Sister Emmanuelle

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Gil Braltard

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Her name was Iris but he had nicknamed her Sister Emmanuelle, as he so admired her altruism which reminded him of the self-denial of a nun. Her radiant face never betrayed the slightest sign of irritation or weariness, and no sigh ever wrinkled the sweet smile of her full lips.

In hospital for a routine heart autotransplant from his stem cells, Paul could not understand how such a young woman – she couldn’t be more than eighteen – could perform the hard and thankless tasks of a nursing auxiliary at Yamanaka hospital with such obvious pleasure. Because, unlike Sister Emmanuelle, nothing about her suggested any religious faith whatsoever. Not even a chain around her neck which might have indicated the discreet presence of a cross on a pendant. Could she have been overwhelmed by a secular vocation to devote herself to her fellow man at the age when you want to grab hold of life and live it to the full? Paul lost himself in speculation but it was not until the morning of his fourth day in hospital – when his curiosity overcame his reserve - that he plucked up the courage to ask her about her private life.

“Tell me, Iris, what do you do in your free time, outside work?”
Without pausing in her disinfection of the two minuscule scars on his throat, she fixed her shining gaze upon him.
“I educate myself.”
“Right, well, OK, but that can’t be all you do. You must have some fun as well, surely?”
He thought he saw a touch of incomprehension in her eyes. Yet she replied with a dazzling smile,
“I can’t think of anything more fun than acquiring knowledge.”
“Yes, but you must have some friends.”
“Oh yes, I meet up with them every night.”
He was unable to learn any more. She evaded all other questions about herself with great finesse.

As every other day, at the end of her shift, Iris went to a technical zone in the hospital basement. Her colleagues, Noa, Jasmin, Hyacinth, Azalea and Lilia were already there. They smiled at each other as they placed their hands on the metallic strip running all round the walls of the empty room. Their eyelids fluttered like butterfly wings several times before they closed. Maintenance and charging would take all night.

Report from the District Hospital Board, 18 October 2030 
To help overcome the shortage of nursing staff, the District Hospital Board is currently trialling the introduction of anthropomorphic empathy-enabled robots in various services of the hospital.

Translated by Wendy Cross

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