The blinding white walls gave off a cool light that reflected against the dark green floor leaving the impression of pale green shadows that danced along the walls as the small number of doctors, nurses and visitors made their nightly journeys through the rambling hospital.
It was easy to spot the doctors and nurses amongst the visitors, even in their street clothes. They moved with purpose, using a brisk walk that I am sure they learned during their training. They exude confidence, never running, never appearing to hurry, just using the brisk confident walk that says I am in control. I know what I am here to do and how I am going to do it.
This is one of the most important things I have learned as I have watched the various medical professionals making their way around the hospital.
I have been here as a visitor for over a month, wearing various disguises. One day, the business suit and the harried air of the impatient businesswoman, briefcase and phone clutched in hand, the need to visit the hospital an inconvenience in the busy life of the woman who has sales to make and profits to build. Another night, the long slightly dirty blonde wig, torn denim and flowing blouse of the relaxed traveller, my flat leather sandals slapping on the floor and the embroidered rucksack banging against my hip as I made my way through the labyrinth of corridors.
Tonight was different. Tonight I was here as a medical professional, or at any rate I would adopt the appearance of one. I stepped out of the shadows and through the brightly lit doors into the main body of the hospital.
I made my way through the cavernous front entrance and passed the reception desk with a nod and a smile for the busy receptionist who was marshalling a group of drunken young men. One of them was cradling a bloodied hand tightly next to his body in an obvious attempt to stop the bleeding. The dark red blood flowed steadily down his arm, pooling at his crooked elbow; the rich delicious velvet staining his pale blue cotton shirt. He would have been better raising the arm above his head, above his heart, to slow the bleeding.
I could almost smell the fear emanating from his drunken friends who were demanding immediate medical attention in loud voices with slurred words and angry gestures. They occupied the full attention of the harried receptionist. Perfect timing.
I had chosen my moment well. I walked into the hospital unnoticed and slipped into the lift to gain access to the floors above. I was dressed casually in jeans, shirt and boots with a beige trench coat and, hanging from my shoulder, a large leather tote bag that contained my beloved tools. I kept my hands in my pockets, resisting the urge to scratch my head, hot from the mousey brown wig that gave me a bobbed hair style. The green contact lenses I wore hid my true eye colour, making my eyes seem pale and uninteresting.
Even so, I took care not to look into the eye of the CCTV camera. I kept my head down, the long side fringe of the wig shadowing my face and my posture relaxed, as the lift climbed steadily towards the fifth floor.
Once out of the lift, I made my way down one of the interminably long corridors until I got to the staff lounge and changing room I had discovered on one of my earlier visits. The advantage of the fifth floor was this was an outpatient surgery ward. Patients came in during the day for simple surgical procedures that could be completed in a day, so this area of the hospital was almost deserted at night.
I opened the door and walked casually into the lounge to see that it was as empty, as it had been on every other visit I had made, and it was without CCTV. I made my way quickly through to the changing room and was relieved to see that it was also empty.
I shut the door firmly behind me and walked over to the scarred wooden bench that ran along the length of the small changing room. A bank of lockers sat along the opposite wall, with their fat keys sticking out of the open doors.
I put down my heavy tote bag and removed a set of pale green scrubs that I had taken from one of the large laundry cupboards that supplied each ward. The light weight cotton rustled like paper as it met my skin. I folded tonight’s street clothes and returned them to my tote bag. I removed my boots and changed into a pair of well-worn baseball boots that allowed me to walk briskly and silently along the slick polished floors. I liked these boots, but this would be the last time I would wear them.
I went back to the door, watching and listening to make sure that I was still alone. Hearing nothing but satisfying silence, I went back to the bench. I removed the stethoscope from my bag and hung it round my neck, the cold rubber tube cradling my nape. I secured the name badge I had borrowed during an earlier visit to the front of my scrub shirt, mimicking the others I had observed around the hospital.
I pulled one of the gloves onto my right hand. Re-opening my tool bag I added a scalpel to my pocket, its gleaming steel blade nestling against my gloved hand.
I secured my tote bag in an empty locker and pinned the key to the inside of one of the large square pockets on the front of my scrub shirt. The other pocket contained two sets of blue disposable gloves, shiny and smooth to the touch, warming to my hand as I stroked them.
I turned and looked into the mirror to check for any mistakes in my disguise. I didn’t recognise myself: with the tight hot skullcap that covered my own hair, the mousey brown wig and the contact lenses I was unrecognisable. The scrubs and the stethoscope made me feel invisible – after all, who pays attention to one more nurse in a hospital? It’s the same as the waiter at your dining table who is only paid attention when you need to be served.
I had also taken the precaution of applying some cosmetics that made subtle changes to my face. A pale base lightened my complexion considerably and careful shading gave me a slimmer nose, dark shadows underneath my eyes and the impression of a different face shape reflected by the shadow under my chin.
It was time. I had to teach him another lesson, as I had been taught. I would show no pity or mercy. He had dared to try erasing the gift I had given him when he had plastic surgery to repair the scar that should have been a daily reminder of his sin.
I could not allow him to escape his suffering so easily. His lady love would leave him once she saw he was no longer the handsome man she had first met. Her patience would wear thin as he wallowed in self pity, failing to understand why he had been punished. Had he not suffered enough to understand he must face his sins?
I checked my reflection once more and, satisfied with the anonymous figure that stared back, I left the comfort of the empty changing room. I made my way to the stairwell at the right hand corner of the ward.
The advantage of the stairwell was that there was no CCTV. Even so, I climbed the stairs at that telltale brisk pace, pausing at the top of the stairs to don two pairs of the blue disposable gloves, one over the other, there could be no risk of leaving a fingerprint behind.
I made my way down the short corridor to the bank of private rooms that ran along the right hand side of the ward. I opened the door to the first room and stepped over to the mechanical bed on which he lay. I looked down into the sleeping face of my love. He was still asleep, the drugs from his operation still coursing through his bloodstream. No matter, he didn’t need to be awake to take his punishment.
My anger settled in to a hard white-hot ball in my chest as I gripped the cold steel of the scalpel to caress his face. I raised my hand and drew a strong deep line diagonally from his cheekbone, down across his lips and ending at his chin, the scalpel grating against his whitened teeth. He slept on as I watched his dark red vital fluid begin to ooze from the line I had drawn, deep enough to scar but not to cause any threat.
The blood began to flow faster, to soak into the snowy white bandage that covered the other side of his newly repaired face. I stood for a moment, transfixed by the rich red velvet stain that spread across his face, and the white hot ball in my chest melted away.
I mentally shook myself into action and placed the scalpel that had served me so well back into my pocket, taking care to wipe the blade clean on the bedclothes. I reached down to the binder that contained the record of his stay and made my own notation; Leviticus 24:20.
He could not be allowed to forget.
I turned on my heel and slipped quietly out of the room, just another nurse checking on her patient. I reached the corner stairwell and moved briskly down to the fifth floor and returned to the safety of the staff lounge where I removed the two sets of gloves that had protected my fingers and folded them into my pocket. I would burn them later along with my shoes and scrubs.
I breathed out deeply and realised I had been holding my breath. Now for the difficult part: there were just six and a half hours before the end of a typical nursing shift and I would need to spend them here in the hospital if I was to maintain the illusion that I was a nurse who worked here.
I sat down on the well-worn bright blue sofa to think through the next steps of my careful plan. I would need to be seen by the CCTV cameras around the hospital to establish a credible presence, but I needed to take care. Appearing on a ward to work as a new agency nurse would expose the holes in my medical knowledge and could lead to my downfall. No. The best thing to do would be to appear around the hospital on different wards, seemingly carrying out basic tasks.
I made my way out of the staff lounge and walked briskly to the corner stairwell and down the stairs to the ward two floors below. Once I had entered the main entrance to the ward I walked briskly between the sleeping patients to the main reception desk which stood in the centre of the ward. I smiled at the tired-looking nurse who was working at the large desktop computer, updating records, the soft click of the keys echoing throughout the sleeping ward.
I reached over to the Out tray and picked up the plastic bags of various sizes, each containing small tubes of body fluids ready for collection and delivery to the laboratory floor in the basement. I signed the register with my nurse name and went down to the laboratory, traversing the main corridors so that I would be seen on CCTV throughout the hospital.
The next six hours passed in the completion of various tiresome jobs around the hospital, making beds with fresh sheets, collecting and delivering samples to the laboratory, stocking cupboards with medical supplies and sitting with sleeping patients in private rooms.
Satisfied that I had made my presence felt, I went back up to the fifth floor and began the daily routine of the operating ward, the sterilisation process. I had studied hard to understand this process and I was confident that I could complete it flawlessly.
I loaded each machine with the various sets of operating tools that would be required throughout the day, slipping the beautiful scalpel, that had lain heavy in my pocket throughout the night, into the last of the three stainless autoclave steel machines. I flicked the switch that would begin the steamy sterilisation process.
Finally, I felt that it was safe to leave. I made my way back to the changing room and opened the locker with the key from my pocket to remove my tote bag, and changed back into my street clothes. I folded the scrubs, shoes and stethoscope into my bag and, taking a final look in the mirror, left the changing room.
The hospital was busier now as nurses and doctors left and their counterparts for the day shift arrived. I was no longer alone as I walked briskly towards the lift and filed in amongst the others, who were leaving after the night’s work.
I kept my head down and avoided making eye contact as the lift descended towards the ground floor and my safe escape. Once on the ground floor I stepped out of the lift and took the few short steps through the main entrance.
I had delivered his lesson and now I was free. I walked with a light step out onto the street in the pale grey light of the early hours.