Memories in the Dust
Unit watched carefully as Minta opened the door and
took some things from someone outside.
She turned and came toward him, her arms filled with various
objects from which aromas and steam were rising.
His stomach growled softly and he pushed himself upright, knowing
that what she had received was something to eat.
How he knew that, he didn’t know.
A sharp, quick pain reminded him that he needed to be careful. Remotely, he wondered what had caused the pain.
He felt empty inside, not because he realized he
hadn’t eaten; it was as though he didn’t know anything at all.
There was nothing inside his mind.
And yet, he felt he should know something.
Unit didn’t understand, but then there was so much he didn’t
Minta said something, but he had no idea what it
meant. Why could he not
understand? Why did
everything seem so strange to him?
What was it called, the things she was bringing to him?
He should know. Minta
spoke his name. “Unit,”
she said, but that didn’t sound right and she said it as though it was
something bad. He looked upward, trying to figure out why ‘Unit’ would
be a bad thing to be called. The
name ‘Minta’ sounded nice to him.
It was a happy sound, like the other sound she made when she was
happy. She tapped him on
the arm. Her hand on his
arm felt good. It was soft
and it soothed him.
She was holding out something. He took it from her dark fingers and watched as she made
motions for him to put it in his mouth.
Emulating her actions, he took a bite of the object and chewed
it. It was very pleasant
and he took another bite, savoring the flavor.
He held up the object and pointed to it with his free hand.
“Bread,” she said.
“Bread,” he repeated, making the sound over the
pieces of food in his mouth. His
mind supplied a quick picture of something similar, and yet unfamiliar.
Minta opened her mouth and made the sound that he
had come to understand as a happy sound.
He stopped eating the bread and watched.
Slowly he chewed again and then swallowed, all the while watching
her eyes. He found them
hard to look away from. Finally,
though, he tore his eyes away from hers and he looked at the other
things she had brought. He
pointed to one of them.
“Drink,” she said, holding a container to his
lips. He drank it and it
helped to ease the bits of bread down his throat.
She pointed inside the container, to the liquid that sloshed
around in it, and then she repeated the word.
When he had swallowed enough to be content he said the word, realizing that she was indicating what was inside the container and not the container itself. He pointed to the container.
“Cup,” she told him.
He repeated the word, and then pointed to everything she had
brought him in quick succession.
Finally Minta held up her hand and stopped him.
She said something else to him, but he didn’t understand. She stood next to him and pointing, said, “What?”
She was pointing to the bed. Now he was confused.
She pointed to the bed, said the word again and then patted the
bed and said, “Bed.”
He shook his head.
Minta sighed and looked around. She pointed at several things, saying ‘what’ and then
their name. He watched,
wondering what she was trying to tell him.
Minta stood back from the bed and pointed. “What?” She was gazing at him expectantly as though waiting for him to say or do something. He pondered. Then it dawned on him. The word she told him was another way of asking for new words. Smiling, he pointed to the bed and said, “Bed.” Then he pointed to her hair, which had fascinated him since she had first come in. Its color had reminded him of something, but he couldn’t think what it was. “What?”
She made the sound that he loved so much and said,
“Hair.” Unit proceeded
to ask ‘what’ for everything in the room, on her, and him.
When he had at least temporarily exhausted his curiosity, Minta
asked him randomly for every word she had taught him.
Happily, he remembered them all.
Finally, she started adding words to the other words.
“This is…” she would say and then point to the various
objects. Unit understood
that these words added meaning to the objects.
He wasn’t sure of their need, but knew that knowing them would
make it easier to communicate with Minta.
More than anything he wanted to understand what was going on, who
he was, what this place was. Why he felt so empty and lost.
He began pointing to the objects he had learned and saying
‘this is’ before their names.
She tapped him on the arm again to get his attention. “I am Minta.”
More words, but she used them as she pointed to
herself, so they were important, too.
‘I’ must be for herself, he thought, after she had
repeated the words several times.
Would ‘I’ be for myself?
Somehow, he thought it would.
He pointed to himself, “I am Unit.”
Minta stared at him, with a funny look on her face
and Unit thought he might have said something wrong.
Then she smiled and began making the happy sound.
He smiled, knowing that he had guessed right, then suddenly he
was making a sound similar to hers. His was deeper than hers, but just
as joyous. He stopped,
surprised. It felt good,
but he hadn’t tried to do it… it just came out.
Minta’s eyes were sparkling with happiness.
He looked at her and asked, “What is…” and then he began
Minta laughed with him and the sound of their happy
voices blended into a lilting symphony that filled the room. They communicated, laughed and learned for a great while,
until Unit began yawning, unable to help himself.
He wanted desperately to learn more, but he was so tired.
His eyes were closing on their own and he rubbed them, trying to
“Unit.” Minta laid her hand on his.
It sent a happy feeling up his arm.
He blinked and gazed up into her face, stifling yet another yawn.
“I must go,” she said, making motions to show that she would
walk out of the room. His
face must have reflected his understanding along with his
disappointment. She made
more motions to show that she would come back.
He nodded, but was still unhappy about it.
The door opened and another person came in.
This person didn’t smile, laugh or show any pleasure.
The individual took something out of her pocket and wrapped one
end around his right wrist. The
other she tied to the railing on the bed.
Sudden alarm made him jerk his hand away, but the
restraint held fast. As the
individual came around the bed and reached for his other hand, he pulled
it out of her grasp. He saw
flashes of something similar around his hands and ankles, something that
he hated, that he had to get away from.
She grabbed his wrist and pulled, he pulled away again, trying to
move to the other side of the bed.
Why were they doing this? Why
was Minta letting this person do this to him?
He felt a hammering in his chest, a closing in his throat.
There was a prickling in the corners of his eyes; he felt
something that he had not felt before.
He wanted to strike out. He
wanted to hurt the person taking away the happiness he had felt, the
security he had been feeling with Minta.
Looking up, he sought Minta’s eyes and saw moisture in them, overflowing and sliding down her cheeks and dripping from her chin. She was unhappy, too. Unit struggled more and opened his mouth to call her. He saw her shake her head and then she pushed the other person aside and stood by his bed. “Unit,” she said softly, rubbing his arm. She said more words. He felt the pain on his side, heard the soothing tone of her voice and realized that he could do nothing right now but wait and hope that Minta would be back as she had said. Waiting, watching and thinking sounded right to him now. Much could be accomplished by waiting. Unit didn’t know why that was so, only that it was. He calmed down and let her take his hand.
As Minta gently put the restraint on his wrist,
their eyes met. ‘It’s
all right,’ her lips mouthed. Her
eyes said the same thing. The
other person stood nearby ready to help, but did not see the silent
exchange between them. When she was finished, the other person came near
him again, this time with something else in her hand, something that
shone with the reflection of the light above him, something that looked
cold and not happy. Minta
talked to the individual and the other person frowned and replied.
They spoke for some time, their voices rising and falling,
unhappy voices, but finally the new person put away the cold thing and
left. Minta smiled
reassuringly and left as well. The
light above his head dimmed until he could only see the outlines of the
table and chair. In his mind, Unit briefly thought he saw someone else
who had walked out of his room and left him a long time ago.
She was light-skinned like he was, with dark hair, kind eyes and
a soft voice. She had never
But somehow he thought that Minta would be back.
He yawned and closed his eyes.
is the matter with you? That
unit needed pacification. Why
didn’t you let me give him the tranquilizer?” Tris hissed, anger
etched deeply on her face.
“Because he calmed down and was passive. Why give him something that he doesn’t need? Somehow he trusted me. It will be fine. I will stop by and check on him at the end of my shift,” Minta explained, hoping that it would be enough to placate her co-worker. She had felt terrible when she saw the panic and fear in the unit’s eyes. She had felt like a betrayer.
“It better be fine, because if he causes himself harm, it will go on your report, not mine.”
“I understand, Tris.
And I will check on him in a couple of hours.” Minta turned away and hurried down the hall to the next unit.
She only had one other assignment.
Thankfully the other one was almost ready for the next teacher
and didn’t need her a great deal.
She had spent much more than the normal time with the light
skinned unit. Why?
she wondered. What was
there about the new unit that drew her to him?
She wished that there had been more information on him. It might make her job much easier. Perhaps she would be able to understand her feelings better,
Later when she checked on him, she found the new unit sleeping soundly, but when she pulled away the covers to check on his wound, she felt the tip of his finger touch her hand lightly. It was a soft, gentle touch, as though he only wanted to let her know that he was awake.
“Minta, back,” he said softly.
“Yes, I promised I would come back,” she said
with a smile, pushing a button and raising the level of the lights
enough to see his face clearly.
“Come back,” he murmured, understanding.
His eyes seemed heavy with sleep, but her quiet
approach had still awakened him. “I
came back to check your wound,” she explained, wondering if he would
understand all she was saying.
“Yes,” she replied, pointing to his bandage.
To her dismay, there was a small pinkish stain.
“What is it? This wound?”
“I don’t know,” she said. He looked puzzled. Minta shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. Carefully she peeled the tape off, and gently pulled back the bandage. A partly healed cut showed itself to her and she turned the lights up a bit more to examine it more carefully. It was almost like a knife wound across his ribs, some having torn back open in his struggles. The unit was straining to look at it and Minta gently pushed him back down on the mattress. “No. Lie still,” she commanded. With a slight grunt of pain, he acquiesced.
Turning to the supply cabinet, she pressed her thumb into an indentation and heard the door click open when it had identified her. Gathering up the supplies she needed, Minta walked back to the unit. “I am going to… touch it.” She made motions to show the procedure to close up the torn section and re-bandage the wound. He nodded his understanding.
At times his breath hissed between his teeth,
telling her of his discomfort, but never did he cry out or move. When she was finished and discarded the soiled materials in
the small disposal chute, he was motioning to her.
“What do you want?” she asked.
He moved the fingers of one hand awkwardly in his
restraints, but she could still tell what he was conveying.
“This off?” he asked.
“No, I cannot,” she answered unhappily. She pantomimed what would happen when the other educator came in the next morning and found him loose.
To her surprise, he understood the entire sequence,
nodding and giving her a smile of reassurance.
“I understand, Minta.”
“You understand very well.
“I do not know.
I…do,” and he shrugged.
Minta pulled the blanket up to his chin, touching the stubbled cheek. It was rough, very unusual, but still pleasant.
“Good night,” she whispered as the reached over and dimmed the light.
“Good night, Minta.
He remembers so well! He remembers everything I have said today and everything I have taught him! What kind of a unit is he? she thought, remembering using the term ‘thank you,’ but not explaining it to him. She walked down the corridor in a daze. The chill of the night air didn’t bother her, even though the breeze pulled at her luminous flaxen hair, flipping it into her eyes. During her entire journey home on the rail commuter she thought about this unit. She was glad that the other unit under her care was going to the secondary teacher tomorrow. For some reason, she felt she had to spend more time alone with this unit.