She was ugly. That was my first reaction when I saw her sitting there on the green sofa wearing the reddest shirt that I have ever seen. I do not think that she is ugly anymore. If I had written this soon after my first encounter with her, my description would have included words like “unpleasant,” “revolting,” and “plain.” When I saw her, I could not see her face because I only saw red. It was unpleasant to my eyes because she only existed as blinding color. Being nearly on the other side of the room, I wandered closer to the green sofa. She prompted the next stage of our encounter in a way which I found to be completely revolting. She said hello.
When she said hello, I saw her face for the first time. Her shirt didn’t look as red after I noticed her rather plain features. She had a normal face. I perceived her to be ugly because I didn’t know any better. If she had been beautiful, I still would have thought she was ugly because back then I was hopelessly cynical.
I told her that she was a revolting shade of red. She said that red was her favorite color. Red is too obvious of a color to adore if you are a girl. When I said this, she said, “But I like it for a different reason.” She said that a little bit of red goes a long way. Her reason for liking such a revolting color didn’t make any sense to me until after I was much older.
If we had a real conversation that night, I do not remember it now. I think that it is best to remember a person not by her words but by the way in which she enticed you to speak to her in the first place. She was ugly. That was why I ventured near the green sofa.
We were close for a very long time, that is, until my nose started to bleed every single night when I went to sleep on my white mattress. When I woke up, there would be hands everywhere wiping away the blood and changing my pillow case. While the hands were rearranging me, I would wonder where she was. I couldn’t find her even though her color was everywhere, reminding me of her.
“Where’s Dora?” I said, smacking away one of the hands. “Where’s Dora?”
The hands never told me where she was. They simply removed her color from my face and then went away.
The nurse sat behind the glass window. The hospital was normally quiet during the night shifts. Ever since Dora left things were much quieter. There was no longer a need to scrutinize the ward for anomalies. Dora didn’t belong in the ward. She was an anomaly. She didn’t even wear the white uniforms that were issued to her. Instead, she dyed them bright red. No one ever figured out where she found the dye. It was a joke on the ward that Dora used her own blood to stain her clothes.
The nurse looked at the ward from behind the glass window. There was nothing to watch except the patient who always sat wordless and expressionless on the green sofa.
I used to see Dora everyday. Her room waS down. the corridor from mine. She never woke up when the other patients woke up. Every morning, I was wide awake and she was still snug in bed. Sometimes I would creep into her room when no one was looking. Her white bedsheets were breathing up and down, but she wasn’t because she hid herself in the sheets so well that I could never find her. Her room was much nicer than mine. There was a wooden desk, a lamp, a book shelf, and a rug in her room. I wasn’t allowed to have a lamp in my room because in a ward, light bulbs took on a different purpose. On her desk” there was a framed photograph of a young man. I never asked Dora who he was. I never wondered who he was until she disappeared. Next to the photograph, there was a tiny bottle of red dye. It was always full even though Dora dyed her uniform twice a week. I learned not to ask questions. If I had known the things that I do now, 1 would have saved Dora with my relentless questions.
“Why are you in the hospital?” she asked me one day.
I looked at the floor for a few seconds and then at her feet before I responded.
“I was born here.”
Dora eyed me curiously and then waited for me to say more.
“My parents met in this hospital. They got married in here, and they had me, and then they died in here. I was still a baby at the time. I had nowhere else to go. The nurses let me stay because they felt sorry for me.”
Dora touched my uniform. “Why do you wear this if you don’t have to?”
“This is what my parents wore. It reminds me of them.”
“You don’t know anything, do you?” she said, almost angry.
She wouldn’t talk to me for days after that incident. 1 should have asked what I had said to upset her so deeply, but I already knew why without even asking. 1 was a moron for staying in the hospital for so long. Dora must have thought that I had no desire for life.