It was nighttime, and we were watching from some distance, but we believe we saw the shot hit somebody in the head, the boy was injured in the same neighborhood, and his was the only head injury from that particular neighborhood on that particular night.
By the time we arrived at the “clinic” the boy’s wound had been cleaned and the hair around it was shaved, prepared for stitching.
About the boy: he was thirteen years old, small and skinny, wearing a red t-shirt with white stripes and was terrified. Not only had his head been split open when the protest ended in clashes and a tear gas canister was fired directly at him by the riot police, but his fifteen-year-old brother had also been arrested, and the brother’s fate was unknown. When the boy covered his face with his hands and began to weep, it was for his brother, he told us, not because of his wound.
About the “clinic”: it was the living room of a family who had made it available for this purpose. The boy sat on a thin mat on the floor, two women nurses wearing black abayas and hijabs crouched down next to him, gauze, cotton balls, ointment and rubber gloves strewn on the floor between them.
If the boy’s family took him to a proper clinic or to the hospital, he might be arrested for having participated in a protest. If the nurses treating him were discovered, they, too might face arrest.
“But we have to do something,” one nurse, a young woman with a quiet voice and flashing eyes said to me. “When I see this happening, especially to the children, I can’t just sit and do nothing.”
Would she say that on camera, with her face covered, I ask.
She smiled and shook her head no. “I was already arrested and they know me and even my voice. It is too risky.” She showed me a bone in her body that had been broken from torture she received during her last imprisonment and how it had not healed properly and never would, even after two surgeries.
The women turned their attention back to the boy who was crouched on the mat, head buried between his knees, waiting for what was to come. The nurses told him to lay face down on the mat and began their work, without anesthesia. The boy screwed up his face and squeezed his muscles against the pain, but he did not cry. With primitive instruments and deft, gentle fingers, the women stitched his gaping wound closed, and bandaged his head with gauze.
The nurses returned the scant medical supplies to a suitcase as the boy sat up and gingerly explored his bandage with his fingers.
The next day, the boy would be in great pain, vomiting, unable to eat. His family would wonder if they should take him to the hospital after all, but how to explain the cause of the injury, how to explain that the wound was already stitched?
For the moment, however, the ordeal of the treatment was over, the boy had survived the pain, and he had been brave.
This was but one boy, hit by one tear gas canister, being treated at one underground “clinic.”
How many like him lay on mats in apartments across Bahrain, as nurses and doctors work clandestinely and at great risk to themselves with crude supplies and quick fingers, stitching up their injured children?
JEN MARLOWE is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, author, playwright, human rights advocate, and founder of donkeysaddle projects. Her current book is, The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker, (Nation Books) co-written with and about Palestinian peace activist Sami Al Jundi. Her previous book was Darfur Diaries: Stories of Survival. You can follow her on twitter at @donkeysaddleorg or on Facebook at donkeysaddle projects.
This article originally appeared on Witness Bahrain.