The sick granddaughter - The Amphibian Man by Alexander Belyaev

The sun was angrily hot. An old Indian, thin and ragged, was plodding along a dusty country road that ran through alternating fields of wheat, maize and oats. In his arms he carried a child covered against the sun with a little blanket very much the worse for wear. The child’s eyes were half-closed; an enormous tumour bulged high on its neck. Whenever the old man stumbled the child groaned hoarsely and its eyelids quivered. Then the old man would stand still to blow into its face.

“If only I can get it there alive,” he whispered and quickened his pace.

Once in front of the steel gate the old Indian shifted the child onto his left arm and gave the side door four raps with his right hand.

He had a glimpse of an eye through the spy-hole, the bolts rattled and the door swung open.

The Indian stepped timidly inside. Standing in front of him was a white-smocked old Black with a head of snowwhite hair.

“I’ve brought a sick child,” the Indian said.

The Black nodded, shot the bolts home and motioned to the Indian to follow.

The Indian looked round him. He found himself in a small prison-like court, paved with big flagstones, with not a blade of grass anywhere. A wall lower than the outer one divided the court from the rest of the estate. At the gateway in the inner wall stood a large-windowed whitewashed building. Near it squatted a group of Indians-men, women and children.

Some of the children were playing jackstones with shells, others were wrestling in silence. The old Black saw to it that they did not disturb the peace of the place.

The old man eased himself down submissively in the shade of the building and started blowing into the child’s bluish inert face. An old Indian woman squatting down beside him threw a glance at the pair.

“Daughter?” she asked.

“Granddaughter,” the Indian replied.

“It’s the bog spirit as entered your child. But he’s stronger’n any evil spirit, he is. Hell bring the poor thing back to health.”

The Indian nodded.

The white-smocked Black, who was making a round of the sick, stopped in front of the Indian and beckoned to him to go in.

The room that the Indian entered was big and bare, except for a long narrow table, covered with a white sheet, standing in the centre of the flagged floor. A second, frost-glass panelled door was opened and in strode Dr. Salvator, a tall, broad-shouldered, dark-complexioned man wearing a white smock. The black eyelashes and eyebrows were the only hair on his head. He must have taken to sha
ving his head long ago, for it wore as good a coat of tan as his face. An aquiline nose, a jutting chin and tightly compressed lips lent to his face a cruel, one might say, predatory expression. The cold look of his brown eyes sent little shivers down the Indian’s spine.

The Indian made a low bow and stretched his arms with the girl in them towards the doctor. With quick, sure and yet careful hands Salvator took the sick girl from the Indian’s arms, unwound the rags with which she was swathed and tossed them very neatly into a receptacle in the corner. The Indian made to retrieve them but was stopped in his tracks by a peremptory “Leave them where they are”.

Then Salvator laid the little girl on the table and bent over her. In profile now, he seemed to the Indian a bird of prey poised to strike. Salvator was examining the tumour with his fingers. These too struck the Indian’s imagination. They were long and amazingly supple and seemed to be able to bend not only downwards, but from side to side and even upwards. The Indian, normally a plucky man, tried to fight down the feeling of fear the extraordinary doctor had aroused in him.

“Excellent, splendid,” Salvator was saying, as if in admiration of what he saw. The examination over, Salvator turned to the Indian.

“Come in a month’s time, when the moon’s new again, and you’ll have your little girl back-healthy.”

And he took the girl behind the frost-glass door.

Meanwhile the Black had led in the next patient, the old woman with a swollen leg.

The Indian made a low bow in the direction of the frost-glass door and went out.

In exactly twenty-eight days the frost-glass door was opened again.

The little girl, sporting a new dress, lively and apple-cheeked, appeared in the doorway. There was alarm in her eyes as she caught sight of her granddad. The Indian lunged forward, picked the girl up, smacked her a kiss and examined her throat. The tumour was gone. There was only a tiny reddish scar where the girl had been operated upon.

The child kept pushing her granddad away with her hands and had even cried out when, kissing her, he pricked her with his stubbly chin. He had to let her down. Salvator came in. There was a flicker of a smile on his face as he patted the child’s head and said:
“Here, take your child. You were only just in time bringing her. Another few hours and even I would not have been able to recall her to life.”

The lips in the Indian’s crinkled face quivered and tears came into his eyes. He gave the little girl another hug, then fell on his knees before Salvator.

“You saved my granddaughter’s life,” he said in a stifled voice. “A poor Indian has nothing but his own life to repay you with.”

“What do I want with your life?” wondered Salvator.

“I may be old but there’s strength in my arms yet,” the Indian went on, not rising from his knees. “I’ll take the little one to her mother-my daughter-and then come back. My life is now yours-for what you’ve done for me. I will serve you like a dog. Please don’t say no, I beg you.”

Salvator pondered.

He was chary of taking new servants. Not that he didn’t need any. There was much work to do. Help Jim with the gardening, for instance. Come to think of it, he did need a servant. He would have preferred a Black, to be sure, but this Indian fellow seemed all right…

“You make me a gift of your life. Very well. I accept it. When can you come?”

“I’ll be back before the first quarter’s over,” said the Indian, kissing the hem of Salvator’s smock.

“What is your name?”

“Cristobal, Cristo for short.”

“Go, Cristo. Ill be waiting for you.”

“Come on, my girlie,” Cristo said to the child and picked her up again. She started to cry. Cristo hurried away.