(...) The 'after death room' is served by a large glazed door. It allows a good perspective on the arrangement of the corpses. One evening it was wide open. Inside four monks fumbled with a lamp so they could tinker with something on the wall. The shadows of both the monks and the bodies sometimes reached outside to caress the gravel.

Seated on a parapet, not far from the door and illuminated from time to time by the moving light, a boy looked at the monks and the glass coffins. In a month, or a year, the orphan would be stark naked in one of those strange aquariums. He knew it too. He was too young to oppose it. He was accepted in this village because it is clear that dead children are more fascinating than adults. The boy saw that there were already two little girls there, but not yet a young boy. They were waiting for him, he knew. He knew. He knew. Some imbecile had even had the tactlessness to mention it to him.

I was gripped with terror. He saw me looking at him from afar, in the shadows. He recognised me and turned away and I knew that, for him, I symbolised death. I am the one that he never saw, apart from in the room where people suffer and never come out alive. He had been brought to me three times, by force, so that I would treat one or other of his illnesses. He would always scream in terror.

He was called Thonn.

Once, only once, when I was outside of the ward, did he come and attach himself to me. For maybe thirty seconds, no more. During those thirty long seconds we exchanged something inexplicable that still gives me goose pimples if I think about it. For thirty seconds, no more, I experienced an absolute closeness. I'd like to be able to relive it, because for me it was a delight. Yet I despise myself for this pleasure; I despise myself for the delight, because it is an enormous risk, and it frightens me.

This was not the first such episode in my life. Sometimes I emit something which provokes this queerness. A few years ago in Bangkok the same thing happened. It was in a consultation room of a very big hospital where I was talking to another doctor and a Franciscan. A beautiful boy, a little younger than Thonn, entered the room and came immediately to me, only to me. He didn't know me at all, whereas he knew the Franciscan and the doctor very well.He glued himself to my legs until I held him in my arms and we exchanged this ineffable and powerful 'something'. Those assembled were intrigued and confused, seeing that this was not a question of a cuddle. I don't know how to cuddle.That child was also HIV-positive. At home that evening I was perturbed by the memory. I had the feeling that the event was charged with a premonitory sense that I was unable to decode. I've thought of it often, and always try to translate it. It worried me.

Those who force intimacy with patients who are no longer very small children should be held back. When I was a medical student, in a paediatric oncology ward, I met the frightened gaze of a paralysed boy thus 'raped'. An 'unknown generous lady visitor' came 'to give love' as she put it. I will never forget it, she glued the poor adolescent to her bust like a hysterical American would her adored dog (who unlike the others never lets her down!…) The boy ended up vomiting. These mad men and women full of a frustration of which they are unaware are numerous. They rush to the orphanages, shelters for mistreated children, the children's wards of Europe, Asia and especially Africa. Africa more than anywhere, the rookie abuses the right to be ignoble, without realising it. I don't want to be one of them. I am afraid of being one of these humanitarian tourists.

When I first came to the hospice there would be dogs waiting for me every day by the entrance of the ward. Since the first day, the dogs loved me. One bitch made it known particularly clearly. Smelling my arrival from afar, she moaned. She cast herself at my feet and demanded I hug her. When I released her, the bitch jumped up to glue herself to my leg in an obscene fashion. Those present, all women, rather than laughing, watched me blushing in silence.

Now that I have turned to ice, these dogs fear me.The world seems to want to confound me by the complexity of its plot. That half minute of fusion with Thonn, who would be naked in a coffin of formalin a few weeks later, is absolutely the only thirty seconds that contains anything miraculous since I became tough. In the last four years that I have been working here I have become a 'hard man'. During all those years, with all those patients, never did any true kindness flow from my hands. 558 deaths this year…. I saw them as bursting abscesses. There are occasions when I don't manage to control the pain. Then I observe as they wriggle like a condemned man, suffocate with eyes wide open, full of terror, staring at me. I wonder how it is possible that it doesn't hurt me anymore.

A child dying in the middle of the ward called for a massage. It was Thonn.I wasn't able to massage him, and he died a few hours later, pulling me out of my stupor as he did so. By some law of alchemy that I ignore a cerebral transmutation occurred. I observed at last, with the appropriate fright, the deleterious power of fear. Then, the deleterious power of sentiment.

Thonn died in horrific conditions.God almighty! Enough! It was too much !(...)













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