in their faces

i saw her crying, her head nestled into the older woman’s – her mother? her aunt? – shoulder. she was crying too. a teenage girl looked on silently two beds away. there was a striking resemblance between her and the little girl who continued sobbing as the older woman – her cousin? her grandmother? – whispered comfort into her ears.

the bed in between was empty. the cardiac table at the end of the bed was occupied by two files and a house officer, who read the notes quietly, jotting a few words once in awhile, throwing the girls looks of obvious sympathy during intervals of scribbling.

i joined her after watching them for a moment. the doctor was only writing in one file, so i took the other and started reading.

it’s an understatement to say that i’ve led an extremely sheltered life.

of course, i have friends who have battled eating disorders, physical and verbal abuse from loved ones, depression, addictions…but most of them wised up, sought professional help and overcame those problems without me having starred prominently in their lives. in other words, we were always separated by an email account, a telephone number or a house address. there was a sense of detachment in whatever way you see it.

but right there in the case file, in the faces of those two sisters, was lines of pain and real anguish. they were only children, yet they could easily be a hundred years old. no one should ever go through what they’ve been through. and for once, i realised that the darker side of what children can experience is not confined to episodes of oprah; it happens right here in our terrace-housed neighbourhoods.

i don’t envy the older woman – their neighbour? their teacher? – at all. she doesn’t have a computer screen between her and their pain. i can only imagine what it must be like for her and the girls.

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