I remember getting to the hospital and the heels of my feet cracked. The air was cold and dry; my skin was unaccustomed to the harsh new climate. After showers, I had to coat my sores with Vaseline and protect my extremities by putting on those blue fuzzy socks with the rubberized treads on the soles. I still have those things and I call them Totes. I'm not sure if this is the correct name for them but for some reason I recall having having a similar pink pair in my childhood. Totes is what I called them when I was a kid. I guess the name stuck.
From the place where I came, I didn't need any shoes at all. I would walk through the forest in my bare feet on account of the mud. The paths were smooth and worn. The ground gave way with the kindness of love and there was a pleasant "thud thud" that accompanied my travels. Humidity and rain kept everything soft, including the skin on the back of my feet.
And because it was December, the days were long there. The wind blew gently and in the evening I could go where I liked once the heat relented. And so, I often passed the small river where the girls - including [*****] - would bathe and wash their dishes and clothes. And if it wasn't [*****] standing there bare-chested and fourteen, smiling and waving without an ounce of shame, it would be her slightly younger sister doing the same exact thing.
"Where are you going jaisikka?" they would ask.
"For a walk," I would reply.
And I replied in a way that never revealed my awkwardness at seeing them nude. I replied as though I had grown up seeing young girls washing themselves in a stream along the side of the road all my life. I responded and smiled in a way that implied this was nothing new. And I replied in a way that said there should be no shame in showing your breasts. Likewise, there should be no shame in feeding your child.
From there, I would continue on my walk. I would climb the hill toward the next village over and chat briefly with the people who passed. But usually it was just me alone with the river, bamboo, palms, and rice patties. The day had pretty much come to a close. Everyone already returned home and had begun to cook dinner for the night. And although it was getting late and the sun almost gone, I liked to see the smoke hang over the village as I descended the hill on my return. I liked to look down on the "town of peace" and know I was a part of it. I liked to feel and hear my bare feet thudding on the ground below me.
..... and then I remember sitting on the floor of my room in the hospital with my back against the bed thinking to myself the walls were so solid and the air was so still. I remember walking up and down the hallway with nowhere else to go. I remember there being no sun as the 21st approached. I remember the Christmas decorations and carolers who failed to make eye contact. I also remember in front of the nurses' station a tank with fish that swam back and forth looking for a way to get out.
And I remember thinking I knew exactly how they felt.