The vague smell of of plastic and disinfectant forced the reality of the situation through my nose. I angled my body towards the front entrance, all about to leave, with only one foot to anchor me to the waiting area. A lone seated woman shot me with a questioning frown. I retreated to the cork board whilst I figured it all out. The notices had, on glossy paper, depressingly optimistic newsletters and information booklets so I blurred my eyes and focused on the noises behind me instead. A quick scan of the waiting room, over my shoulder, confirmed that she wasn’t here, in the waiting area, though she probably was here, in the hospital, and if she was here then her child was here, and if she had a child then the odds were that she was married.
The intermittent sound of the opening, closing, sliding door of the front entrance marked, with gusts and noise the slow passing of the seconds in which I tried to figure out what the hell it was that made me look for something different doay, at why I couldn’t have just done what a boring, skeptical person might have, but of course, why would I? Routine is so much worse. These glossy brochures reeked of routine.
Another warm gust preluded the voice of a squawking girl who said: “They’re all dead and they’re gonna fall down!” Followed by a shush from her invisible mother. I traced their path from the sound of her shushes. They paused somewhere behind me. The child said: “Mommy look at the lost man.” and I felt the A.C tickle my neck. She didn’t shush her. That silent stamp of approval lent a profound weight to the girl’s observation. “Mommy, why does he look so lost?” I detached from the board and sat on a couch. Waiting seemed the expected thing to do. The child stared right at me. I could feel her eyes through my peripherals. Her mother tapped on her smartphone with one hand, the other tethered to the child.
I stared down at the carpet. Squeezed my hands together. The carpet began at the sliding door and ended on the clacking tiles of the hopsital proper, where people perpetually speed walked in my peripheral vision. The carpet contained a gold threaded design. I tried to follow that thread, lost it in it’s incorrigible circles that looped and twisted all over the floor. Then someone’s phone, some child’s app perhaps, croaked “Baa baa.” And it said “black sheep” and I said “Balith.” Then in my head: Barrbalith. Then the thread seemed to glow. I unfocused my eyes and watched how it began near my feet. Shuffled my soles till the tip of my toes touched the furtive beginnings of that treaded on thread. The patterns coalesced. They led all the way to tiny feet that mostly hovered above the carpet, that were always accompanied by adults whose feet were planted on the fabric, their bodies linked, by hands or arms or with heads on shoulders. I sat back slowly till I could see all of it, the whole waiting room. The people moving at the edges were as natural and uninteruptive as the rhythmic movements of a clock’s hands.
I felt their eyes. The children’s eyes prodding my chest. I did not stare back. One by one their legs stopped shaking, they put down their phones and distractions, toys and books and just stared in stillness at me whilst their parents continued, individually oblivious. A child voice said “green shell, sea shell, and don’t ring the bell.”
Another followed afterwards: “left and right and left and right again.”
And then a third said “she carried it in her right, good speed.”
And I whispered “Godspeed, thank you.” And got up. Walked towards the hospital with its maze of corridors and took the first left. I walked at a slow pace as there was a tuneless melody in my head that I kept time to. Towards me jangled a rolling gurney, a tiny female nurse behind leaning into the gurney to push it. The man on it locked eyes with me as he passed and I felt a billowing sadness, absolute conviction that he was going to die soon, but still, I did not break stride. I took the first right. Approached two double doors and pushed through. On the other side was a bright eyed woman wearing a white coat, she looked at me and opened her mouth and I nodded at her with as much command as I could muster, gesturing the clip board towards her without pause and heard no questions over my back. At the end of the corridor branched, left and right, and in the middle another damn cork board, covered in the same too bright brochures. Close enough to it, it seemed identical to the previous board, with the brochures in the same places, covered with the same tacks, angled in the same directions. In one corner however, was an empty space, with a green tack and a scrap of ripped paper impaled by it. I checked to see no one was watching. I sidled next to the shelf that lay underneath the board. In the space between it and the wall I could see, jutting out, the corner of a brochure. Another check to make sure I was alone, then I kneeled and tried to pull it out. Too far in. Too heavy to move. I used the clipboard to dig it towards me instead, froze unfinished when I heard the sudden, hurried footseps. I held still. If I turn it’s over, I just know it, the same way I did as a kid, whenever I was caught in the middle of doing something I shouldn’t have, just hold still and it’s as if they can’t see you. The footsteps went on past.
What the hell am I doing?
I fished out the brochure. Brushed the dust off it with the edge of my clipboard. It was for the cancer ward, the whole thing colored blue. On the walls I foung a strip that lead towards the lift, and the number for the ward. I went in, clutching the info. Exited onto a corridor with a desk, behind which was no one. I’m not entirely sure what to do. At this point it was best to probably ask whether that woman had come this way. Something resembling faith told me it was worth a try. I thought to yell, but it didn’t seem appropriate, so I waited for a few minutes. No one came, and I could detect the faintest of background coughs, muffled sounds from other doors. I noticed the bell on the desk, just like the kind you see in movies on hotel front desks. My hand was right over the tip when I stopped. Don’t ring the bell. I left it. But why not? Why shouldn’t I? Because it would disturb people right? Because I might be heard.
I walked back towards a corner and just watched. Eventually I heard a rolling trolley. It stopped right at the branching point of a corridor so that I could see a snap shot of it. It went right so I followed. Till a door opened on my left and something pulled my arm roughly, into a pitch black room.
She said: “Later on when you don’t believe me try to remember how I knew you were right outside this door, at exactly that moment, when there is no way for me to look outside.” Then with her free hand she handed me a bag of ice for the burgeoning bruise on my head.