Just before a young man hit me in the face I glimpsed a tall man with a golden Labrador
seeing eye dog. I always leave those dogs alone. They are working. I went round a group of three solid people to the lift and the son, the tallest, made a gesture with his right arm outflung which hit me square in the chops and I went down. And began to laugh. I who am self conscious in public, knocked to the ground. They rushed to pick me up, the young man apologising. I had seen his father going into the hospital with that close grained warm skin and asked as we all shook ourselves out, where was he from ? “Cyprus” he said, eyes twinkling, as he clucked at the boy. “He didn’t do it deliberately” I said. “I’m not so sure” his father said darkly and we laughed and parted.
Three and a half hours plus waiting in the hospital this time because, I was told, “every doctor was ill, on holiday or on a course”. Chinese trainee surgeon, Ethiopian nurse: the injection was A1 and they were both exhausted.
Then the pressure in your eye is checked (see Music and the Tiger) before being allowed home. Which for me means a black taxi.
In the meantime I had been approached by a man who recognised my voice and had listened to me when he was “away” (in prison). After ten minutes of catch up I asked how things were now. “Oh” he said “got over all that. Young and silly. You having the injections ? l’ve had 26…” Good for you. And I lost him in the clinic – nearly 50 people all to be seen several ways round and ministered to.
The last of two at the end of the clinic, I was spoken at (rather than to) by an old man who has had 134 injections and believes in the NHS as Holy Writ “but you can help yourself with eating properly, I don’t want to be dependent on anybody so I take care of myself” – well quite right too but all in that slightly hectoring tone which takes no more notice of your reply than if you swatted a fly – on a roll, as we say.
The lift brought me to street level
and as I came up the corridor, towards me came the man with the golden Labrador. The dog smiled and wagged his tail. I smiled. The dog pushed his head towards me. “I wasn’t going to speak to you” I whispered. “You’re working and I don’t want to make the boss cross.” Appreciative wriggle and more wagging, licking of nearby fingers and the man began to laugh. “He’s such a flirt” he said. “He decides who he wants to speak to…” I was just glad it was me.
The taxi driver was a very good looking man who made it clear that a fare who talked made a change, said various nice things, we exchanged notes on the world until, less than half the way home, I asked if he was married and it was just like lancing a boil. He had had two long relationships, had a son of 21 from the first, and two boys 13 and 9 from the second and both their mothers let him down badly.
The second let the younger boys down too – kept them out of school. Falsified home schooling, stopped them seeing him. And I itched to ask for the names and addresses of the women concerned because there is always another side to the story. I couldn’t figure it out and he was pouring words, as I say, like infection from a wound.
When we drew up opposite, I paid him and he kissed my hand. He looked at me and I looked at him. “The years look good on you” I said “even if they’ve been tough.” And I got out, went round and indicated he should open the window. Whereupon I reached in, kissed his cheek and said “Listen to me. You’re 49 and I am 77. I’ve got thirty years on you. Things will be better but they will only get better if you let them. Carry that stuff around with you, it will poison you. The boys will eventually decide for themselves and you must make it easy for them. Go forward, not back. “ And walked away.