Posted on Thursday, March 4, 2010
I walked into the room and sat on the one remaining padded chair, the one beside the window with the cracked white frames. An old man sat on my right, staring at the ceiling, breathing slowly and laboriously. He smelled of Mothballs and sweated whiskey. A lady sat four chairs to my left, totally engrossed in a blue matt of wool which she worked dilligently with a crochet hook. I removed my book from my shoulder bag and flicked towards the bookmark.
We sat that way for a while, breathing, stitching, reading. A low muffled male voice boomed from the Doctor’s surgery in the room next door, and rain patted the windowpane behind me rhythmically. The door opened.
A little girl peeped nervously into the room and cowered as her cover was blown blatantly by her mother behind her who swept the door open in a mess of wet umbrella and exasperated sighs. She chose the hard wooden seat opposite me, an old church pew rescued from furniture auction limbo, and lifted the small girl onto her knee. A children’s book lay on top of a bundle of magazines at the corner of the pew, and after a moment or two of dripping, she picked it up and opened it.
“Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Sarah…” she began.
I earwigged for a minute or two, then stopped pretending to read and concentrated on my paragraph for the eighth time. My brain fused two worlds together as I read and listened and turned pages. The lady carried on crocheting, the old man began to doze.
A story unravelled from the church pew about a fallen star which was injured and rescued by a little girl named Sarah, fixed with a sticky plaster from a first aid box and minded back to health. The little girl on her mother’s knee listened intently as she heard about the star’s decline in brighness and glitter, empathised deeply with the Sarah in the story, and sucked the knuckle of her left thumb. The mother’s voice, quiet and soothing, stopped suddenly as the waiting room door opened and a paediatrician’s face poked through the gap.
The book was closed, upended by the premature summons, and the memory of her voice was left to ring in the air. She made her exit, child in arms.
The room went back to its original state of crocheting, pattering, breathing and reading for a few moments, but a new energy resounded and flittered around the room like an invisible moth. Eventually, the old man got up and approached the church bench slowly, shuffling via the center table full of National Geographic magazines but leaving them untouched. He picked up the children’s book, leafed slowly to the second-last page, and buried his myopic eyes into its print. His breathing grew inaudible. I watched intently from the corner of my eye.
After an eternity, the old man still standing, turned the page and read the final few words of text… then he looked up. He let a small chortle escape his throat, smiled, and left the room with a slightly peppier step. I wondered if he was senile, or maybe by either twist of miracle or flipped state of mind, had just found a cure for his illness.
I never found out what happened to Sarah in the end, but then again I’m not sure I want to.