Her guide did not lead the new doctor all the way to the village; instead, halfway up the rise, he gestured with his stick toward the cluster of huts in the high distance. Four days they had traveled together without talking, by oxcart, by flatboat, on horseback, on foot, and now she had a need to share her misgivings about the job. She touched her pocket for the letter of introduction and climbed. She found him in the graveyard, incongruous in his white coat, facing the stones but looking at the middle air. “I wear it because they think it heals them,” he said. “You will do a different sort of healing.” She put her pointless letter away and read the names on the markers. “These are your patients,” he told her, touching the stones in turn. He led her to the clinic and sat her at a table piled with letters. “They have families who need to hear from them.” Still she had not spoken; still she did not speak. She was to write as frequently as she received replies. Her handwriting was of no concern: they wanted to believe. First she would read the letters to learn about her patients. “In life,” he said, “they disappointed their loved ones, but in death, with your help, they will lead inspirational lives.” Her correspondence had convinced him this was her branch of medicine. Others would keep the living alive. He gave her water, bread and fruit and left her to her studies. She was far from home, without a guide, exhausted, no longer a doctor, a student again, alone. She read the first letter and wept. When she took up her pen to explain to her mother why she had left without saying goodbye, she had made a beginning.

Copyright © August 5, 2008 David Hodges

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