Flora’s War by Pamela Rushby
We can always smell them before we see them.
Today itâ€™s bad, really bad, but not as bad as the first time, because then we had no conception of just what weâ€™d see when the wooden doors of the train slid back. Then, that first time, weâ€™d all surged eagerly forward as soon as the train stopped, ready to help, prepared to assist those who could walk and carry those who couldnâ€™t.
And then it hit us.
It was overpowering. It stopped us dead in our rush forward; made us stagger back. It wasnâ€™t heat, or dust, or blowing sand â€“ in Egypt, we were used to those â€“ but a smell. It was more than a smell. It was a stench. So strong it grabbed deep into our throats; made us cough and choke, made our eyes pour water. Iâ€™d never smelled anything like it before; couldnâ€™t begin to think what it was.
I know now. Itâ€™s the smell of infected wounds, of bandages that havenâ€™t been attended to for days, of unwashed bodies, of stale sweat. Awful. Just awful. But now, I can cope. Iâ€™m expecting it. I donâ€™t react the way I did that first time, almost vomiting onto the sand.
Gwen did. Well, she didnâ€™t actually vomit. Gwen would never do anything so unattractive in public. But she went â€“ very prettily â€“ quite white, and Frank had to take her back to the motorcar she was driving and sit her down for a bit. She recovered quickly, though. Gwenâ€™s tougher than she looks, and when itâ€™s an emergency she comes through. And sheâ€™s used to it now, after months of volunteer driving.
So am I.
Now I can step forward and say briskly to the doctors and orderlies on the train, â€˜Iâ€™ve got room for three in my car, who should I take first?â€™ And I can smile at the white, exhausted faces of the soldiers they send towards me, and say cheerfully, â€˜Hello! Iâ€™m Flora. Come on now, weâ€™ll have you at the hospital in just a couple of minutes.â€™
And if one of them is not too exhausted, or in too much pain, and says something like, â€˜But youâ€™re an Australian girl, arenâ€™t you? And youâ€™re driving a motorcar!â€™ I can answer something bright and cheerful, like, â€˜Well, you canâ€™t be too bad then, if you can notice things like that! Thatâ€™s good! Youâ€™ll be fine in no time!â€™
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