to coughing. Nuri is sitting up in bed, one hand over his mouth, one on his chest, cough after cough wracking his body.
    When he's finished, his body shakes all over and he lays down in bed, drawing the covers up to his chin.
    I walk over, biting my lip.
    "Are you alright?" I ask, feeling awkward.
    He shrugs and closes his eyes.

    The next morning is the same. Nuri coughs and coughs. Again, I go to him and ask if he's alright. He shakes his head.
    "I'm going to touch your forehead." I say.
    He nods, giving me permission.
    His forehead is warm, but not feverish. I sigh in relief.
    "You're alright." I say.
    But Nuri only shakes his head.

    Nuri is fitful and feverish during that next night. He cries out and thrashes in his sleep.
    I sit watching him, too bewildered to sleep.
    "I'm sorry! So, so sorry.." He whimpers and I find myself standing and walking to him.
    He wakes up and looks at me, seeming angry.
    "Go away..." He says halfheartedly.
    But I stay. I sit on the bed with him and pat his shoulder awkwardly. He looks up at me, calm again and closes his eyes.

    He grows worse each day. His fever soars and he begins to bring up blood with each coughing fit. Each time he catches sight of his own blood, he cries out and clings to me.
    At night, I don't leave him alone. When I try, he holds my arm and cries my name.
    As he continues to grow sicker, I begin to lose some of my awkward bedside manner. I hold him while he sleeps and calm him during nightmares.
    One specific night, he woke suddenly and looked up at me. He then rested his head on my chest and embraced me. As I wrapped my arms around him, I felt a motherly affection I'd never known before.

    During that night, he develops sores on his back and chest. They are swollen, red and hot. I have to clean them.
    I bring him to the shower and undress him, not caring about the scandal of being alone with a naked boy. I wash out the sores and Nuri screams in pain.
    I bring him back to his bed, not bothering to dress him. He's crying, clinging to me and whimpering like a child.
    Without warning, he brings up bile and blood, vomiting it onto his bed.
    "Gemmaaaa" He draws out the last 'a' in my name. The last syllable becomes a moan.
    "Oh, Nuri..." I say.
    "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry" He says feverishly, tears running down his face.
    "No, no" I say, my resolve weakening further. "It's alright..."
    I bring him to my bed and tuck him under the blankets.
    "There," I say. "You see? Everything's alright..."
    He sniffs and nods, laying back in bed.
    I discover I am exhausted. I fall asleep slumped over Nuri's body.

    I wake to screaming.
    "Gemma, Gemma, Gemma" Over and over, Nuri calls my name.
    I rub the sleep from my eyes and discover the source of his pain.
    The same sores that plague his body, now cover his eyes as well. They are swollen shut and oozing pus.
    "Shhh" I say quietly. "I'm here."
    His breathing slows and he falls asleep again within minutes.

    With that day's afternoon meal comes bandages.
    I take Nuri over to the shower again, but this time, he knows what's coming and fights me.
    "No! It hurts!" He says, pushing at me.
    "Nuri, I need to clean them or you won't get better." I tell him.
    "I'm not going to get better." He says, so certain of himself.
    "Nonsense." I say. "Now hold still..."
    Eventually, I get him cleaned and bandaged, though by the end, he's crying again.
    I hold him tightly and help him back to bed.
    I lull him to sleep again, petting his hair and neck.


    I wake of my own accord that next morning, a welcome pleasure. Nuri sleeps soundly, even though I've fallen asleep across his torso again.
    He's cooler than he was last night and I'm glad of it.
    I prod him, wanting to tell him that he's improved, but he doesn't wake.
    I turn him over. It is then that I notice that Nuri is not breathing.
    I stumble back, away from the body. He's dead. Dead.
    The word echoes through my head over and over until I fear I, too will go mad. Tears fall freely down onto my cheeks
    The woman, as if on cue, steps into the room.
    She sees the body and my tears, makes a 'tsk' noise and shakes her head.
    "Ain't no use cryin' for that one, love." She says to me. "'E don't deserve no one's pity."