It was on a bleak February morning in Woking, whilst waiting for a number six bus, that I had the top of my head taken off. I remember a young couple arguing heatedly opposite the stop, absorbing me in their altercation so that I lost awareness of the bus pulling in. The vehicle’s wing mirror and my head collided and I came off worst.
The next thing I remember I was waking up in hospital. I was in a room on my own with several tubes and wires connected to my body. I was aware of some kind of contraption around my head.
A male nurse came into the room and shone a torch into my eyes. He asked if I could remember my name and address and told me I had a skull fracture and that they would be keeping me in for a month or so for tests and observation. “Good, your responses seem fine Mr. Smith. Do you have any family?”
“No.” None that were speaking to me anyway.
“Next of kin?” I gave my mother’s details although she’d as good as disowned me.
“Now, you’ve had a head trauma, you’ll feel a bit shaky for a few days, so rest as much as you can. We’ve given you something for the pain.” He gestured towards a drip connected to my left arm.
He left me and I closed my eyes. I supposed I should contact someone but I couldn’t think of anyone. No-one at work would care if I didn’t turn up and the neighbours never spoke to me anyway. I started to feel very tired and slipped into a deep, dreamless sleep.
The next thing I remember, my arm was being shaken gently. I opened my eyes to see a youngish nurse, perhaps 30 or so, attractive without being especially pretty. She had olive skin, high cheekbones and a pleasant smile, although I noticed her teeth were uneven. Her hair was chestnut brown and her eyes browner still, but large and wide, giving her a child-like innocence. She was dressed in a light blue uniform, emphasizing her skin colour.
“Hello Meester Smeeth. How are you feeling?”
I noticed that she aspirated her aitches and saw that her name badge showed just ‘Teresa’.
“Like something the cat dragged in.”
She looked puzzled for a few seconds, then laughed as if I’d just told the world’s funniest joke. I immediately felt happier and smiled at her.
“So sorry, I forgot what is a cat. In my country we say ‘gato’. Do you have cats Meester Smeeth?”
“No, not any more. I had one but he got run over. His name was Rolf. You can call me Mike by the way.”
“Oh, lo siento mucho. I am so sorry.”
“It was a couple of years ago, I’ve got over it,” I lied. “Do you have any?”
“Oh si, I have three.”
Surmising that she was of Spanish extraction I tried to remember some of the lingo from the time I spent working there.
“¿Cuáles son tus gatos llamados?”
Oh Meester Smeeth, sorry… Mike, you know my language!
“Un poco.” I thought I’d better play on the safe side.
She told me that she had three, “Gustavo, Rolando and Linda.”
Suddenly the door opened and a large woman in a dark blue tunic came in. She had a grey moustache and piercing bloodshot eyes. I caught the name Olga and Ward Sister on her badge.
“Nurse Aviles, kindly get on with your duties!” she barked.
“Yes, sister.” Teresa winked at me and they both exited the room.
Teresa would come to my room on two or three occasions a day, always smiling and seemingly happy, a stark contrast to me ex-wife, Miranda. She wore no wedding band, neither did she mention a boyfriend and I didn’t ask, not wishing to hear the reply I feared.
She asked if I would like her to shave me and she would do so, telling me stories in Spanish about growing up in Seville and learning to dance flamenco, accompanied by her little dog Coco. Then she would hold a mirror up, laughing and say, “You are very ‘ansome, Mike.” I’d look at my crooked nose and jutting, now-smooth chin, trying to avoid seeing the scaffolding around my skull. I didn’t think I looked at all “ansome” but I wasn’t complaining. She brightened up my life more than anyone I remembered.
On the morning of my third week I was looking forward to telling Teresa about a dream I’d had, in which I was supposed to be accompanying her on the guitar whilst she danced flamenco for a big audience. Just as I was getting on stage I found the guitar had no strings. The door opened and in came…Olga. “Good morning Mr. Smith. I will assist you with your ablutions.”
“She’s been transferred to another hospital.”
“I’m not permitted to say.”
“Was it something to do with me?”
“What on Earth makes you think that?” Olga’s expression was one of shock.
I felt sick with disappointment and her last comment made me feel like I’d just been kicked in the guts.
–The next two weeks were grim, all the joy had gone out of my life and I had nothing left to look forward to, save getting out of the hospital and back to a job I hated.
The final day came, the doctors were all very pleased with my unexpectedly rapid recovery, and in all fairness the staff had mainly been wonderful. They’d said they would lay on an ambulance to take me home but I said I’d rather walk. One less thing for the neighbours to gossip about.
As I walked out of the exit and through the car park I felt I knew what it must be like to be released from prison. The air was fresh and it felt great to move around freely again. I passed the haematology out-patients department and suddenly heard “Mike, Mike!” Coming out of the building, past startled patients, was Teresa. She ran up to me and although smiling I could see her eyes were wet – she had never looked lovelier to me. “I thought you’d been transferred,” I said.
“No, that was a lie to stop me seeing you.”
I silently cursed Olga. “I missed you so much.” I’d never spoken truer words.
Our eyes met and it was as if she stared into my soul and saw me as I really was before life had temporarily defeated me – strong, honest and loving. Time was put on hold and suddenly my life had meaning again.
We embraced each other right there and I felt her wavy brown hair soft against my cheek. I stood, holding her, inhaling her gentle perfume and I felt her arms grip more tightly. I hugged her harder back, knowing that I never wanted to ever let her go…