Ward 77

Yuki makes her rounds

It sounded like they were piping angels in through the pipes, the public address system, but Yuki couldn’t be sure. The choral sounds were faint, they hid the hushed whispers of the Ward nurses. From time to time, the music would fade out slightly, just enough for a soft chime to ring in, then the pleasant choral voices would fade back in to the background.

Ward 77 was the Ward of Death. Ward 77 was the Ward of Life.

Yuki paused her linen cart, making the rounds for her graveyard shift. She did the laundry for the Ward, special dispensation from the the commissory at Hong Kong’s largest detention center. Ten years had passed since the summer of smoke, the summer of love, the summer of self-determination. Yuki breathed out and the music dimmed, a bell chimed above her from the loudspeaker embedded into the wall. Another soul passed. Yuki would know what room soon, it’d buzz on the cart, directing her to the right place.

Rumor had it Vice Premier Ha would be Passing today. Yuki shouldn’t have known this, it wasn’t meant to be known. She had overheard it in the elevator on her way in to Ward 77. Highest Ward in the city. Private elevator to the gods. The cart beeped. A little LED somewhere in the handle flickered, slowly, red green. Everything about her cart was beautiful — the curving receptacle for soiled linens, the hidden shelf beneath with fresh replacements. The solid white handle with intelli-chips embedded, that lit up to show her what room she was needed at next. It knew she had had her hands off it for too long, it’d glow the palest peach in loneliness, sadness from losing her touch. It kept tabs on her footsteps, it stopped to let her rest when she felt tired. It didn’t like it when she dawdled too long in the South corridor’s rooms, taking in the breathtaking view. Yuki thinks it gets jealous.

Cart started to move as soon as she had her hands on it. It was room 88, the luckiest room in the highest Ward. The one that sent them on to their next lives, beautiful lives. A small knot of men was just exiting the room, a gurney had just parted ways with them and was headed her direction down the corridor. It stopped a few feet before it reached her, at the elevator bank. Ward of Death. Ward of Life.

A man had broken off from the knot, following it down the hall. He stopped when he reached it, and lifted the sheet back from the face of the body lying there. Yuki saw, all there was to see. The sadness and mourning in the man’s face. The unshut eyes of Vice Premier Ha. Ward 77, highest in the land. Ward of Death. The man, living, reached out gently and shut his lids. Ward 77. Ward of Life.

The elevator dinged, the man drew the sheet back, the gurney entered the shaft alone. The man walked on, past Yuki, unseen, unheard, moving slowly down the corridor with her cart.

Room 88, the lucky room for the lucky ones in passing. Yuki entered and removed the sheets, sweaty and a bit bloody, and replaced them with the new. A single white chrysanthemum sat in a vase, slowly wilting on the bedside table. Yuki hesitated before reaching to read the card: from Ha, to Ha. May the Sun rise eternal on your blessed face.

The cart was warming up, the soft pink glow of its perpetual sadness beginning to show itself again. It misses me, Yuki thought. The thought of touching its warm handle yet again made her glow inside, to touch that beautifully curved surface with her own hands. Yuki left the chrysanthemum to die, and went to it.

Above, on the wall, the voices faded out yet again, another chime piped in across the Ward. Ward 77, Ward of Death. Ward 77, Ward of Life.

image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b3/Wohnpark_Alterlaa_im_Fr%C3%BChling_1.jpg

This story was in part inspired by the playlist from a choral concert I sang in with Choral Chameleon’s Chorus in 2014F.