The walk down the empty hall was as difficult as that rice paddy outside of Vin Prang was 40 years ago. The difference was, back then, his knees had cartilage and the 30 extra pounds he was carrying were in a knapsack and not permanently affixed to his belly the way it was now. He trudged on. Stepping over this sleeping body or that one he turned a corner and up the 7 flights of stairs that stood between him and his goal. Thank God, the sobs began to fade into his memory where years of practice of repression could be employed to keep the nightmares of distant past sobs at bay.

Sobs or no sobs, screams or silence this was where he was needed most. This was home. This was his world and nothing was going to dislodge him from this moment in time. On the second landing he had to rest in order to catch his breath and cursed under his breath as younger men and women sprinted past on their journeys barely giving him a glance; barely recognizing his existence on the stairwell. It was at this moment he realized that he was an invisible man. He could go anywhere, do anything and no one would pay him the least bit of attention. The world was his oyster, his brass ring, if only he had cartilage in his knees.

Outside on this New Orleans night Hurricane Danielle was pounding the city with such ferocity as to make Katrina look like a sweet summer squall. Luckily it was January with tourist season and Marti Gras months away it was only the poor or indigent that remained in the City along with the stubborn which he counted himself the King. “The King can do whatever he damn well pleases” he thought as another flight of stairs fell behind him. Resting once more he could feel the interior of the building shudder and moan and Danielle hit the hospital broadside. He had heard, just before the generators had kicked in that the east side of the building had been evacuated, some floors abandoned. Who ever thought floor to ceiling windows was a good idea should be lashed to one on the third floor. That’ll teach ‘em.

Tonight he was going to fulfill his destiny, drink from the cup of his life’s work and make a difference. There were people 2 stories up who needed him and his expertise. Maternity and Obstetrics was on the 7th floor and it called out to him the way the Sirens called to Odysseus so long ago. There were no rocks to be dashed against if he drifted left, and no monsters to consume him if he drifted right. There was only the stairwell between him and women giving birth on the one day where Nature was against them all.

Gasping for breath he gripped the hand rail and willed his feet to climb. “God damn old age, cartilage and cheeseburgers.” He muttered to himself as he pushed the stairwell door into the birthing waiting room. He walked through the staff door and reached for the cap, gown, gloves and mask he usually donned in quieter times and slipped into Operating Room #4. They were already working feverishly. 2 nurses here, one nurse there and an intern occupying the attention of the expectant father when the lead physician said to no one in particular “Who let the Janitor in here?”

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