Anna called me while she waited for the bus that brings her back to this neighborhood from work. They now confiscate conscripts’ cell phones while they’re on duty. (Do they load them with surveillance apps?) She took a nap instead of eating lunch, so she never got my messages till now.
She sounded woozy, which diminished the fury with which she greeted my question about her daughter’s death certificate. I assured her that I was merely sorting out our papers, not attempting to snoop into hers.
Anna said she’d never claimed her daughter died directly from bird flu. The girl was a collateral casualty who had come down with appendicitis, unusual in kids under 6. The city was in the first blush of pandemic panic and no ambulance was available. Nor were taxis.
Anna had carried her daughter to a hospital just south of City Hall in the financial district, but found only people stretched on the floor inside some locked doors. The place was sealed. As she pleaded for entry, a masked patient pointed to a sign that directed visitors to a bigger hospital north of the East Village, almost two miles away. Then the woman pointed to her chest and to the other patients on the floor and made a throat-cutting motion.
An old Chinese man who didn’t speak English led her to a shop in Chinatown, where he obtained some herbs for the child. He helped her home. By then she was herself gasping, hot-headed.
The little girl died horribly at home that night, when her appendix burst. Enough said.
Anna immediately came down with something she still thinks was the flu. She was feverish, achy, congested, lying for days in the apartment with her daughter’s corpse. She would dream her baby had recovered, sleepwalk to her, and break down all over again.
Recounting the horror made Anna cry so intensely I started dressing to fetch her. I could hear her getting sicker as she sobbed and gasped. Her voice failed as she climbed aboard the bus.
I didn’t say this to her, but I’m scared she’s caught a new strain. I’m trying to get that Relenza while I wait for her to get home.