I’m in London to have my eye checked and early for my appointment deliberately so that I have time to take the walk along the Thames between Embankment and Borough Market, buy coffee and cheese, then walk back along the river to Westminster.
It’s half term and there are countless parents pointing out landmarks to small children and taking selfies in front of the numerous small signs across the Golden Jubilee bridge which remind prospective suicides of The Samaritans number.
I have the feeling often experienced walking by myself in the city, a sense of isolation, but a contentment at being alone amongst thousands of people. Unnoticed, invisible, demanding little space.
In the hospital I am sitting with my back to an elderly couple. when he says to her,
“Sometimes I think you were sent to me just so that you’d be able to help me through all of this”
I think to myself that he could probably have phrased it better.
He goes on,
“We’ve only seen each other four times haven’t we? I can’t remember how we ran into one another. It was on “Plenty Of Fish” wasn’t it?” he concludes, answering his own question in a way that I wasn’t expecting.
From what I observe in the hour or so which follows, it seems likely that this is and will be the tone of their relationship.
He only ever talks about himself, constantly disappears without telling her where he’s off to and she spends most of her time unable to get a word in edgeways hurrying about looking for him when he’s called by the doctors.
I want to say to her, “He’s a bit of a handful isn’t he?” but it’s not my business.
The man next to me turns and says, in unrequested solidarity, “You’ve been waiting a long time”
I look at the clock and reply, “Not really, just over an hour”
Someone once said to me that I take up little space in the world and, at the time, it felt like a good thing, a compliment, but I realised afterwards that it was not one at all.
Later, at a small birthday gathering I am talking to an old friend I haven’t seen for some years when my son comes and says goodbye as he leaves for the weekend. He is supposed to have taken his grandmother with him to drop her home but has left without her and so I have to do it.
I cut short my conversation, don’t finish my beer, to be on the safe side, and I leave the house to fetch the car.
My mother in law has dementia and Alzheimers so we spend the twenty minute car ride having the same conversation about fireworks and how the dogs don’t like them. She doesn’t remember what was said two minutes ago but, as we drive past the spot in a lay-by she still remembers the man who used to sell soft fruits every summer and how she used to take my children to “The Strawberry Man” whenever they were having a sleepover at her house. She reminds me that her late dog “Buster” didn’t like fireworks.
In the dark, with sporadic explosions of colour popping in the sky I am reminded of my own mother who died on fireworks night and how significant a presence she always was in my life, even at the point of her death. Simultaneously I am aware of how much smaller my mother in law seems than she used to.
Everyone is out now, continuing the festivities in the bars of the town and I am home with the dog. Having finished the tidying I retreat to the sofa where Daisy is sprawled with legs outstretched fast asleep. So as not to disturb her I perch on the end trying not to take up too much space.