Without looking up Dr. Keating motioned for Bilqis to sit in the worn leather chair opposite from her. “One moment,” she said, as she hammered out a message on the keyboard. “I’ve got to finish this report.” She glanced up, a half smile on her thin face, “We all have someone we must answer to. Myself included.”
Bilqis had always been amazed that such a small room, at 9×9 feet, only just large enough for her to lie end to end without being able to touch both walls, could be made to look so spacious. Dr. Keating had once explained that it was the absence of clutter, which she abhorred, and the addition of a few carefully chosen pieces of classic furniture and spare yet clean art work, that made all the difference. Fifth Ward General, a city run hospital, would have never allocated the funding to decorate Dr. Keating’s office in the manner it was, so she’d likely spent her own money to affect the dark sophistication. It was lame enough that they wouldn’t even give the most dedicated medical director to ever serve Fifth Ward General a larger office, but they hadn’t even afforded her the honor of having her name stenciled on the door.
Dr. Keating sat back with her hands in her lap and pressed Bilqis with her tight gray eyes for nearly a minute before finally speaking. “I saw something interesting on the news this morning.”
“Interesting?” Certainly Keating had not called her into her office to discuss the news. She’d always been fairly genial but…
“When I say interesting, what I really mean to say is, I saw you.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand. I haven’t given any interviews.”
The gray eyes narrowed. “You were at the Church of the Blessed Maidens yesterday, during the expulsion.”
Bilqis’s brows descended a fraction as she recalled the events of the previous day. She had merely been a passerby, a witness.
“I didn’t know you were a member of that church.”
“I’m not,” said Bilqis a bit too quickly, too tersely. “I mean that’s not my…”
“Your faith? “
Bilqis nodded and then to clarify, “Correct. I am not a member of that church. It’s just coincidence that I happened to be passing by when the Authority expelled them from their building.” Bilqis closed her eyes a moment against the memory of the black clad Authority soldiers as they piled the church furniture and literature on the sidewalk and set it ablaze. Bilqis thought about the elder nun, skin as thin and pale as parchment, who begged them to show mercy, but was instead pushed to the concrete by a stone-face soldier, her knees shredded and bloodied. “What they did, I don’t know why, but it was wrong. I wanted to, but I couldn’t walk away.”
“My mother always told me to at least bear witness. At least.”
Dr. Keating ran a hand through wiry hair now almost entirely gray. It had been the color of chocolate when they’d met three years earlier. Three years earlier Dr. Keating’s face had looked ten years younger. Bilqis could never understand why such a woman, from a family of privileged researchers and entrepreneurs would continue to suffer the challenges of life and work in the Fifth Ward. But here she was, a twenty year veteran. Bilqis didn’t want to be like that. She’d been born in Fifth Ward and she’d had enough. She wanted out. One day.
“I’ll tell you a little known fact, Dr. Haq. I am a member of that church, and proudly so, but I am careful about who I let know this. Faith is a relic, they say.” She shifted in her chair and flexed her neck until a bone cracked loudly. “More than a relic, actually. Faith is a nuisance, so it has been said, and a hindrance to progression and true enlightenment.”
Bilqis sat forward poised to speak but unsure what she would say. Dr. Keating waved her off.
“I want great things for you Dr. Haq and as your mentor it is my job to guide you where I can.” She leaned forward with her elbows on the desk. “I don’t really care what you believe. That is your business and not mine to judge, but if you’re going make it out of this shit hole of a city you’re going to have to cooperate with the powers that be, or at least pretend to. Keep your faith close to your chest and if you cannot do that, then at least try not to be captured on film.”
A short written in connection with my current WIP The Hinterland Chronicles: Bilqis for Three Word Wednesday. Today’s words are Cooperate, Lame, Terse.