Sepia: Part II
I e-mailed David the first few pages of what I had written. As he was the instigator of this exercise, I thought he should see it. I wanted to know what he thought. I didn’t think he would read it straight away and was surprised to see an e-mail ping back in fifteen minutes.
‘Good effort. Too much exposition at the beginning and all that faff about rain glittering on windows. Could do with some editing ... but carry on, like what you have done here. Love to read more. It’s not going to win the Booker Price – yet ;-)’
I smiled. That was so David. No nonsense but just on the right side of encouragement. He knows me too well. If he had raved about it I would’ve dismissed his compliments as useless hyperbole. If he had said it was terrible I probably would’ve stopped writing.
Writing it as it happened is hard. I realise I am writing this as it happened to me. David says it’s called a POV – a point of view. This is my POV. My reality.There will be others who are involved in this whose story may differ, whose reality will be different. Could there be a reality without an observer? Like that old adage: does the tree falling in a forest make a noise if there is no one to hear it? For a noise isn’t a noise unless there is a pair of ears to listen.
Sorry, I digress. Years of reading indiscriminately has my neurons firing in many directions.Thinking about the concept of reality always makes my mind ache.
La Belle Dame Sans Merci
For years my reality has been simple. I wake up, go for a run, come back and have a shower. I read the latest in neurological research online or catch up with a journal over my morning coffee and toast. I get dressed in my usual trouser suit, tie my hair up in a bun (David says it makes my face look severe and I should let it down and wear some make up. He fancies himself as a bit of a fashion guru, among other things) I get in my Honda CRV ( I like the extra height it offers when driving so I don’t feel the other cars looming over me) and get to King Henry’s Hospital.
The neurology department is set at the back, among the foliage. I like the trees that surround the building, offering shadows and make the concrete more palatable. I park my car in my designated spot and walk through the reception area where Janet always smiles and shouts out a ‘Good Morning Dr Miller’ I have told her she can call me Susan, but she insists on keeping it formal. She says I have studied hard and worked long enough to earn the accolade and it must be uttered at every opportunity to make it worth!
The rounds usually start at 8:30 and my two Registrars and assorted Foundation trainees wait for my arrival. I like the ward rounds, as it helps me catch up with my patients and their progress. It also helps me quiz my trainees to see whether they have the initiative to read or whether they arrive like an empty slate , waiting for me to scratch bits of knowledge onto them. I have no time for the latter. David calls me ‘ La belle dame sans merci’ when it comes to the teaching rounds.
They have a nickname for me among the students - ‘Susie Shotgun’. It's supposedly because I shoot down the incompetent and the indolent. I make no apologies for that one. David says I am secretly proud of that nickname. He’s right. But I am to going to admit that to him. He gloats when he is right.
The morning all my carefully built defences came crumbling down was no different from many others. The overcast sky was threatening more rain for the summer starved citizens. The roads were relatively free as schools were off for summer holidays. I drove in listening to Annie Lennox as she always seems to know how I feel.
I parked my car, secretly looking at David’s spot to see if he was already in. I know I shouldn’t but it always gives me a warm feeling to know he is already there, armed with his wisecracks and flirtatious remarks. I pull a face at him when he is on full flow, while deep in me there is a warm glow like a winter wood fire. I smiled when I saw his sporty Jaguar preening in its space, much like him.
I walked past Janet, nodding and smiling to her G’morning and was about to enter my office when she stopped me with a wave.
“Dr Miller, can I have a word?”
She hesitated, chewing her lower lip. She does that when she is unsure about something.
“It’s just that... I know you don’t like to disturb your routine, but there is someone here to see you.”
I must have frowned as she chewed her lip again and worried the strand of hair that fell over her left eye.
“Was it scheduled?”
“No. I didn’t know what to do, I had a message from Director that there was someone who needs to see you asap and he asked me to put them in your office. I did try to say you like to start your rounds promptly. But...”
I was annoyed. But I knew it wasn’t Janet’s fault if the Director had insisted.
“Do we know who this is?”
“It’s a Mrs Johnson. She said it was personal and prefers to tell you directly. She is in your office. Would you like your usual coffee - I have already offered her a drink?”
I smiled through my barely disguised annoyance. “Yes please.”
I hate surprises. I wondered what this could be about. I rarely take consultations at this time as my usual OPD schedule is the afternoon after theatre.
I pushed opened the glass door that had my name on it.-Dr Susan Miller MD FRCS (Neuro)- and went in.
A Daughter's request
She was standing with her back to me, looking at my bookshelf. She had a summer dress on, a bright purple and orange number that fitted her well. There was a scarf carelessly throw around her shoulders and her hair was short. She had sunglasses perched on her head, rather optimistically for an overcast day. I thought it was more an accessory than a requirement of the day.
She turned around, smiled and put her hand out for me to shake.
“Yes..” I gripped her hand, they were soft and well manicured. I noticed she had purple nailvarnish on with little orange flowers on them. My surgeons hands looked positively unglamorous holding hers.
“I am Julie, Julie Johnson. I am really sorry to barge in like this. I desperately wanted to speak to you and my husband knows the Director who said you wouldn’t mind...”
“Please take a seat. Would you like a coffee or anything”
“Your secretary already offered. Thanks. I don’t want to take much of your time. I just came here to make a request. It’s about my Dad.”
I hung my Jacket on the hook, my mind still grasping at what this could be about. I went around the desk and sat directly across her.
“Your Dad? Is he a patient of mine?”
“No. Atleast not yet. He is still in Manchester, under Hope hospital. I work down here in London and I have heard some good things about your work. I would like you to see him, please.”
“I am sorry to hear that. I will be more than happy to schedule an appointment. Can I take his name?”
She leaned forward and smiled. “Oh. I am ever so grateful. His name is Robert Miller. Same surname as yours, funnily enough.”
My pen slipped on the blotter and drew a long illegible trail. That was my Dad’s name.
I looked up, as if searching her face for clues. It can’t be.
“His date of birth is 26th of August 1944”
I felt dizzy. I couldn’t see what I was writing. It was my Dad’s birthday. The Dad who walked away thirty years ago never to come back.
It can’t be. It really can’t.
My brain was repeating that it was a complete and utter coincidence but my heart wasn't listening.
© 2012 Mohan Kumar
More by this Author
Wimbledon fever is burning high. There is nothing as refreshing as the sunshine, soft green turf, strawberries and cream, soaring balls ( ahem!) and short skirts.
I was fifteen that summer I fell in love with a dead woman. It all started innocently enough, on a bright day at the seaside under a clear sky. It ended in a damp cave with shadows and strange sounds, the cave that...
Everything you need to know about licorice (or liquorice): Where it is from, what is it used for, and its health benefits and dangers.