I threw it on the ground and burst into tears. The needle from the emergency kit skidded across the hard-packed dirt floor and landed somewhere beneath her cot. Breathing in large gulps, I tried to control my outburst, but I felt like a monster, and the tears only kept coming.
I paced around the room in this manner for a while, I don’t know how long. Minutes had ceased to exist for me in this remote tropical climate where the natives had no concept of time, only the rhythms of the two seasons: wet and dry. They had been looking at me with their empty gazes for days now, knowing what I knew and offering me no pity. Theirs was a harsh existence to which death was no stranger. Snake bites, fevers, childbirth – death walked hand in hand with daily existence. They would meet their loved ones again in their spirit world, which I little understood despite the improvement in our communication over the past few months.
Overcome by a wave of nausea, I had to sit down on the woven mat next to the cot where she lay. Her breathing rapid and disjointed, the fever caused her cheeks to flush and beads of sweat trickled down her temples. The swelling bruises on her neck and armpits indicated something more sinister than Dengue or Malaria, but I couldn’t begin to guess what. Plague? Sleeping sickness? No, that was African, not South American. Why did the bloody medical doctor have to die first? He slipped into unconsciousness seven days ago, and was gone by the next morning, that’s how quickly it progressed.
I had radioed headquarters back then, requesting emergency evac over the static, but back then most of the crew was still alive.
Now it was just her and me. And they weren’t coming for us.
My gaze settled on her face, her smooth forehead. Though dark circles under her eyes marred her complexion, flushed with heat and fever, she was beautiful. So beautiful. I reached to touch her cheek, but thought better of it when I remembered the last time I disturbed her repose.
A little brown face poked his head through the doorway. No more than five or six, he had decorated his face with the stickers we had brought for the children, almost as an afterthought. Come to think of it, it had been her idea, and I didn’t question it when she tucked the sheets into her duffle bag back home.
He looked at her for a few moments with narrowed brown eyes, then scampered away without saying a word. Not knowing what possessed me, I got up to follow him despite the dizziness that kept my head spinning. Lurching through the doorway of the primitive hut and down the ramp, I saw him dart through the clearing full of similar raised shelters to the treeline. I ignored the vacant stares of the villagers and ran after him, right into the jungle.
The underbrush was heavy around me, but I seemed to whip through it without being touched. The canopy overhead blocked out most of the light, and my vision narrowed to a pinprick on that small figure bobbing ahead of me. I know we traveled quite a ways, but I couldn’t keep track of the distance or time. My vision swam, but still I ran, never having felt so swift. When at last I came to a break in the heavy brush, a space almost like a room opened up before me. Still under cover of the canopy, the bare ground stretched out to meet a thick, gnarled tree in the center. Dripping with moss and exuding an almost gravitational force, it must have been very old to have reached such a size.
So mesmerized by the tree, I almost forgot the boy standing off to the side. He was pointing, and when I finally dragged my eyes away from the tree, I followed the direction of his arm.
Crude wooden crosses. A patch of them, each in varying degrees of decay.
Suddenly, I knew.
I turned and raced back to through the jungle to the hut. This time, the going was not so easy, as a pounding had taken up residence in my head. Despite the exertion, I felt both cold and hot, and seemed to stumble on every rock and root in the jungle.
At last breaking through the clearing, I slowed to catch my breath, walking the rest of the way. This time, no one looked at me, because they too knew. They knew what I had to do, before it was too late.
Walking the up the ramp and gulping in breaths, I no longer thought about losing my beloved research partner, my wife – I thought about protecting her. Protecting her from the end.
I could see it was already starting, as her legs and arms started to twitch. Capillaries in her face had burst, but it was only the beginning. Pretty soon it would be too late.
Crawling under the cot, I retrieved the needle. Why bother to sterilize it? It didn’t matter now.
“Goodbye, my love,” I thought, as I wrapped the tourniquet on her left arm, held it still, and found the vein.
Within a minute, the twitching stopped. The breathing followed soon after.
It was done.
I don’t know who, if anyone, will find this journal, but I can barely write anymore. The fever is getting stronger, and I’m struggling to keep my eyes open. There is a needle of my own sitting on the table next to me. I can’t wait much longer.
I am going to meet her.