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I am Seven
“We said that didn’t we?”
“I’m Niko. Short for Nikolas.”
“Yeah.” Niko blinks in the blazing fluorescent haze and rubs the tip of his nose. “How old are you?”
“I’m seven,” I tell him.
“Oh,” he giggles. “Did you forget the ‘teen’ part?”
His eyes ask me a thousand questions, flicking all around, scooping in the world around him like those big plastic gloves my mom wears when she’s picking up leaves in our gargantuan backyard. But his mouth can’t possibly say all of those words. So many words crowd inside Niko’s head, jostling, jiggling, jumping. It’s a real hullabaloo in there, and no mistake. I know because Niko has unconsciously written that all over his own body. His arms and legs squirm in the plastic blue chair underneath him, and his sneakers are somehow always falling off, and asking in a pleading voice “Please. Please put me back on your feet Niko. I don’t like it down here.”
Niko and I don’t like it down here either.
We have three things in common. We’re seven, and we hate hospitals. I am here for monthly CAT scan number two, and he is here for a leukemia treatment. That also means we’re both sick, which is three things.
What we don’t have in common is that my body is ten years older than his. Is that he dislikes hospitals because they smell funny, and he can’t sit still long enough to truly see anything in front of him. I don’t like hospitals because they don’t like me. And besides, leukemia and I are very different. Loki says that leukemia and I are both sicknesses, of a sort, so they aren’t differences. They aren’t similarities either though.
“What’s your name?”
“You mean like the Indy 500?”
One thing I hate about little kids is that disappointed face they make. Crestfallen. It’s funny to me, thinking that small children have crests to fall. I don’t think Niko’s pride was really hurt though, especially since he continued to chatter a moment later, any trace of remorse vanished.
“I don’t like Nascar. But my cousin Tyler does. He’s older than me. I don’t care though. Mama says that age is just a number. She says that all the time to my big sister, Katya. Dada doesn’t think so though. He doesn’t like Katya’s boyfriend. He gets angry ‘cause he thinks they make sex. ‘Little girls shouldn’t do that’ he yells all the time. Mostly at dinner. I don’t care though. My soup tastes just the same whether dada yells or not.”
Niko looks at me now, eyes narrowing. He looks like an Irish setter, poised.
I’m expecting him to ask me some question about sex and whether I have a boyfriend. What am I supposed to say to a seven year old leukemia patient who asks me about sex? The second thing I don’t like about little kids is their innocent curiosity. I envy them.
“Do you think yelling makes soup taste worse?” he asks.
“Really, really.” This is almost a redeeming question, this soup inquiry. Almost.
Niko was just about to ask me something equally strange when his mother came bustling into the waiting room, followed by a sullen looking girl of about 15. Katya, I assume.
The mother speaks in a harsh language. It sounds like she’s scolding, but how can I know? I don’t speak Russian. Or Latvian, Ukrainian, Yugoslavian. Whichever.
The girl sits down next to me.
“Sometimes,” she sighs, “I hate Niko. Is that wrong?”
I blink, and look behind me.
She laughs. “Yes, I am talking to you. I’m sorry, you don’t even know me. I couldn’t help myself, it just came out.”
What, I’m wondering. Something ‘came out’ from where? And why?
“I am Katya.” She sees my discomfort. “Are you a patient? Or are you waiting for someone?”
“I’m a patient.”
Katya has the same embarrassed expression as Niko when she says ‘oh’. A funny, little, rounded look, lips not quite making an “o” shape but oval and the cheeks flattened on the sides, stretched and pink.
I am not looking at Katya though.
A large African-American woman in pink flowered scrubs pushes through the waiting room doors. She reads her clipboard, a look akin to incredulity registering under her eyebrows.
“Indy?” she calls. “Indy G.?”
I stand up stiffly.
Everyone else in the room stares. They always do.
‘What an odd name.’ they think to themselves. ‘She’s so normal looking. Where do you suppose she got a name like that?”
I want to tell them that I gave it to myself; to scream that I have a mind of my own. They aren’t interested anymore though. In a second each one of them is engrossed in his own activity, reading a magazine, fitting together a wooden puzzle, watching the subscripts on the television, text messaging her notorious boyfriend.
“Indy?” My aid asks again.
I follow her through the double doors and down another long, bright hallway. This whole building is long and bright; filled with alternating white and grey rooms. Monotony. My face starts to burn. I close my eyes and follow Anne by the shush-shush voices of her slippers on the waxed floors.’ Shush-shush. Mr. Johnson is almost dead. Shush-shush. The crying girl in room 113 is scared, and has a broken arm. Shush-shush.’ Anne’s slippers say. ‘Shush-shush.’
The door of room 117 swings in the faint breeze from an open window across the hall. My room is waiting for me. Loki grumbles something about the room not actually belonging to me, but I ignore him. Room 117 is mine. Mine because I hate the glare the lights throw across the floor, and the constant dripping of the tiny sink in the corner. I hate room 117, and therefore it will always be in my memory. Mine.
Anne leaves me, and I untie my shoes.
I am seven years old. My stocking-feet swing back and forth in front of the patient island.
Doctor Caracas squeaks open the door, and leans through the gap. His nose is practically his entire face.
“Indy,” he waits for me to look him in the eye. “I will be right back.”
I nod and return my attention to the floor.
He doesn’t believe that I am only seven years old. I have explained myself to him a thousand times, but he still does not understand. He calls me ‘unique’. Whatever. Anyways, I’m not here to see Doctor Caracas. Aren’t I here for a cat scan?