A machine wearing a uniform
When Zong Ying rushed downstairs to the door, she was greeted only by a sheet of rain.
The ambulance pulled noisily into the accident and emergency department, followed by a cacophonous horde of people all blending into the night.
Not a single person donning a white shirt and a black umbrella were in sight.
It took her only 37 seconds to run down, but the man had disappeared without a trace. Zong Ying was unsure if she had been hallucinating.
The ground was rapidly getting wet. Water was being thrown up by the wheels of vehicles as they sped by, and the summer air had been replaced by the night rain, causing a damp coolness to spill into the hall.
Zong Ying took a few steps back, before turning around again to collapse onto the bench by the entrance. She tried to slow her breathing. Outside, the sound of the ambulance had stopped. There was only the pattering of rain, and the fresh air dispelled the foul energy building in her body.
The twin rows of lights suddenly went out for most of the building. There were only a few people moving around on the ground floor, and Zong Ying stretched her legs, closing her eyes. After some time, her breathing slowed.
It was as if she was walking up a flight of stairs, or stepping on a cloud. Her gait was unsteady, but she was able to walk relatively well. However, she suddenly missed a step and found herself losing her balance. She felt her heart plummet at the same time.
She opened her eyes, heart racing, but was caught off guard by a tap on her shoulder.
“Why are you sitting here?” It was Sheng Qiushi, who had just returned from a consultation.
“I came down for a smoke and accidentally fell asleep.” Zong Ying fibbed. She leaned forward, supporting her weight with one hand.
Sheng Qiushi said, “It’s easy to catch a cold here. Don’t get a fever.” He stuffed his hands back in his white coat pockets, glancing back out at the dwindling rain. “When it stops raining you should go home and sleep. But for now, it’d be better if you went up to sit for a while.”
Zong Ying was reluctant to move, but the other man was patient. He stood aside and waited for her until she finally got up.
“Your aunt has a harsh way of speaking, but she’s always been like that. Don’t take it personally.” He advised.
Zong Ying appreciated his effort and responded, “Mm.”
She got up and followed Sheng Qiushi upstairs, where she was again asked if she had taken a break during the day. She leaned against the lift wall, replying honestly, “I’m always prepared to be called out.”
Sheng Qiushi looked back at her as the lift door opened and suddenly felt that she looked like a machine. A machine wearing a uniform.
When she pushed open the door to the consultation room, her elder aunt and Zong Yu’s mother were still there.
Zong Yu’s mother had probably received some consolation and was much more composed. Still, her eyes were red. When she saw Zong Ying enter, she whispered in a thick voice, “Zong Ying, thank you.”
Before Zong Ying could reply, the great-aunt said, “Why did you suddenly run out? You scared me out of my mind.” She muttered as if to herself, “Ever since you were a child, you’ve always been like this. Do whatever you please, just at least let us know.”
Sheng Qiushi winked at Zong Ying and secretly pointed to a chair behind the computer desk, telling her to sit over there. He dragged a chair across to the sofa and said to the two family members, “This accident seems to be quite serious, and the media has come to the emergency room. May we notify Zong Yu’s father?”
“He’s abroad on business, how can he possibly come back now?” The great-aunt was upset and a little frazzled. “These reporters have nothing better to do! Which side of the story is going to broadcast to the public? I don’t know if it will have an impact on the company.”
They fell into a heated discussion, but Zong Ying did not care much about what was going on.
Her elbow accidentally nudged the mouse and the computer screen lit up. It was the PACS system she had not seen for a long time (an image storage and computer system). Moreover, it was in the posted state. She logged in and was granted access permission.
The screen displayed Zong Yu’s craniocerebral images in a 3×4 format of 12 images. As she reviewed each one, she could basically confirm the extent of his brain injury – luckily, it was nothing serious.
As the rain continued to fall outside, Zong Ying closed her eyes, actively blocking out the sound of conversation in the room. She could clearly hear the ticking of the clock.
Her heart rate was accelerated with each tick of the clock, and the posture she had adopted made it hard to breathe. It reminded her of the moment she had been pushed into the examining apparatus the previous morning, where she had felt like she was suffocating.
She let out an abrupt, uncomfortable sigh, before opening her eyes. Absent-mindedly, she reopened the query page.
Sheng Qiushi suddenly turned his head to look over and asked her what she was clicking on.
Zong Ying typed in her medical record number, filtering it precisely and pulling up her own MRI images without a hitch.
She replied, “Minesweeper.”
The screen was half-lit. The raw, unmarked, and unenhanced image contained the “verdict”.
An experienced clinician could make a diagnosis.
Ten minutes later, as her eyes struggled to process the information on the screen, her neck slowly relaxed. Zong Ying’s shoulders slumped. Her breathing grew subdued for a moment before she finally leaned back into her chair and clasped her hands together.
An eerie coldness crept up from the soles of her feet, despite the fact that it was a summer night in the consultation room.
It was as if her surroundings had suddenly fallen deathly silent, and she could not even hear a pin drop. Then, a noise broke through the door.
When Zong Ying looked up, she saw three people rushing in, holding up recorders and cameras and screaming for interviews. Her aunt and Zong Yu’s mother were both caught off-guard. Sheng Qiushi got up in a huff, demanding for them to leave. “This is a consultation room, we don’t accept interviews.”
The one with the tape recorder did not have time to declare which newspaper he was from. Instead, he ran straight to Zong Yu’s mother. Without beating around the bush, he said, “Are you a family member of the deceased?”
“Who’s dead? What are you talking about?” Her aunt reached out and smacked his hand away. The other party did not waver and continued to stare at Zong Yu’s mother. He pressed on, “May I ask if you are the sister of the deceased, Xing Xueyi? Why would Xing Xueyi take his nephew out in the early hours of the morning? Do you have any knowledge of this?”
The question was loaded and menacing.
Enraged, the aunt grabbed a paper cup from the coffee table and threw it at the other party. “All of you, get out!”