The unspeakable pain that encases my head is so all consuming that for the first few minutes of consciousness, all I can do is remain completely still where I lay. By and by I manage, with my eyes still closed, to take a rough stock of my surroundings. The surface that I am stretched out on is hard, and there is the faint sensation of motion. Above me I can hear the low murmur of whispered conversation, then I remember Jan.
My eyes open quickly, too quickly I realise as my eyes react painfully to the light. I turn my head to find, with relief, that Jan is laying beside me. Her dark eyelashes are lying peacefully on her cheeks, so she must still be unconscious. I close my eyes again, trying to fight the nausea welling up within me but the motion is making it worse.
“Looks like one of them is coming round.” The voice is unfamiliar.
“Best thing you can do is turn her lights out for her.” Comes a second, faintly aggrieved, and more familiar voice.
I open my eyes again and blink slowly, carefully, a few times to bring the speakers into focus. There is a row of seats to each side of us, occupied by soldiers, four to a side. Their visors are up, and they stare down at our hitherto inert forms interestedly.
For some moments I stare at them as they are staring at me, before the hazy recollection that I am only wearing pyjamas crawls into my mind. It’s immediately followed by the reassuring secondary realisation that we have been further covered by rough woollen blankets.
There is a sudden lurch as movement stops, and the soldiers open the tailgate of what I now perceive is a truck. A moan beside me signals Jan’s struggle toward consciousness.
“Come on, missy, up you get.” One of the soldiers holds my arm, and is gently trying to encourage me to rise. “Come on, up you get; you’ll feel better soon.”
For a second I stare at him blankly.
Turning abruptly I throw up, and I hear rather than see him pull away from me.
“I’m really sorry.”
Again a wave of nausea sweeps over me and I convulse.
“I’m so sorry!” My voice is unsteady and my whole form trembling.
“That’s alright, missy, are you going to…” He makes a sketchy gesture.
“No, no; I’m fine now.” I can feel moisture standing icy cold on my brow.
“Come on now, missy.” He wraps the blanket around me more securely, and lifts me into his arms.
“James, lad, get the other one would you?” He calls over his shoulder.
I hadn’t realised that I’d been out of it for so long, but the sky is bright, and sunshine gives me a headache. Closing my eyes against the harshness of the light, the sickness I’m feeling lessens. I hear a door open, and the crunch of gravel ceases as he steps into a noisy room. I turn my head into his shoulder away from the glaring lights.
“And to the victor goes the spoil, hey, Simon?”
“Hello, sir, I’m glad to see you safe,” answers my captor.
“Have a bit of a struggle with her did you? I’d have thought…” The amused voice stops suddenly, and when he next speaks his voice is low. “You’d better get her to a bed.”
“Yes, sir, I’m on my way to the ward.”
“No!” His voice is harsh, and he moderates his tone for his next words. “She isn’t as bad as all that. She just needs some quiet; take her to a holding room.”
“But, sir, she’s had a nasty hit to the back of her head, shouldn’t a doctor—”
“Take her to the holding room, Simon, and be as quick as you can.” The voice commands authoritatively.
“But there’s another girl…”
“Then take them both!”
I’m only half aware of the conversation taking place, being more concerned by my discomfort than
anything else. We begin to move again and the hubbub gets fainter, until the only sound is that of Simon and James footsteps.
The bed that I am placed on is hard, and covered in a plastic that crackles when I move. I lay still listening to the sound of my captor creeping around the room quietly. Soon he comes to stand near the bed again.
“Here, missy; this’ll make you feel better.”
He raises my head and shoulders, and I sip gratefully at the water he is holding to my lips. When I’m finished he lays me gently back down on the bed, and I open my eyes into narrow slits. My helper is a tall man with thick gray hair and blue eyes.
“What’s your name?”
“Simon Rush at your service, missy,” he answers promptly. “And what’s yours?”
“Deeta Richards, please could you tell me what you’ve done with my sister?”
“She’s next door sleeping like a baby,” he answers. “So you’re sisters are you? I thought as much. What’s your sister’s name?”
“Jan… please sir; is she alright?”
I try to sit up at this juncture, but he pushes me back down.
“Don’t worry; she’s fine. She’ll have a headache like yours when she comes round, but she’ll be ok. The best thing both of you can do is sleep.”
The plastic covering crackles as he stands, but before he can leave I grab his hand.
“Thank you, Mr. Rush, for all your kindness; I’ll not forget it.”