The nurse brought Banks to a room crowded with nurses. Flying boots stood just inside the door. A burnt-smelling leather jacket had been dumped in a heap beside them. Several nurses were trying to remove the remainders of the man’s clothes. The German was not resisting but he seemed confused and on the brink of panic. His eyes were swollen shut in a face that was a mass of raw, blistered skin.
“Relax,” Banks called out to him in German. “Everything’s in order. They’re trying to help.”
“Where am I?” the German asked. “What’s going on? What is going to happen to me?”
“You’re at a hospital for burn cases, but they need to get the bullets out of your arm first. The doctor will need to operate. Don’t worry. You’re in good hands here.”
“Are you German too?” The newcomer asked with a trace of hope in his voice.
Banks hesitated. How should he answer that? He decided on, “No, I just went to a Swiss boarding school.”
The senior nurse interrupted. “Can you ask his name, age and blood type, please?”
Banks obliged, learning additionally that the German pilot was only 20 years old and a mere lieutenant. This was not one of their so-called “experts,” just a lowly pawn like himself. After relaying the required information back and forth, the nurses bustled off. Before they left, however, one suggested that Banks stay and talk to the patient for a few minutes. “It will calm him down while we prepare the surgery.”
Banks lowered himself into a chair by the bed. Since the German patient was a pilot like himself, he opened with the most obvious question. “What did you fly?”
“Messerschmitts, the 109.”
Banks nodded, then realised the other man couldn’t see him and said, “I see. I flew Hurricanes. Have you been flying long?”
“Are you an intelligence officer?”
“No, just another pilot. Burned like you.”
“Oh.” A pause. “I’m sorry.”
“No need to be.” Goldman responded automatically, but then he thought about it a moment and added, “You don’t need to apologize for my burns or thinking I’m an intelligence officer, but you ought to be sorry for trying to conquer England. You have no business doing that.”
“I’m only following orders.” The German pilot sounded more miserable than defiant, adding, “Hitler didn’t want this war. He begged England to accept the new world order and even offered to let you keep your colonies.”
“Let us keep what we already have? What is ours anyway? And why should we accept a ‘new order’ based on racism, hatred, brute force and bullying?” Banks demanded indignantly. Then he remembered the nurse wanted him to calm the patient. Swallowing down his anger, he announced. “This is no time to argue. Maybe after your operation we can talk again. For now, let’s talk of something else. Where are you from?”
A pity, Banks thought. If it had been somewhere he knew, somewhere pretty, he could have said something nice about it. He looked for a new topic. “Tell me about your family.”
“My father’s a plumber.” Nothing in common there, either, but it reinforced his impression that this young man was just a pawn, the pawn of an unscrupulous dictator.
The German volunteered. “I have three sisters, two older and one younger than me.”
At last, something in common, Banks thought, and at once volunteered, “I have two sisters. One older and one younger. My older sister is married and has moved far away. My baby sister is nineteen now.” He pictured Sarah as she’d looked waving from the quay with her yellow scarf. She would be devastated to see him now.
“My younger sister is just twelve,” the German said into his thoughts, adding, “It’s my fiancée I worry about. We’ve only been engaged a week, eight days exactly.” It came out almost as a whisper and Banks felt sorry for him. What girl would want a man whose face had melted away? Aloud he said, “I’m sorry. That’s very bad luck, but you’ll be able to write her via the Red Cross. She’ll find out you are alive and will wait for you.”
The other man didn’t answer. He probably shared Banks’ assessment of how a woman would react to the sight of his face. That nurse had said it all by vomiting. After a moment the German said, “Please, would you be sure someone thanks the people who rescued me. They risked their lives.”
The nurses were back with a trolley and orderlies. “Tell the patient we are taking him to the operating room and will be giving him an anaesthetic.”
Banks did as he was told and watched them roll the German away.
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