Wednesday, January 21

The Old Sign on Top of the Building

IT IS STRANGE, especially in the winter months – endless as they seem! – how such a small change in the morning routine, say, half an hour later, can affect one so deeply as the day seems completely different. The light upon the land is brighter, clearer, and there are many more souls making their morning commute—‘It’s chocker,’ she said. It was, and many schoolchildren, too.
We were on our way to the hospital, stood opposite each other on the tube, in close quarters, once reserved for strangers but with her it is all the more unusual so that I wish to reach out and glance her stomach with my fingers. Off the train; along the platform; up the steps covered in wooden slats and the sound of footsteps and no talking is very clear to me; the morning bustle, the commute, the pump of a city and all those who move for it; that scuffle of weary shoes on weary steps.
The new hospital is hidden behind the old hospital, where tall letters are mounted upon its front for all to see and now dim. We received directions and went up to the eighth floor where, at nine a.m., the clinic was still unoccupied.
All of the lights were on.
She took a seat. The water cooler buzzed, embarrassed that its main purpose was to aid urine production for those special plastic cups.
It was a large waiting room with some toilets and other private rooms, a stall of information pamphlets, and a socket high up on the wall for the addition of a television set. At one end of the room there were windows that looked west to the entire city.
It was five-to-nine. Clouds cut a diagonal line over the view; their whiteness lilted in orange, and above them the awakening swim of blue. Thick phallic buildings poked into the sky, not moving lest they betray the activity that stirred at their feet. And, all around, miles and miles of buildings coming to life. There were so many buildings and they were all so beautiful and different that I became lost in them for one of those temporary moments once a month when one does not realise where they are. Think of all the drama and laughter in those streets! all the blandness and insanity! It was just she and I in the waiting room. I wanted a coffee and would have wrung a neck for just a cappuccino.
Slowly an aeroplane glided across the view. ‘I think there’s something very peaceful about an aeroplane flying over a city.’
‘Like nine-eleven.’
We chuckled in the empty waiting room. I squeezed her thigh because of the night before, when we drank so much and talked so much and cried so much and, o, every time I cry it is a great pain but there is bruised blood coming out of me – so that is good. But I do not like to cry, no, not at all, and it always stifles my voice and what I am trying to say.
Soon others arrived and, finding the reception unstaffed, took a seat and stared at their phones. After forty-five minutes rolled by – the city light – we were called in. We sat in the doctor’s room and I took my seat separate to the pair of them; there were all kinds of apparatus and diagrams about the room, and a pixie-like doctor with angular calves sat down in the middle of it and the bed with the paper drawn across it. I just wished for her to be better and all of this nonsense better make her better, I thought. The doctors’ visits seem unending but they mark time, and at first the appointments seem so far away.
The humourless doctor asked her many questions. I listened to the answers, which I already knew, and the answers that had been given to other doctors before so that they had grown tiresome.
A nurse came in to aid with the examination. The screen was drawn across me, blocking out the small amount of sun that came through the window. Only noises made it through to me and I could not help but picture the scene – (requests and orders, corrections, adjustments, the probing and the shame – o, the horror!)
Finally she began to sob and to weep and to moan, so they cut short the examination.
I wanted to throw the curtain back and comfort her as best as I could but what use in that? The sound of it conjured up a nausea in my belly; I had only to wait. The nurse and doctor left the room. I could hear her behind the curtain as she dressed and dried her eyes.
Stupidly, I rubbed her arm, but I think some of the finer nerve endings are entwined in the upper arm.
The curtain was thrown back (back small sun square) and more questions were asked. We got nowhere. An operation was recommended and then organised.
Down in the pre-admission room, two old drunks were limping back and forth across the vending machines. They were good friends, there for each other, talking politely with old names and beautiful dialects, flicking their heads whenever a noise came out of the still. I watched them and drank a fizzy drink from the vending machine.
‘Charles?’
They both look up.
‘Charles?’
‘Charles? . . . that’s him. That’s him!’
‘I’m coming . . . I’m coming . . .’
‘Come on. Let’s get going . . . Thank you, thank you very much.’
They limped off and I imagined them drudging up the Whitechapel road, underneath the post office building with its paint falling off the doors, a red bus coming to a slow stop.
Their shuffles disappeared between two closing white doors.
We were seen (more questions, three phials of blood, concerned looks, some cottonbuds for the mouth, candy floss) and then we walked back into the city towards work. It was cold but the morning had come brightly. Where Commercial Street matures into Commercial Road, underneath the traffic lights, we kissed good-bye. It was almost midday and I had a headache from no coffee, so I took off in search of some but the headache remained all day.

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