Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Gift

I cannot walk on water. I cannot raise the dead. I cannot feed a multitude with a few loaves and fishes. I am not the second coming of the Christ, though there are many who refuse to believe me because of what I can do. I can cure the sick. I can make the blind see. I can make the crippled walk.

Jane and I were in Africa, though I forget which country. I can never keep them straight anyway. We'd been in the village for four days. One more day should be enough to complete the healing. One more day, then on to the next village and its people and their wretched conditions.

I was just finishing up for the day when we saw the cloud of dust from an approaching truck. In this area, trucks are to be feared. On rare occasions, they bring supplies or people like me, wishing to help the villagers. More often, they bring thugs from the local warlord or, worse, soldiers from the government.

The villagers gathered their children and hid in their huts. Jane and I went to our hut as well. While Jane checked her guns, I watched the approaching truck.

"Here," Jane said, tossing me a pistol. "Turn the safety off."

I smiled as I flicked the safety off and shoved the gun in my front pocket. Jane never trusts me to remember basic gun safety. "I do know how to handle a gun, dear."

"If by 'handle' you mean 'shoot yourself' then I guess you do," she replied.

"Jane, you know I can't shoot well enough to hit anyone else," I said.

Outside, the truck had stopped. Five heavily armed men piled out. One fired a couple of shots into the air.

"We are looking for the healer!" he shouted. "We know he is here. Bring him to us!"

"Stay here and cover me," I said to Jane, then walked out the door.

The men all turned toward me, covering me with their guns as I approached. The one who had called me out was speaking, but I ignored him. I'd been through this same thing in other villages. I knew what to expect. It was always the same. There was a gun battle. The warlord was badly wounded and would only survive if I healed him. There would be threats against the villagers if I failed, yada yada yada. Yes, I knew this scene all too well.

But this time I was wrong. In the back of the truck, blankets had been piled to make a kind of nest. Lying in the nest was woman holding an infant. The woman was obviously in pain, probably dying. The infant wasn't doing too well, either. A large, powerful looking man was cradling the woman's head in his lap. I recognized him, of course. He was the local warlord.

He looked at me, his eyes shining, and said, "Healer, you must help my wife and my son! You must heal them! If you do not, my men will raze this vil-"

Climbing into the back of the truck, I said, "Stop with the threats. If you know enough to bring your family here, you know I will heal them."

I gave the woman an encouraging smile and gestured toward the baby. She held him out to me and I took him into my arms. As soon as I touched him, I knew the child's problem. His lungs had not fully cleared. He was slowly suffocating. It took but a thought and the boy's lungs were clear while mine, suddenly, were not. As the boy let out his first cry, my gift cleared my lungs before I could even cough.

Placing the boy back in his mother's arms, I took her hand. She had internal bleeding and would bleed to death within the next few minutes. Back when Jane and I still lived in the States, I would have had no idea how to treat the mother. It was her uterus that was bleeding. I couldn't simply transfer her wound to myself and let myself heal because I don't have a uterus. But this kind of injury is all too common here in Africa. I've long since learned to transfer and heal women's wounds such as this. It takes more concentration for the transfer, that's all. Thirty seconds later, it was done.

"The boy is healthy, now. Feed him and he'll be fine," I told the warlord. "Your wife will need to rest for several days, but she'll be fine as well. She can feed the child, but someone should handle diapers for her until her strength returns."

I stood and climbed out of the truck, leaving the warlord staring at his wife and child in wonder.

"So, the stories are true," he said. "You truly are a healer."

"Yes," I replied, turning back to my hut, "the stories are true."

"I thank you for the lives of my family," the warlord said, "but I cannot let a man of such obvious value leave. From now on, you work for me, healer."

Damn, we were back on script again. Reaching into my pocket, I gripped the pistol Jane had given me.

"You're hardly the first man to try this," I said. "You won't be any more successful than the others. Your wife and son will live. Be happy with that and leave while you still can."

The warlord laughed without humor, barking quick orders to his men. "You are a healer, not a warrior. You will do as I say."

Two of the warlord's men grabbed my arms and started pushing me toward the trucks. Dammit, I hate what was about to come next! Gritting my teeth, I pulled the trigger of the pistol in my pocket. Pain flared as the bullet blasted into and through my thigh, cutting through my femoral artery. Despite the pain, it was second nature to transfer my wound to the man on my right. He dropped to the ground, blood pumping from the leg wound, my gift to him.

From behind me, I heard Jane's rifle fire and a man near the truck dropped. The man holding my left arm hadn't figured out what was happening. Tightening his grip on my arm, he hustled me toward the truck. I fired the pistol again and suddenly he had the leg wound I had given to myself.

By that time, Jane had fired twice more. All of the warlord's men were down, either already dead or bleeding to death from the leg wounds I had transferred to them. The warlord was shocked.

"You can still take your family and leave," I told him.

"No!" the warlord screamed, leaping out of the truck. "You will heal my men! You will come with me!"

The fool. He still thought he could win. Yet, by leaving the truck, he ensured Jane could shoot at him without the possibility of hitting the woman or the child. He grabbed me from behind, spun around to face my hut and pointed a pistol at my head.

"Stop shooting!" he yelled. "Stop shooting or I will kill the healer!"

"You're already a dead man," I told him, "you just haven't fallen down yet."

I heard the crack of Jane's rifle and felt the bullet enter my chest at the same time. The rifle bullet passed through me and into the warlord. I probably didn't have to transfer my wound to him as well, but I always play it safe. The arm around my throat went slack and warlord dropped to the ground.

As the light faded from his eyes, I turned back to the truck. The warlord's wife was staring, eyes wide, terrified.

"I did not want to orphan the boy on his birthday," I told her, "but his father gave me no other option. Someone from the village will drive you back to your home. You will tell your husband's men what happened here. You will tell them that they will allow the villager to keep the truck and return here safely. You will tell them to leave this village alone. You will tell them they will face my wrath if they do not obey."

The warlord's men would do as I said. They always do. By this time tomorrow the stories will have me reaching inside men and crushing the life out of them. Superstition is still a powerful force here, after all.

Besides, it's the truth.