Bruised Innocence

They first noticed it when Omar came home from playschool with a bruise the size of a football on his chest. He had fallen off the swings in the playground. The swings were a foot’s height from the ground and he had fallen on a soft pile of sand. His mother studied the bruise and asked him if it hurt. He didn’t answer; he was engrossed in the cartoons playing on the TV across the room. She touched it lightly and he didn’t flinch. Later in the evening as she bathed him before bed, she inspected his body closely. It seemed a number of bruises had sprung up out of nowhere all over his thighs, shins and on his left elbow. They varied in colour from an ugly bluish-purple to faded brown. She hadn’t noticed them before; he was a hyperactive child, always in trouble and always falling down, but he didn’t bruise easily. Besides, he hadn’t been so active lately, like he was tired all the time.
‘Honey, is someone hurting you at school?’ she asked him. He ignored her in favour of his action figure which he was drowning in the water.
‘Omar? Did the Miss hurt you at all? Did she hold you too hard?’
She tried to turned him around to face her but he continued to ignore her, singing catches from cereal advertisements under his breath and shaking his toy. It was useless trying with him; he had the attention span of a spoon. She lifted him out of the water and dried him off, asking him a number of times if anyone was being mean to him. When he did pay attention he looked at her in a confused manner; he was only four years old, after all. Dried and dressed in his Poke Môn pyjamas she tucked him in bed and kissed him good night. She thought it was her imagination but he seemed to look a bit pale. He blew in her face and turned over, cuddling his plastic action figure and wishing it goodnight. She though of asking him one more time, then the fire alarm went off and the overhead sprinklers showered down on them. She had forgotten the milk over the stove and the pan had burnt down to a shapeless piece of metal, setting off thick, black smoke and activating the alarm. It took over 3 hours to restore peace and, soaked and annoyed, the subject of the bruises had completely slipped her mind.
No one noticed anything strange untill four days later. Omar had a nosebleed. It wasn’t the first time he’d had one, but the recent discovery of the bruises flashed a red light right away. This time it was a weekend, and he had been home all day. There was no way this had anything to do with school. His father looked down at him as his mother wiped the minimal blood from his small nostrils. This time it was definite: he was quite pale and didn’t look himself at all.
‘Honey? Do you feel sick?’
He looked back at her miserably, not answering. He didn’t like blood, especially when it was coming from him. His parents looked at each other, worried.
‘Maybe we should take him to a doctor’, his mother said. ‘Maybe he’s come down with something, like a virus or something.’
‘What virus makes a person bleed?’ his father asked doubtfully. He supported the abuse theory and thought maybe this was related to that.
‘But look at him, he looks terrible. And he hasn’t been himself lately. Even his teacher said he isn’t playing with his friends like he used to.’
He was their first and only child, and health services in that particular area were free, so they went. They waited in line for 5 hours and were finally shown to a small cubicle where a small doctor came to see them. After listening to their vague complaints, he asked them when they had noticed his abdomen was swelling up.
‘Huh?’ they asked, and looked down at the small bulge underneath his T-shirt. It was definitely swollen, but they hadn’t noticed it before. Any fever? They hadn’t noticed that either, but the temperature taken by the nurse was high. The parents looked at each other uncomfortably; it definitely looked fishy that they hadn’t even noticed the abdominal swelling when it was so obvious. The small doctor looked at them a while then whispered to the nurse. It was obvious what they were thinking: these bruises were caused by abuse, and it was obviously caused by the parents. How terrible! She was about to open her mouth and deny it but a look from her husband silenced her. It would make them look even more suspicious if they tried to deny the obvious without even being interrogated. The doctor examined Omar with some difficulty; he hated being touched by strangers. He touched his neck and abdomen, listened to his heart and chest, peeked into his underwear and had a good look at the numerous bruises, all the time making small comments to the nurse at his side in a low voice. They waited nervously, she wringing her hands and he straining to hear and makes sense of the medical jargon whispered between the two. Finally, the doctor said they would run some blood tests and talk to them after seeing the results. He looked at Omar significantly, and suddenly asked him if he wanted to tell him anything. Omar looked at him confusedly, and started sucking his thumb. The doctor nodded his head and walked away. A couple of nurses, one of them obviously a student, came and extracted their blood specimens. Omar screamed and screamed, kicked the tray over, scratched one of the nurses’ face and screamed some more, but eventually the samples were taken and the nurses, bruised and injured, hurried off. She held him in her arms and tried to calm him, and looked at her husband. He looked back at her steadily. Maybe they should just take him and walk away; it was obvious they were under suspicion for child abuse. But wouldn’t that just make them look guiltier? They peeked through the curtains and saw the doctor talking to a couple of other doctors that looked older and more senior. They were discussing something closely, then all three looked up in their direction. Oh, dear.
A long, long hour later, the small doctor came back with his two older colleagues. They had Omar’s clipboard in their hand and a grim look on their faces.
‘Mr and Mrs-’ he looked down at the clipboard, ‘Kambal. We just got the results for your son’s blood tests.’ They looked at the parents and the parents returned the stare uncomfortably. Suddenly she couldn’t take it anymore.
‘Now you listen here, if you think for one minute that we have been hurting our son you better think again! There is no way in HELL we would lay a finger on him!’
Her husband tried to shush her, and the doctors looked at her, bewildered, but she went on, her emotion building up and angry tears in her eyes.
‘He’s our only son! We would never hurt him! Someone at school has been hurting him! No I haven’t seen him and no his teachers haven’t told us but we know it! It was someone else! It wasn’t us!’
She realised how strange she sounded and that, whatever suspicion they had of their abuse to their child, this meaningless speech had just confirmed it. Her husband glared at her and wouldn’t say a word. The doctors looked at each other, at the clipboard, at Omar, then up at the parents.
‘Mr. and Mrs. Kambal, your son has leukaemia.’