Friday, September 17, 2010

Short Story-The Cleaner

Jimmy changed my life in ways I can not possibly explain. At times I wondered who was saving who. It hadn't started out like that for either of us.

I had always felt like life was mundane. Ordinary. Unspectacular. Until I met Jimmy. Then it became intimidating. And after he died I saw my true potential. My life had not changed one bit, but my perspective had.

I was a cleaner at the hospital. I worked nights. I didn't do well at school, I guess I never really got it. I remember trying, sometimes, but it just seemed a little bit beyond me. I left as early as I could and though I could read and write a bit I just thought that someone like me didn't really have much to offer.

This has been my first and only job. I do my work well, keep to myself, stay out of trouble. I don't get paid a lot but I don't need a lot either. I suppose I was happy enough, before, but I can't say I ever felt useful. The thing that has kept me going through the dark days, the boring days, the soul-sapping sameness of it all, is faith.

I still look back on the day I was saved as one day worth remembering. I remember the feeling of anticipation, fear, excitement, nervousness, all mixed up. Then the relief, the lightness, like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It was the best day of my life.

There are some real radicals at the church I go to, but I'm not one of them. They are exciting types, all hyped up, not afraid of anything. At least that's how they seem, I don't know them really. Never had a chance, I am pretty tired after a night's work when I get in there, and I leave again straight away. I like the speakers, most of the time, and I think about what they say. Sometimes I read my bible, but it is a bit of a struggle. Often I just don't get it.

Then I met Jimmy. He was twelve and he was dying. It was one of those horrible cancers that you hear about. The tragedies of everyday life. The night I met him he was awake. I didn't realise at first. I always try to be very quiet when I collect things from the wards at night. Some of those people in there get hardly any sleep, so I don't want to be disturbing the sleep they do get.

He gave me a fright. He was lying there so still and I was creeping around, trying not to make things clink when he said, "You don't need to worry about me". I jumped out of my skin!

I didn't really know what to say. I wasn't used to kids. Especially sick ones. "Are you all right?" I said. Well, that was clearly stupid, because he obviously wasn't.

"I'm dying", he said. "I'm scared". I didn't know what to say. I thought about the promise of God. And wondered whether this kid had ever heard of Him. The yawning chasm of choice appeared before me; should I mention it? I teetered on the edge of decision and stepped back. I didn't know what to do. I stood looking at him. "Oh". I stood there a second. "I have to get back to work".

I left. All night I thought about him. I see things all the time at the hospital. Things I don't really want to know about. This was the first time, I had ever asked about a patient's health. Not much point really, what can I do? I'm not a doctor.

Still, I couldn't get him out of my mind. He said he was scared and I didn't say anything! I didn't even try to reassure him with the normal platitudes that people come up with. I am sure you will be fine. Don't worry, nothing to be scared about. Not that it would have helped, but I didn't even try. And then there's God, surely I could have mentioned something to make him feel better. But what would I say?

I felt guilty all week. I realised that even though I knew lots of words about God, I didn't know the reality. What I mean is, I knew about God in my mind, but not in my heart. I couldn't explain Him to anyone except for using those same old words you hear all the time. The ones I heard before I got saved; that didn't really mean anything to me. Like "Jesus will take away your sins". Ummmm so? What's a sin anyway? "Jesus will set you free". From what? Now I understand it, but before? Not a chance.

What I really wanted was to say something that would help. That would make him feel better. That he didn't have to be so scared. So whatever happened; he would be ok.

I kept mulling it over. It even motivated me to pray. I asked for help. I asked for wisdom. I asked to know what to do. I asked not to be so scared. I asked not to lose my job; I didn't think I would be able to get another one.

I tried to prepare myself every time I went back into the room. I kept getting myself all worked up before I went in. My stomach churned; I did feel a bit sick. I used to like to the quiet calmness of my job; now I was just all stressed out most of the time. But every time I went in, he was asleep. Well. I wasn't gonna wake him up! Then for a couple of weeks he wasn't even there at all. Finally I relaxed. I supposed he must have gone into remission and gone home. Or maybe worse; that didn't make me feel good.

Then I forgot about it. I got back into the normal flow of life. I did what I always did. Funny though, I felt like I had missed out on something. That thing that is just around the corner, just out of sight, but you have a feeling its good. I thought it was like someone would feel if they had done something amazing.

One day I went in and there he was sitting up, fully awake, looking at me. My heart dropped to my shoes. I wasn't ready.

I blurted out, "I'm sorry I didn't talk to you the other day. I didn't know what to say."
Jimmy shrugged, "That's ok, no-one does."

I breathed in very slowly, pleading mentally for help. "Do you believe in heaven?"

"I don't know. Dad doesn't, Mum doesn't know. We had a dog once. It got run over and they said it went to dog heaven but we could tell they didn't believe it."

He sat there for a minute. "They try to hide it from me. They don't want to tell me. They think I don't know. But I know what is going to happen. I don't want to be forgotten, when I die they will forget me, I may as well not even have been here at all."

I felt tears pricking my eyes. It was bad enough to be so sick and probably going to die but so hopeless as well. I couldn't help myself. "I don't know very much about anything. I didn't pay attention at school. You probably know more than me about heaps of stuff. But what I do know is that there is a heaven, and there is a God and he knows who you are. And he knows how bad stuff is right now. And he will never forget you. So you will never be forgotten. Not a chance."

I couldn't believe all that came out of my mouth so quickly. I was gob-smacked. But it felt right. I was excited, God had actually used me!

Jimmy looked relieved. And a bit more relaxed. "Really?" Then he looked a bit suspicious. "How do I know you're right?"

Oh fudge, flip and faith. I am going to get fired. "Jesus is the one you need to talk to. You need to ask him. You need to pray. You need to ask him to come into your heart and forgive you for all the stuff you've done wrong. When I did it I felt amazing."

"Ok". He just sat there. "Shall I help you?" I asked, desperately hoping I could remember things right enough. We went through it but it didn't seem real. I couldn't believe this was happening to me. That I was actually doing this; this wasn't for me to do. Other people were far more qualified.

Afterwards he looked worn-out. "You look beat" I said. "You need to get some sleep. If you feel lonely, just try talking to Him. Jesus will help you. It is what He's here for".

I completed my jobs and left. He was asleep before I left the room. I spent the rest of the night in a state of amazement and awe. I felt useful, like I had finally done something that actually mattered. I never thought it would happen to me. Jimmy saved my life that night. He saved it from being ordinary, mundane, ineffective. He helped me get a glimpse into potential I never knew I had. He helped me overcome my fears and self-imposed intimidation.

We talked a few more nights after this. I forgot about being clever and getting it right. I just talked about how I knew God was GOOD. And why Jesus had to die. And how by doing it, he conquered all. And how He had helped me. And the great thing was; you could see the change in Jimmy. His face had changed. He was, I don't know, confident.

I wasn't there when he died. It was my nights off. When I went back he wasn't there, so I asked about him. He died the day before.

I went to the funeral, even though I felt like an intruder. Jimmy had an open coffin and I have to say that he look amazing; like a little angel.

A couple of weeks later, I went into his room to clean and there was a man sitting there. It gave me a bit of a start because the room was still empty. "Did you know Jimmy?" he asked me. I was a bit nervous about what was going to happen. I said yes.

He kept looking at me, assessing. "He asked me to give you this". He handed me an envelope. "I just want you to know, that you made a real difference to him, in the last few weeks". He started to cry. "We will never forget him. We miss him so much".

"I won't forget him either" I said. "He changed my life".

Jimmy's Dad left. I opened the envelope. There was a card inside. All it said was THANK YOU.

Born and raised in NZ. Beginning the writing journey.

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