There’s a man standing in the children’s ward. His suit is brown, tattered, and dirty, his hair is dropping from the rain. His head hangs low and his voice only mutters, but in the quiet of the hospital at night we can hear what he says. “She has nothing,” he repeats. “She is so small. So new. And all she has in this world is me,” he says.
He turns to us now, and the knife in his hand gleams against the sterile light of the room’s lone lamp. “All she has is me, and I am nothing. Why should she deserve this? She shouldn’t know this, while so small and with nothing.”
I shout again for him to drop his weapon, to step away from the baby girl. He sees my military uniform, but rejects its meaning; sees my gun pointed at his chest, but dismisses its authority. His foot shifts and his hand twitches, and I command he be still! A pause, a still moment in time, slows the air…
And seconds later, he’s dead.
Then the sirens wake, blaring their warning of American bombs. Like an ocean wave, people roar through the hospital. A woman, the baby girl’s sponsor, comes up to me. She says, “there are others. She has siblings. I can give you names. There are others, I will give you names.”
An answer catches in my throat, but the woman’s eyes look into my own with a pleading intensity that squeezes the air in my chest. I timidly nod and place a hand on her shoulder. I see my hand is dirty, worn, and is the culprit of many things, things that no longer have the same meaning.
“I will watch her,” I say. “Go.”
“But there are others,” she repeats. “I-I can give you names.”
“She will be fine, I will watch her. I will watch her.”
In that moment, my heart crumbled and was gravel within my chest. I was lying to her, and all parties know it. She is aware, I am aware, yet the words repeat.
“I can give you names.”
“She will be fine. Go.”
Like one cast adrift, the tide of people carries her away. I turn to look at the child in her crib, to the dead man at my feet. The sirens continue to wail as I lean over and pick her up.
She’s…so soft. She unmarred, unfettered by this life – perfect. She’s warm, and so small. And within her tiny chest, an unknowing heart beats.
“I will watch her.”
“She has only me, she has nothing.”
“There are more. I can give you names.”
“She will be fine. I will watch her.”
“She has nothing.”
“There are more.”
“I will watch her.”
The room flashes. In the distance, booms shake the Earth and flames glass its surface. I hold the infant tight, a shield for her ignorance, a lost purpose given to fire and steel.