...Six, five, four, three, two, one. Elena finally reaches the front of the queue and pays for her tea and a small slice of Victoria sponge cake, producing a worn note from her jacket pocket and passing it to a forgettable cashier. She stuffs the change back into her pocket, and manoeuvres her way through the round tables cramped into the light-filled canteen, raising her tray and swinging her handbag out of the way of chairs. She places the tray in front of me and sits.
I haven’t changed back into my jeans or polo shirt yet, unsure of whether I will be staying for post-op or observation. It is all quite blurry, but I feel confident that with a few hours my mind will be clearer. I look at my wife’s golden skin, darkened by a premature summer sun, freckled, marked with deep lines around the corners of her mouth and eyes. She does not look at me.
“Elena,” I say, half her name getting lost in what is meant to be a whisper, “I love you.”
I am happy, content, a little tired, but not in pain. Elena sips her tea, and crumbles off a bit of cake with her fingers, a nervous habit which often leads to food being torn apart but never eaten. She still does not look at me, but I see her lips move slightly, and she whispers, “Jay...”
She wants to say something, I can tell, but won’t, so I sit back in my chair somewhat disappointed, but never annoyed. I want to stretch myself, shrug off the tiredness, but am afraid of rupturing my stitches. So, I stay as still as possible, looking out the window at weak, baby trees planted in large pots, cluttering a small cobbled courtyard in between the canteen and an unknown doctor’s office.
A man sits on a small plastic garden chair squeezed between the plants. Dressed in black jeans and a black shirt, his pale face is turned up towards the sky, eyes closed, legs stretched, coat over his lap, and sneaky cigarette between his fingers which he keeps low, by the side of the chair. His lips move, no words that I can read, and he repositions himself while taking a drag. No-one stops him, and he, obviously, takes no regard of the ‘No Smoking’ signs stuck on the windows of the office behind him.
He checks a small silver pocket watch and shakes his long black hair away from his face. I leave observing the man who wears black on a sunny day, whose skin is as white as the clouds that are no-where to be seen, but still stretches his neck up towards the sun to get some rays pour down their goodness into his nicotine infested body. There is no need for me to read this man; he is nothing to me.
My wife finishes her tea, and leaves the empty cup with the plate of broken cake on the table, picks up her bag and pushes in her chair, slowly and deliberately. I follow suit, getting up, but not bothering to push my chair in. Elena leads the way, walking slowly through the tables, and I keep close behind. The hospital is still quiet past the swinging canteen doors. It feels strange, eerie, but the corridors are cool, and the white floors and ceiling and walls are calming, patterned with stripes of grey and blue.
We arrive back at the waiting area where I had left her hours before. The two occupants have gone, and no-one sits behind the reception desk. Elena sits down, placing her bag on the plastic seat next to her. I stand, looking around for signs of life. My search is quickly over as I hear the clicks of the nurses shoes down the passage way. She walks down, does not acknowledge me or my wife, and I am slow to stop her, as my brain does not register the nurse is actually my nurse, Jacqui, until she has made her way down to the swing doors.
“Jacqui,” I raise my voice a little, cautiously, aware that there is only silence in theses halls, and follow her.
She does not answer, so I quicken my pace, and call her name again. As my feet move faster, and my heart beat increases, I feel a sharp pain in my chest. I place my hand on my side as I continue to move. There is no blood. My stitches are fine. The pain returns as soon as soon as it goes, but my feet feel an urgent need to follow this woman, and my mouth to get her attention. I call louder, “Jacqui,” and it is met with a harder, deeper pain in my gut.
I stumble. At the same time another jolt hits me in my arm. I hit the ground, and the white floor turns black as I fall on my side. The floor is cold on my cheek. My lips move but nothing comes out. No name, no sound, no breath.
In the darkness, as I try to keep hold of any remaining oxygen I have taken in, I can hear a low mumbling, a slight buzzing, and my heart hammering, pleading to escape its jail. Someone is coming down the corridor. I am sure. Their voices are getting louder, clearer, and the buzzing is becoming, sounding, more and more like a rapid beeping.
Beep beep beep. It is almost louder than the voices, and I struggle to make out the words of my saviours as they walk down the corridor towards me, the man collapsed, on the floor, barely out of surgery.
I hear faintly, “Baker, Baker...”
Beep beep beep beep.
Beep beep beep beep.
“Dr. Andrews!” Voice, female.
Beep beep beep.
“Baker, call it.”
“...Time of death, two twenty-eight.”
They haven’t come to save me - there is someone else. Someone else, where are they? I didn't see them in the corridor. But they were here, so will someone notice me now? Take care to see there is another man lying on the ground that needs their help. I need their help. I need it.
I lie. On the ground. Feels like the operating table. Waiting, for someone to realise that I need saving. The silence flows through the corridors, the operating theatre, wherever I am. I listen closely. There are no voices, no sounds of buzzing or beeping, and no heart attempting an escape.
Time is a stranger. I cannot count the seconds, so no new minutes arrive. My brain is not working, and neither are my senses. I cannot feel my heart thumping, or register my chest going up and down, up and down, as I try to calm myself and wait. The operating table keeps getting colder, and the room seems to be getting darker. I can tell, even though I cannot see anything.
I’m not dead, as no-one has tried to save me. I have not seen my life flash before my eyes, or a bright white light with reassuring figures guiding me towards it. No deep Godly voice calling me, or demanding justification for my sins. No fire to cleanse my soul and no cloaked figure with a reaper. Although I cannot see or hear, or feel my heart beating, I can feel everything around me, and am aware of myself. It is dark; the lights have been switched off. It is cold; the warmth of my life is escaping me as I try to hold on, waiting for someone to notice.