The strangers watched the boy through the safety of a one-way mirror, observing quietly his every move. They were too quiet, the doctor had decided, she didn’t like this one bit.
Doctor Clara Banco had watched the boy herself, many many times. But, and she felt the different was fundamentally important, she had watched from a clinical concern, a compassion, and yes, a love. These strangers had none of those attributes. They made her nervous. So she stood, making up for their stillness with her fidgeting, wringing her hands together in a dry parody of cleanliness procedures.
The boy, oblivious to this attention, simply carried on what he always did when he thought he was alone. He played. After all he was only ten years old, what had they expected? The boy was too unknowing to be depressed, too naive to be concerned. Clara felt her pulse racing with anxiety. What did they want from him?
One of the strangers, the tall woman, turned finally to Clara with an audible sigh of frustration.
‘This is all?’ she asked, a slight accent to her speech that Clara failed to locate. Not local though.
‘Eh?’ Clara replied, knowing she seemed stupid, clumsy.
‘This is all he does?’ the woman asked again.
‘Oh. Well, yes.’ Clara, feeling confident in her knowledge of the boy, if of nothing else around here, walked towards the glass now, feeling a sensation of prideful ownership which she acknowledged to be wholly inappropriate. ‘I mean, he does all the usual things. He eats, sleeps, talks, plays.’ She smiled as she saw the boy pulling down the top sheet of the bed to make a den beneath it, to hide from their penetrating view.
‘And yet this is the only world he had known?’ the shorter man joined in now, only Clara could see the boy, his body ruffling the sheet as if in shadow.
‘More or less. He has been here, to the hospital, since he was about six months old. This area was built for him soon after and he’s been here ever since.’
‘And the parents?’ the woman again. All these questions and yet the flow of information was all one way. Clara had been accommodating enough for now.
‘That’s complicated.’ She paused, gathering courage. ‘Now, why don’t you tell me why you are here and what you need?’ Clara crossed her hands in front of her chest, trying to look stern and matronly, trying to look more important than she felt.
The strangers exchanged a private look and Clara was gratified to see that she had perturbed them at last, perhaps even surprised them.