With sincerest apologies, I welcome you to the story absolutely no-one needed right now. And with sincerest honesty, I hope that you and your loved ones are well. Hang in there, everyone!


I had a little bird

She wants them to stop dying.

That's the only coherent thought she can grasp. She wants them to stop dying and there's nothing she wouldn't do, no price she wouldn't pay, if it meant the dying would stop. She promises to never again ask for anything in her life if only they survive.

Not that it matters. Nothing she does makes any difference, because nothing she does can make it stop. They just keep on dying.


The flu, they call it and every time they do, there's a laugh in her throat that tastes of bitterness and bile. This is no flu. Flu is a runny nose and a cough and some fever and maybe a bit of ache all around. This… she has no name for what this is. It's a killer, a murderer, but one they can't see. It's invisible and invincible and insatiable. They do what they can, but it just continues its merry dance, undeterred. It's a ring-a-ring-o'-roses of the fatal kind and the virus doesn't care that no-one wants to play.

We all fall down.


There's a clock on the wall, but through her tired eyes, it's blurry. She squints hard and the clock comes into focus. It's half past seven and she realises that she can't say whether it's morning or night. It's dark outside, but she doesn't know if it's still dark or only just.

She tries to remember whether it was light or dark earlier, but the only thing she remembers is yet another one dying and anyway, what difference does it make if it's day or night? The hour matters no more than the day does and she doesn't even begin to try and unravel whether it's still Tuesday or perhaps already Friday after all.


They drown. You'd think that it wouldn't be possible, to drown in a hospital bed – or a hospital, anyway, since there are never enough beds – but it is. Their lungs are filled with fluid and where there's fluid there's no air, so they drown.

They know it, too. She can see it in their eyes, staring listlessly from blue-tinged faces. She can hear it in their words, ripped from blackened lips. She can feel it in the clamminess of their skin, bruised in violet and blue. She can taste it in the rotten air gurgling up from half-destroyed lungs. She can smell it in the hopelessness that fills the ward. She never knew that lack of hope had a smell but it does and it makes her feel sick to her stomach.


There are tears in her eyes, but not from crying. She can't remember the last time she had the energy to cry. She's just so tired, so unbelievably tired, that her eyes burn from the sheer exhaustion of keeping them open.

She can't recall the last time she closed her eyes. She doesn't want to call it sleeping. It's not like sleep. There's nothing soft about it. It's an abyss you plunge into, a brief respite, until they drag you up again and you go on. It's unconsciousness, maybe, or something darker. Death in instalments, is what it feels like. As if, every time her eyes close, a little part of her dies. She wonders if there'll be a day when no-one can drag her back up from the abyss again. A day when she just doesn't get up anymore, to continue sleeping, or whatever this is.


"You."

There's a man pointing at her, but she does not bother to look at him. He could be faceless, for all she cares. She would like him to be less a cart, too, but alas, he isn't. On his cart are... people, or maybe bodies. She can't quite tell. They don't look very alive anymore, but there's still a chance that they haven't been brought here dead but only to die.

"Where to put them?"

So, not dead, after all. Not yet, that is.

She looks for a free spot for the bodies - people - on the cart. A spot, not a bed, because that would be ludicrous. There's a small space by the door that she's sure she already directed patients to today. They're gone now, so that means they're no longer alive. She points and wonders whether this lot will be more fortunate.


She's heard that in France, they triage the wounded, to decide who gets treatment and who doesn't. She's jealous. Deciding who to treat means you can treat them. She can't. She just watches them die. She'd rather be in France, where there's a choice and a chance. They don't have those luxuries here.

They have nothing here. Nothing to help their fight. Wounds, they could stitch up. Limbs, they could take off. Minds, they could sooth. But this virus, they can't fight. And nothing, nothing, prepared her for this. Months and months spent treating soldiers and she thought she'd seen it all.

How wrong she'd been.


She knows it when she looks at him, this nameless, fateless man.

Dead.

"Dead."

"We need the bed. Help me." The nurse points at the body.

She goes around the bed and puts her hand on the knees of the dead patient. The skin is still warm.

On three, they roll the body around and over the side of the bed. It hits the ground with a thud, no more than a lifeless weight. They go from person to patient to body so quickly, sometimes within the space of a day. It makes her feel disoriented, or it would, if she had any sense of direction left at all.


Once, when it began, she thought it must end one day. It must end because everything must end, even this war, even this flu. She was still naïve, then. She still hoped and she believed because that's what she did, who she was. Have Faith, they said, and she laughed and did.

She doesn't, anymore. She can't say what keeps her going, what makes her get up and go on, every day and every hour. Maybe it's because she tries, because she always tried. Tries to rip one of these chocking, gasping, spluttering creatures from the jaws of their silent killer. She tries, because not to try would be to give up and she's never been one to give in without a fight.


And yet still, they die.