Preparations for Transport continues… (for preceding parts, see page under Not That Beautiful, opposite)

The next days followed quickly and without major variation, except they got shorter. Tolerances to this phase of the treatment apparently decreased over time, our days ending earlier and earlier.

By three o’clock on the fourth day immobile figures on mats outnumbered those who were moving. There were squeaks and rattles and the trolleys departed.

The woman in white stopped a tall male dancer on his way out. He came back minutes later with a ladder and removed the clock. The woman in white no longer wanted us to measure the effects of the treatment by the clock.

After that first time I did not wake again in the night. But I had the impression of ghostly old people padding around me, the volunteers.

Your arms began to remember late at night and your legs and buttocks. And you might have fallen into a deep black well to start with but before morning you became restless, rolling from one side to the other.

Waking reality infected what dreams there were until you awoke at last exhausted and afraid.

On the fifth morning, or it might have been the sixth, the heat lamps came on and as usual the room went from a warm red to a brilliant white and the dancers hurried through collecting our blankets and mopping up whatever had spilled or seeped from our sleeping bodies. As usual they brought out bowls of thin sweet porridgey stuff and put them on the side tables.

There were the normal sounds of yawning and different ones like whimpers and small cries as we made our way to breakfast. But today only one trolley squeaked and rumbled into the hall.

The woman in white parked it up beside the odd piece of apparatus, which had become familiar enough to have almost disappeared.

Four nurses stood beside the apparatus. The woman in white consulted some papers and the nurses whispered amongst themselves.

The dancers variously mopped, wiped, shook out mats and repositioned them.

Breakfast took two or three mouthfuls and you felt sick. It tasted like condensed milk reinforced with baby’s formula.

By the time we’d finished everything was in order.
The half full bowls went into big plastic tubs and were whisked away. Our dancers guided us to our mats at a pre-arranged signal.

The dancers left us sitting or lying on our mats and joined the nurses around the giant egg-cup.

The woman in white seemed to be questioning them.

There were nods and some shaking of heads. Then the mood of the dancers rapidly lifted and became light as if they were relieved, as if the woman in white was pleased with their progress. There was even a bit of laughter and some gentle applause.

One of the dancers took a little bow. Her or his group, sometimes it was impossible to tell, comprised two of the smallest girls.

The dancers came away from the meeting with smiles. The one with the little girls went so far as to give them both a quick hug.

Karim smiled at our group. He patted me on the back.

It was impossible not to feel happy for them even if you didn’t know why.

Karim guided us through our movements.

You felt that the normal resistances of bones and muscles had gone. You saw into the small of your back, while your legs changed places with your arms and your neck stretched around. And even your skull seemed to be able to change its shape. And for all that you didn’t want to look too closely or consider how you looked from the outside.

If you did for an instant step out of yourself, it was sickening to see. It was like watching a snake swallow an egg.

Your limbs slithered over each other. You were jointless. You were all fibre, a single sinew.

The movement was continuous, until at some point you passed out again.

Waking, you would resume the exercises.

I’d gone for a few seconds into blackness. I came back out of it to the sound of clapping.

The hardest things were now things like sitting up, getting upright.

You could say I rested on my elbows, but equally my cheek rested on my knees. I tried to see what was going on.

Karim and other dancers were clapping. Most of the middle school were like I was.

A few attempted weakly, limply to join in with the applause. They slowly brought their arms together, like flippers.

One of the small girls had been lifted to shoulder height by the dancers. She wore a slack grin and was being paraded around the hall.

After a circuit, she was carried to the front, to the woman in white and the egg-cup.

They sat her in the egg-cup. She rested limp as a squid on the blue gel pads, which held her arms and legs and supported her buttocks and neck and followed the curve of her spine.

Adjustments were made. The tap-wheels turned.

Her legs met her chest. Her arms crossed in front of her. And her neck bent forward. It was taken further forward.

Then they seemed to compress her body.

As if they’d suddenly thrown a lever sucking all the air out of the egg-cup, there was a strange sort of hiccup from the girl.

Her body was vacuum-packed, yet still suspended on the pads.

The woman in white removed several syringes from their packets.

She took samples from all over the compressed form, sliding one under the thin skin of her scalp.

The small girl blinked. She didn’t, she couldn’t struggle.

Seeing all eyes in the hall on her, the woman in white gave a small bow. It was an acknowledgment of their accomplishment as much, now that we had all seen what we were working towards, as a sign to resume our work.