Today the real Colm is small. Thin, with sparse red hair and timid body language. No chin. Some of the others in the narrow corridor that serves as an extension of the waiting area for Suite 1 in St James’ Hospital look up from whatever they are doing to pass the time and find distraction from that fear which he imagines they all share with him.
He scratches the stubble on his chin. No matter how thoroughly he thinks he has shaved there is always a spot, triangular in shape to his fingertips and framing his dimple which resists getting a perfect shave over and over again. Reassuring really to have something that never changes. He wonders if others are playing the same game of guessing who is who when someone’s name is called out. You could have a fair guess having scanned the people in the waiting area a few times, without making eye contact of course.
He had guessed the wrong Colm, had thought it was the man with the thick curly grey hair sitting next to what he takes to be the man’s wife. In their late fifties he thinks and what makes him think they are husband and wife is that they occasionally grunt at each other. She is otherwise occupied with knitting what to him looks a shapeless fluorescent green blob. Some sort of wear-to-be for a grandson or granddaughter perhaps. The couple are dressed in drab colours and he can’t imagine them wearing any eye-piercing colours themselves.
She must have felt his gaze and he quickly lowers his head back down towards the screen of his Kindle. He’s already finished reading Kafka’s short story “In the Penal Colony” and the jury is out on that one being a suitable pick for passing time in the hospital. Knitting has become very rare under the circumstances of waiting for one’s turn to be seen to in a hospital he forces himself to reflect. He is counting how many people are waiting in this area with him and is analysing the various means of distraction that appear to be in use.
There are 23 people including him. One of them knitting, the wrong Colm’s assumed wife. Five patients only are reading books, as in paperbacks. A young woman has a student workbook of some sort in which she is ticking off multiple choice questions. Distance and angle don’t allow him to make out what the subject of her studies is. For her sake he hopes it isn’t medical. Interesting how common it appears to have become for students to not have to come up with and phrase the answers to questions themselves, in their own words and style. It doesn’t feel that long ago that he was a student himself.
One iPad and one Kindle only, his own. Only two people doing nothing at all except trying to avoid eye contact with others and for the most part staring at some vague spot on the wall opposite. Everyone else doing stuff with their mobile phones – Twitter, Facebook, texting, reading news, playing games, whatever. Social media substituting being accompanied by family or friends? Out of the 23 people waiting only three appear to be of the accompanying kind. There is the knitting woman – he is sure that the wrong Colm is the one with the medical problem out of these two, his complexion grey in contrast to the knitting woman’s pink cheeks. Then there is one of the paperback readers with a mobile phone obsessed teenager beside her who is her daughter surely. Same upturned nose and round face. A fragile old lady in a wheelchair has her burly carer towering over her. The carer looks like the mental picture he has formed of the officer in Kafka’s story. Wouldn’t it be amazing if she were to get more of an extension than her carer? Who knows, perhaps she will today.
That’s what we’re all waiting for here he thinks, an extension of our time, to be told that we can be fixed or that what we fear is wrong with us isn’t actually wrong with us and the blood tests or scans have come out okay.
The knitting woman’s eyes change colour from hazel to green as he allows himself to make eye contact after his name is finally called out. Good omen he thinks, I’m the wrong Sam. Bet she thought Sam was the paperback reader with the Facebook-occupied teenage daughter.
(C) Ash N. Finn, 2012