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Sanjay stared in disbelief.
He was some distance away from his crew, hidden behind a large birch tree relieving himself when he absentmindedly gazed over his left shoulder. Then Sanjay saw it — the body of a young girl! Shocked, he nearly splattered himself. Sanjay was grateful he hadn’t, because he was about to go on air.
The dead girl was still strapped into her airline seat. She was wearing a blue dress and had long, blonde hair. The child (rather, the corpse, Sanjay reminded himself) was clutching a doll dressed in a traditional Dutch garb, complete with tiny wooden shoes. If he hadn’t known better, Sanjay would have sworn that the girl was simply taking a nap. But in all likelihood, every bone in her body had been smashed to pieces upon impact. She most certainly died from massive internal injuries. The tiny victim was but one of hundreds of corpses that littered the field in the far eastern portion of Ukraine bordering Russia.
Sanjay stared a bit longer at the body.
She looks so peaceful.
Sanjay had seen many of the bodies of those less fortunate — those whose limbs, even heads, had been ripped from their torsos. No doubt they had been sitting closest to the point of entry when the surface-to-air missile ripped through the fuselage of the sleek Boeing 777 jet liner bound for Malaysia.
More fortunate? Or less? Does it really matter what you look like after you’re killed? Either way, you’re dead.
Sanjay supposed that the girl — and those like her that had landed intact — had lost consciousness from the extreme cold and oxygen starvation just seconds after the explosion. He thought that their plunge to the earth was, perhaps, relatively peaceful.
Sanjay’s grim thoughts were suddenly interrupted upon hearing a loud wolf whistle in the distance. He looked up to see his producer waving her arm back and forth at him. She was signaling to him it was time for their live network feed to the States.
As Sanjay started to leave, the sight of the doll suddenly caught his attention.
Hmm . . .
Sanjay reached down for the doll. It seemed to him as though the small girl was tightly clutching her protector, even in death. He was embarrassed at the thought of taking a doll that she so desperately fought to hold on to. But then he quickly dismissed the idea as being ridiculous.
What the fuck, Sanjay, she’s dead! Pure and simple. Period. It’s rigor mortus. Nothing more.
With some effort, Sanjay pried open the tiny arm and retrieved the doll, stowing it in his satchel for safekeeping.
Alisha would love this. I need to get her a a gift before I head back tomorrow ... besides, this little girl won’t be needing it anymore ...
* * *
Sanjay’s producer threw him his cue:
“... Dan, the devastation in the fields surrounding this small village is almost incomprehensible. Among the amputated limbs and body parts, one can find a few intact corpses that are still strapped into their airline seats. In addition to the actual airliner wreckage, the passengers’ personal possessions litter the countryside.
“... As terrible as this disaster is, Dan, it’s been made all the more so by the militant separatists and local villagers, who are looting the bodies and their possessions in search of valuables. This morning, I personally observed opened luggage neatly lining the nearby roadway … villagers had on display items of clothing and other valuables for sale ... For APM Evening News, this is Sanjay Gusma, reporting live, near the village of Grabovo in Eastern Ukraine.“
Sanjay waited for the red light on the camera to go dark. He then he quickly retrieved a handkerchief and brought it to his nose and mouth. During the broadcast, a gust of wind brought with it the stench of decomposing bodies. The reporter thought he was going to gag but he kept his composure; he was a seasoned journalist. He had covered war zones in the Gaza Strip, as well as ethnic massacres in the Central African Republic. While this was indeed horrific, it was not the worst Sanjay had observed in his worldly travels.
“Hey, um, what’s-your-name? Constanin?”
Sanjay shouted at one of the emergency personnel passing nearby.
“Tell your men: there’s another body over by that birch tree — a little girl strapped into her seat. She’s in one piece. Wearing a green . . . no, a blue dress.“
The man merely nodded at Sanjay matter-of-factly before continuing along on his way. Death was no longer a novelty here.
* * *
“Sweetheart, I missed you, baby!”
Sanjay reached down to scoop up his four-year-old daughter, Alisha, who ran to him as he exited the baggage claim area at JFK International Airport. They hugged briefly, and then Sanjay planted a big kiss on her cheek. Sanjay’s wife walked up and joined her daughter in giving Sanjay a hug and a kiss.
“I have something for you sweetie!”
“It’s a present.”
Sanjay handed his daughter the loosely wrapped package. He hadn’t had time at Kyiv International Airport to locate a suitable box, but he had found some discarded wrapping paper from a nearby trash bin, apparently left behind from someone else’s gift giving.
For a fleeting second, Sanjay thought about the irony of giving Alisha a recycled gift wrapped in recycled paper.
Funny — he hadn’t given another thought about the corpse of the little girl in the field, nor of his violation of it until that moment.
This is different! I’m not hawking wares like those vultures in the village.
Returning to the present, Sanjay forced a smile.
“I hope you like it, sweetie pumpkins.”
Alisha tore through the loose paper. After she uncovered the doll, she squealed with delight. She hugged her father again. Sanjay’s wife, Amla, shot Sanjay a look of dismay. He knew what Amla was thinking.
A Dutch doll? In the midst of this terrible tragedy, you give your daughter a Dutch doll?
If she only knew the half of it, Sanjay thought. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say, I’m sorry. But he knew that he would catch hell from Amla later that night after they put Alisha to bed.
* * *
“Sanjay, I have to leave early for work this morning. I have a very complex surgery scheduled for today. You don’t mind watching over Alisha this morning? She complained last night that she wasn’t feeling well. I told her she could stay home from daycare and spend the day with you.”
“Not at all. I have no plans to go out today. Besides, I can always use more face time with our baby,” Sanjay replied, sipping his coffee while reading the morning edition of the New York Times.
They kissed each other. Alma smiled warmly at Sanjay, and then left. Apparently any irritation from last night over the doll was now over.
After downing a plate of toast and scrambled eggs, Sanjay went upstairs to see if his daughter was awake and ready for breakfast. It was almost a quarter to ten; it was unusual for Alisha to sleep in so late. As Sanjay entered the room, he noticed that Alisha held the doll in her arms. Sanjay reached down to gently rouse his daughter from her slumber — but was surprised and alarmed by her reaction. Alisha opened her eyes and looked at him, wide-eyed. She screamed loudly! Sanjay wasn’t sure which of them was most startled. He jumped back and nearly tripped over one of her playthings on the floor.
“Baby, what’s wrong?! Did you have a bad dream?”
Alisha lay there; her eyes wide open, looking at him with a terrified expression. She clutched the doll more tightly.
“Who … who are you?” she asked.
“Alisha, it’s daddy. Are you okay? Are you … awake?”
The little girl stared at him for another moment with an unknowing expression.
Finally, she blinked, and then replied in a normal voice, “I’m hungry, daddy.”
* * *
Days later, Amla and Sanjay were meeting in the supervisor’s office at the Henry Kane Pre-Kindergarten Daycare Center on Manhattan’s Upper East side.
“Dr. Gustma, Mr. Gustma: I don’t know what to say. She’s normally a very energetic and curious child, but recently Alisha has been listless. Sometimes, she seems to … space out. It’s as though Alisha is distracted to a point at which she doesn’t even recognize me or her other caregivers for several minutes. Then, she’ll suddenly snap out of it. Oh, and her favorite doll — the Dutch doll — she won’t let it out of her sight. Not for one moment. If any of us so much as suggests that she set it down, she begins to scream.”
“Thank you for sharing this with us, Ms. Baxter. This is very disturbing, and you have reason to be upset.”
Amla turned to her husband. She wore a worried expression. “I’m scheduling an appointment for Alisha with Ray Johnston in pediatrics first thing tomorrow.”
* * *
“Amla, Sanjay: my preliminary tests have failed to turn up anything that would explain your daughter’s changes in behavior. Of course, we’ll have to wait for the lab tests to come back. But, as you are both well aware, there are many — and I’ll stress this — many minor possibilities, ranging from ‘growing pains’ to food allergies. Amla, you know, of course, from your medical training that ‘when you hear hoof beats, you should think horses — not zebras.’”
Dr. Johnston had moved from behind his desk and joined the worried couple in the guest chairs in his spacious office. He reached out and took both their hands in a gesture of assurance and then smiled at them warmly.
“Doctor Johnston,” asked Sanjay, “Is there any chance that this is a reaction to our busy schedules? I’m gone for weeks on end, and Amla; of course, her career here at the hospital keeps her very busy. Alisha is a needy child.”
Johnston shrugged his shoulders in an effort to reassure them that anything was possible.
“I want to perform some standard psychological tests before we finish today. It shouldn’t take too long. Why don’t you come back in, say, one hour?”
* * *
Thirty minutes later, Sanjay received an urgent text message requesting him to return to Dr. Johnston’s office. Amla was already in the reception area. When she saw Sanjay, she rushed to him and embraced him. She was clearly frightened. Dr. Johnston stepped out of an examination room and approached the two.
“Alisha had a minor seizure during my examination. It seemed to be triggered by my suggestion that she set down her doll so that I could have her full attention. I’ve given her a mild sedative. The nurse is with her now.” Johnston added, “Amla, I administered diazepam. I trust you approve.”
Amla nodded meekly.
Sanjay looked to his wife for reassurance. He felt completely out of his league. But instead of seeing the strong, competent physician who would confirm Johnston’s diagnosis, instead he saw a frightened mother.
“She’ll be fine. Don’t worry, folks ... oh, I wanted to ask you: before her seizure, Alisha started answering me in a foreign language. I didn’t realize she was bilingual.”
Both Sanjay and Amla looked at one another in shock.
“Doctor, we’re both second-generation. Neither of us speaks Assames; and besides, both our families are back in India. My parents have visited Alisha only once, and that was just for a few weeks. That’s not enough time to assimilate a language, is it?”
The doctor pondered this question for a moment. “No, I suppose it’s not. And besides,” he added, “It didn’t sound Asian or Indian to me. It sounded more Germanic.”
* * *
Later that afternoon, Alisha’s symptoms grew worse. She slipped in and out of consciousness on several occasions for no apparent reason. At one point, Johnston was concerned that he might have to intubate her. He informed the couple of his decision to admit Alisha for observation overnight.
Both Amla and Sanjay decided to stay in her room in shifts. Sanjay volunteered to come back around midnight and relieve his wife. Before leaving, Amla called her secretary to have all of her appointments and surgeries for next few days postponed.
As Sanjay sat in the chair watching his daughter sleeping fitfully, his mind began to wander. He was dangerously close to having a panic attack. He envisioned a worse case scenario — one in which his little angel would grow weaker and weaker, eventually slipping into a coma from which she would never return.
As he fixed his gaze on Alisha, Sanjay’s mind started playing tricks. Instead of seeing his dark-haired, dark-skinned beauty, Sanjay instead saw the body of the blonde-haired girl in the Ukrainian field. And like the corpse, his little angel was tightly clutching the doll.
The doll! It has to be the doll!
Sanjay could think of no other explanation. He reckoned that some chemical agent or toxin must have been — and even now, at this moment — slowly poisoning Alisha. What else could be causing the bizarre changes?
Sanjay quickly rushed over to her bedside and reached for the doll. Although unconscious, Alisha held onto it firmly. With gentle, but increasing force, Sanjay tugged at the doll. After a growing struggle, Alisha finally lost her grip and the doll slipped from under her arm. At that instant, Sanjay could hear his little girl gasp for breath, before falling silent. Suddenly, a monitor started beeping furiously. Seconds later, a nurse hurried into the room, followed by a second. The first nurse held a small mirror under Alisha’s nose to check on her breathing. A second nurse reached for an oxygen mask and turned on the flow from a valve. She affixed the mask to Alisha’s face. As she did so, the first nurse began performing CPR on Alisha.
Instead of staying at his little girl’s side, Sanjay actually backed away from the bed, in the process, almost knocking one of the nurses off balance. He hurriedly left the room clutching the doll; he trotted down the hallway at a fast clip. When he reached the stairwell, Sanjay bolted down the stairs all the way to the basement.
Moments later, he found himself standing in front of one of the building’s large furnaces. Sanjay quickly threw open the door and he heaved the doll into the flames. He watched until he was satisfied the figure was completely melted down into a glob of plastic before he sealed the door on the inferno.
He then collapsed onto the floor and began to sob uncontrollably.
* * *
Sanjay didn’t know how much time had passed. He glanced at his watch, and he realized that he had been sitting on the basement floor for over two hours. He picked himself up and hurried back up to the sixth floor to Alisha’s room. There, he found his wife, Dr. Johnston, and one of the nurses in attendance.
“Sanjay,” said Johnston. “Try and stay calm. We almost lost Alisha. She stopped breathing, and went into cardiac arrest. But she’s a fighter. She’s back.”
Amla was fighting to hold her tears in check. She also looked as though she wanted to shoot daggers at Sanjay.
“Where were you?!” she hissed. “The nurses said you left a while ago and-“
“-I was trying to save our daughter!” Sanjay snapped back.
“You were what?! How in the hell would your leaving our sweet-“
Upon seeing their daughter stir, the arguments immediately ceased. All the adults present huddled around the bed as the little girl slowly reached up and removed the oxygen mask covering her face.
“Momma, daddy,” she said, weakly. “Ik heb honger. Mag ik wat pannenkoeken, alstublieft?”
“Wh-what did she say?” asked Amla, to the others.
The nurse, whose nametag read “Maartje Van De Bogart” smiled at them.
“She says she’s hungry. She wants to know if she can please have some pancakes.”
#UnReal #PlaneCrash #DutchDoll #Haunting #Boeing777 #MalaysiaFlight #WarJournalist #RussianMissile
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