Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Reluctant Voyager

The Reluctant Voyager

     I switched off the engine and gazed through the windscreen. The grass in the park was so green that it hurt my eyes. The old oak trees, branches bowed low, had trunks of melting brown chocolate. I felt a huge longing to go up to the man walking his dog. To join in the carefree frolic as he let his pet off the leash and it went scampering about, sniffing everything, remembering the smells as if they would be gone tomorrow.
     But I had a voyage to make. The hardest one of my life.
     I looked in my rear-view mirror. The angular concrete and glass hospital was a brooding monster, awaiting me with its busily-chewing mouth of revolving-doors. My hand shook as I locked the car. I tried to swallow past a tongue that felt thick, hot, and dry, as if my head had already entered a crematorium furnace.
     And the worst bit, of course, was being alone. But I hadn't wanted anyone to come with me. It was one of those occasions which a man needs to attend on his own.
     In Reception a wild, swinging party was going on, tempting me to stay awhile. But I knew I had to keep moving, and I knew where to go.
     My footsteps echoed along shiny corridors. I looked up. A hazy fluorescence from the overhead lights spun angelic halos around faces from my past. Some comfort, then, in this promise of an afterlife.
     Then I froze, wide-eyed and still. Two snaggle-toothed demons had just scuttled sideways around a corner with a whispery chuckle. Pale figures passed by like ghosts, satisfied with my credentials for entry to their world, glancing at me---then glancing away in tacit acceptance.
     There was a long queue outside hell. I awaited my turn patiently. My mind had gone blank. I wouldn't think. I couldn't. When I got to the top of the queue I watched the nurse's lips move but could hear no sound. And then she pointed to where the others waited, sitting in chairs. I walked over like a zombie and sat down, going semi-catatonic, staring down at the threadbare, tea-stained carpeting.

     It was a three hour wait. More than long enough to go to hell and back.
     Rocking slowly, to and fro, and then a gentle hand on my shoulder.
     "Er..... Mr Smith?"
     I got up stiffly, and made my way to the curtained cubicle, suddenly eager to see the tele-transporter that would whisk me away to unimaginable worlds. I even managed a tight, grim smile. But the nurses were used to it.

    Then a face I recognised. Alicia!
    Our eyes met. Nothing. My knees turned to jelly. I slumped down heavily in the chair opposite her desk and she looked up in alarm from her notes.
     "I----I'm all right," I muttered.
     Nurse Alicia's face thawed into a smile. "Of course you are, John. Your tests were fine. The cancer hasn't spread. Once we remove that awful polyp from your bowel your troubles will be over. You're booked in a week from today......."
     I staggered out. A drab and normal hospital corridor greeted me. The party in Reception was suddenly over, and now there was only the monotonous bustle of people coming and going. The scuttling demons had turned into cast-off plastic shopping bags. Outside, the grass was its usual semi-yellow colour, the bark on the oak trees chipped and faded. But I just stood there, feeling all the strength of the world flowing through me, inhaling lungfuls of diesel-tainted air that to me were as intoxicatingly sweet as if fresh off the powdery slopes of some alpine resort.
     Yes, my heightened sense of awareness had vanished, but I didn't care. It just felt so darn good to be alive!

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