The hospital room reeked of urine and steamed vegetables. Blue curtains separated the sick. An old woman sat up in bed, her curtain wide open like her eyes. A brown knitted vest hugged her white cotton nightie, a head scarf tied loosely around her plaited hair. She reminded me of my grandma, her features weathered by faraway places. I walked to the opposite bed where my friend Teena was connected to tubes that were flushing fluid out of her lungs. I sat next to her, tried not to stare at the pink liquid dripping into a sealed container, at her hunched shoulders sagging with frustration and fatigue.

“Um…a woman’s staring at you,” Teena whispered, her face sullen. The only thing that sparkled was the Orthodox cross around her neck.

I looked over. A smile creased the old woman’s face. “Maybe she’s lonely,” I said, waving.

“Maybe,” said Teena, lying back.

The old woman sat there as solid as a tree trunk. She nodded and her smile filled the emptiness around her.

“I’m over this, Dem, I can’t handle this shit.” Teena squeezed her face. “I don’t want to be here, I want to go home.” Her lips quivered and tears wet her cheeks.

“It’s okay.” I reached for her hand. I felt stupid, like anything I could say could take away her pain, could flush the liquid out of her lungs quicker. I just tapped her hand, while monitors beeped around us, and time lagged with each drip.

“Hel-lo.” The voice was thick, throaty. I turned around to see the old woman standing at the foot of Teena’s bed.

“Hi,” I said, smiling. The scarf was draped around her shoulders and she looked from me to Teena, her wrinkly hands open.

Guttural sounds exited her mouth; words from another country.

“Do you understand her?” Teena’s soggy eyes were transfixed on the woman.

“No. It’s not Turkish. It sounds like a form of Arabic,” I said, drawn to the woman’s coarse laughter punctuating her words. Her hands juggled the air, and I nodded along to her foreign story. “Are you from Iraq?”

She paused and pointed a finger at me. “Iraq?”

“No, Turkish background.”

Her eyes lit up. “Na-sil-sin?” The Turkish greeting was heavy on her lips. “Syria,” she said, tapping her chest.

“Oh! My ancestors are from Syria.”

She shook her head excitedly, and looked up at the ceiling as if in prayer. She moved towards Teena, mumbling.

“Um…what is she doing?” Teena sat up, stunned.

I shook my head, fascinated.

The old woman stood near Teena, smiled, and gestured for her to lay back. Her words were soft and you couldn’t help but be soothed by them. Teena lay stiff as a board. The woman continued to mutter, eyes closed, and her hands trembled above the tubes on my friend’s chest.

She was praying.

Teena’s hands relaxed, a smile twitched her lips. I watched two religions merge in an Epping Hospital room where the only barriers were flimsy blue curtains.

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