An Exercise in Patients

ImageHe bestrides the plastic chairs like a colossus, sinking upon them with the dire decision of a Hoffmann Press; and yes, as the thin foam cushions wheeze in protest, it is entirely possible some steam does rise.  Bestowing an avuncular smile upon the sad woman in the wheelchair, he begins a genial conversation in a voice expelled from his chest with the gusto of an organ’s tenor pipe.  His t-shirt and his shell-pants don’t quite meet.

The sad woman does not really want to talk, for she is old and her years drape from her like the folds and furls of a badly-fitting conscience.  She hates her visibility, the statement she makes:  ‘I am ancient and disabled – only pain could bring me to this’.   Her eyes betray no direction the room can see, but at home upon her favourite window-seat a book lies waiting, neatly marked at her place.  Her eyes have never left it.  She wants, she so badly needs, to finish her book.

“It’s paint, you see.  It’s stuck.”  Explains a man with a red eye to a little woman who dutifully listens, while secretly wondering how she came to be drawn into conversation.  “They don’t know what it is.  It should have cleared by now, but it hasn’t.”  He squints to offer further justification:  a finger begins to rise threateningly towards his lower eyelid and the woman draws back, alarmed.

She smiles politely.   There is nothing wrong with her, she says apologetically – she is here with her husband.  “They’re seeing him now.”

A policeman, mighty in protective black, rattles around the corner.  He scans his assembled audience with his best ‘Any terrorists?’ glance, then jingles from sight for a moment to reappear, accompanied this time by a fellow rattler who has a miscreant on his wrist.  They sit, the three of them.

There is nothing remarkable about the miscreant apart from his manacled attachment to the fat jingling man.   He is very white – white singlet vest, white trousers, white trainers, white flesh.  He is also very under-weight, unfortunate in a man who has decided to tell his life in pictures, for the tattoos that adorn him have shrunk to a point where they are indecipherable.  Only one, a voluptuous and very naked female on his arm, remains regrettably explicit; though disfigured by diet.  Clearly Mr. White has woken this morning and donned his ‘ready to be arrested’ look; and he seems to bear no ill-will towards his captors, with whom he jokes freely. 

A chariot-race for the lavatory ends badly.  The polite ‘After you’ duologue does little to diffuse the grinding of metal or the subsequent mutterings of the elderly loser.  The name of the man lying across five chairs is called.

“Mr. Odergrass?”

He has been sleeping, or in some way dormant there for as long as anyone canImage remember.  Few seem to have noticed him.  His rising, difficult and undignified as it is, causes raised eyebrows from those of us who nearly sat on him, apparently.  He limps painfully to his destiny with a look of accusation at the woman talking to the red-eyed man about dogs.  Maybe she did sit on him?

Oscar Wilde enters.   Tall and regal of bearing with the arrogance of the artist in his stride he uses a rolled umbrella as a walking cane.  He is also wearing a long overcoat.  It is thirty degrees outside.  He glares around him at the seating arrangements, tutting disapprovingly, then stalks to a chair free of immediate neighbours, where he imitates the actions of Mr. Odergrass.  He smells of alcohol.  He snores sonorously.

The waiting room – an hour gladly spent for the new characters I found there, though I would have wished for other than a hospital accident and emergency department, maybe.  There is so much to be gained in watching the actions and interactions of people forced into proximity by time and circumstance it is no wonder so many great writers have weakened.  A simple set with volumes of space for reflection. A thousand unwritten plots.


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