“Are you ready?” She asks, dark circles under her eyes, which no amount of sleep can erase.
I reply with a nod, and reassuring smile, sitting down on the stairs as my son had done half an hour before. I put on some trainers, and give my feet a stretch in the stranger footwear.
Elena drives. It is unusual, watching her drive me. She is rough on the gears and gives too much gas, but is careful still. She looks both sides before pulling out at junctions, and knows where every crossing is, slowing down and letting pedestrians cross, increasing a debt of good deeds. The roads are busy, parents getting to work after the school-run, mums running back home to put the laundry out, and some dads dropping off their kids who are late for the first lesson of the day.
Although we sit in traffic every few minutes, I do not notice much of the journey. I am aware that Elena looks at me every once in a while and smiles her dimpled smile. I am aware she switches the radio on to break the silence, but keeps it at a low volume in case I feel the need to talk. I am aware that she is taking the quickest route to the hospital, the same we have been taking for the last few visits made there.
I switch off the air conditioning and roll down the window, craving real air as we turn off the main road onto a curvy lane that leads straight to the next town. The wind blows my hair away from my face and I let the sunshine bathe my face from in between the tall trees. As we near the hospital, my heart is again reminded of why we make this trip on the sunny Wednesday morning, and takes the chance to beat a little louder and a little faster.
Elena parks, front first into a spare bay by the west entrance. She reverses, and straightens up, and then reverses again to straighten up. Happy that she is within the white lines, and that we both have enough space to get in and out of the car without hitting the white pick-up truck on my side, or the silver Mercedes on hers, she switches off the engine and gives me one final car smile.
We slam the car doors shut. Not at the same time, but close enough together to mimic my heart beat. Ticket paid for and displayed. Way made to the entrance and to the correct department, where the receptionist is informed of our arrival. We sit only for a few moments in the near-empty waiting are. There are only two other people who take command of the green plastic seats: a lanky teenager, with a defined jaw, dark brown hair, good skin and beauty spots, and a woman who is perhaps in her mid-forties or, if time has been unkind gifting greys and deep set lines, in her late-thirties.
Jacqui, the nurse who had seen me all the way through, pigeon-steps into the waiting area with her small feet and wiry black hair. She gives my wife and me a big smile, and speaks in her thick, sweet Philippine accent, “Hello Mr. Jane, and Mrs. Jane. How are you? Are you ready? There is no need to worry, Dr. Andrews is very good. Very good.”
She continues to comment on the practised doctor, speaking fast, not letting me reply as I leave my wife with a kiss and squeeze of a hand. She leads me down the white corridor, plastered with posters on health, transplants and new NHS procedures and schemes, then through swing doors which take us down a bare corridor.
The ceiling is flickered with moving yellow dots. I squint my eyes, and then shut, but the dots are still there, tattooed to the inside of my eyelids. Open again, and Dr. Andrews peers over me. I can tell he is smiling from underneath his mask by the deep laugh lines around his eyes which seem to get deeper every time we meet. Over my other side, a young man with strawberry blonde hair and striking blue eyes stares at me.
Dr. Andrews, veteran, marked with whites sweeping back from his sideburns and infesting his thick black eyebrows, introduces me to Dr. Saunders, the anaesthetist maybe, “Who will be assisting this morning. Lucky you, two great doctors, eh. We’re going to start you on a little local anaesthetic.”
I am certain that the young, blonde Doctor can hear my heart hammering my chest to get out because he whispers, “A little something to take the edge off,” coupled with a chuckle and the gas mask being lowered to my cold face.
I count backwards as directed by the men in bluey-green scrubs. Ten, nine, eight, seven...