Outside the hospital, far enough away to pretend it isn’t a necessary evil but still close enough that the pilgrimage doesn’t feel like an abandonment, there’s a concrete crucible at which the remnants of burnt offerings are given up for impossible favours. That brutalist brazier is always filled up, choked and overflowing; the solace of solidarity and the comfort offered in a fear shared, since even the echoes of prayers as fervent as those spoken there would be cacophonic, unspoken though they more often are, such that the air trembles with despair and stale adrenaline. Sometimes people are alone there, sometimes gathered in pre-cancerous congregations huddled under a sky which, by turns, threatens gloom and mocks bleakness with its bright dispassion, but the rituals observed are the same either way.
It starts with a spark, a click of flint or luciferase flare that brings the walls tumbling down, resolve broken in a moment’s respite as the supplicant drops all of their artifice to stand unmanned in purest panic. Hands shaking they raise their salvation and they inhale their fears, their dreads and their doubts, their terrors, and exhale them on a smoke made alchemically messenger, writhing angels twisting torsional around their desperate missives and plaintive petitions, to whatever gods they have or have heard of with their small offerings of life-expectancy and lung capacity. Then they leave; their votives in crumpled prayers of paper and ash ground down to scorch emphatic full stops, delineating their fearful and hopeful aspects or crushed underfoot, stepped on and passed over in blunt metaphor.