During an afternoon blessed with pleasantly cool fog, I took you to the hospital. Ah—not because you were sick or anything, although this visit was to make you feel better.
The hospital we were visiting was massive. It probably saw hundreds of patients daily during its heyday. These days, this hospital was still packed. It will always be packed with…people.
"Isn't it amazing," I whispered, "how we can just waltz in here without an appointment or waiting in line?"
"I suppose," you mumbled while slowly waving your flashlight like a fairy casting a spell on this hospital's waiting area. That spell allowed us to see the flora climbing the walls and seats, and one adorably plump rat. "I don't like how dark it is, though."
"Darkness isn't inherently bad," I stated, and spoke the rest in my heart, "if it keeps you from seeing what I don't want you to see."
"I suppose—Argh!" you suddenly yelped as a loud, crunchy 'squish!' sounded.
"Keep walking," I instructed but you refused. I grabbed your wrist before you could point your flashlight at your feet, making you point at the staircase at the end of the waiting room instead. "Operating rooms are usually on the first floor."
"My foot," you spoke shakily. Although my grip was not particularly tight, you were grimacing.
"It's okay," I said softly. "What you stepped in…isn't much different from dog doo. Now, let's keep walking." I pulled you gently. "Come on. One step at a time."
Eventually, you began to walk again, albeit differently. After staggering in the beginning, you adopted a new walking style where you dragged your right foot every few steps. You also changed your way of climbing stairs—conquering one step at a time so you had a moment to scrape your sole on the edges.
"Did you see anything interesting outside?" I asked you, to pass time. "I've noticed a boom in plum trees. They're growing out of literally every building we passed, even in some cars. It was really pretty. I also spotted a boar sleeping on the sidewalk." I chuckled. "That was funny."
"Mm," you murmured. We finished the first flight and were on a landing. "I…wasn't really looking."
I wished you did. I promised you the world was beautiful, and I meant it. Nature had reclaimed cities, allowing animals to roam wherever they please without the danger of becoming roadkill or getting arrested by animal control, and plants to freely grow beyond their assigned places. What were those if not the traits of a beautiful world?
We finally reached the first floor. Things brightened (figuratively) here because we found a trolley loaded with untouched medical supplies right next to the staircase. We no longer had to loot an OR.
"Alhamdullilah," you said, unrolling a tote bag.
The first thing I put inside that bag was a box of bandages and then some more. "Is there anywhere you'd like to go?" I asked while neatly arranging the boxes at the bottom of the bag.
"We've gotten enough necessities to last us weeks. Now's the time to sight-see."
You hummed contemplatively as I added boxes of antiseptic and similar creams into the bag. By the time I was topping it off with boxed surgical tools, you still had no answer. Perhaps you needed suggestions.
"How about Akiba?" I said. "It's along the way."
You looked at me with sparkling eyes. I expected you to say yes. Suddenly, you lowered your gaze and frowned.
"Bad idea," you replied.
"Lots of people…there."
I almost wanted to tell you to just watch your step, but you already do that. You do that so much you never see the interesting things around you.
"You're not supposed to be like this," I muttered under my breath.
"This looks like a big, clunky Easter egg," I remarked loudly after knotting the tote bag's straps.
Finally, you smiled, even chuckled. "Yeah, it does." A soft sigh. "And now's time to go."
"Not yet." I took your wrist again, to aim the flashlight through the hallway we were in. "One more place." I spotlighted a restroom sign.
You eyed me oddly but did not object. Since you held the flashlight, I carried the bag as we strode to the male's toilets. I led you to the cubicle with a toilet bowl. I wiped the seat with some tissues and laid on it one clean towel.
"Please sit down," I said.
You complied, albeit still looking at me oddly. The bag sat on your lap as you sat on the towel. I felt the heat of the flashlight on my back when I exited the cubicle and approached a sink without a mirror.
"Assa!" I exclaimed cheerfully upon seeing clean water come out of the tap. I produced a smaller towel to wet. I wrung it dry once before returning to you. "Which shoe got dirtied?"
I gestured at you to lift your right leg. You obeyed reluctantly, as though you did not want me to do what I intended. Nevertheless, I removed your shoe and began cleaning it. I picked off the hard bits first because they might cut the leather if pressed. After that, I wiped away the moist filth on your shoe.
"I'll do this anytime you have a misstep," I promised you, "so please don't hinder yourself from traveling to the places you like."
For a moment, you just stared at me silently. You then spoke, "You don't need to do this."
"Don't worry. Wiping shoes is barely a chore."
"No, I mean you don't need to keep…comforting me," you explained, and now it was my turn to look at you oddly. "I knew what I'd be seeing," you continued, "if I followed you out. You don't need to hide or downplay anything or act like everything's fine for my sake."
"And…what?" I nearly said to you. There was much more I wanted to say to you. "Constantly remind myself we're of the handful of survivors of this apocalypse that has reduced everyone else to moss-covered corpses? And that you stepped in one of them earlier and will inevitably step in more in the future? That it's my fault you'll be experiencing all that because I was so jealous of you living in a space where your needs were met while I had to scavenge for survival? That the fog was not 'pleasantly cool' at all but actually eerily chilly and increasingly so?!"
I kept all those words in my heart and resumed cleaning your shoe.