When I awake it is to a hospital ward (that was no dream then). I’m lying on my back, arms beside like at attention; my prime snoring position. Many a night Amoret has shaken me awake asking, no telling me, to roll over, but nobody told me to be quiet.
It is all men, so that’s the NHS keeping to the rules. Opposite me is a man who is comatose and it’s the same state for the man who’s on my right. The tableau is complete with the man diagonally from me, also with eyes closed. It’s 5 o’clock in the morning, so no surprises there then. I probably looked the same sleeping.
I do a check on my extremities – hands and feet movable; arms and legs movable. Wait: there’s some dragging on the right side. I have to will my arm to move, really concentrate on the action, and then it follows with a two second delay. Perhaps I slept on it or something. Same thing with the leg.
It is quiet on the ward – I can see a nurse going by in the hall with soft, sensible, squishy shoes and I follow the steps down the corridor and listen while there is silence, then the sound of kettle boiling. Tea time. There is a composite of human busy sounds – rustling of papers, clinking of medical equipment, the wheels of trolleys going away from me, barely audible conversations in short staccato bursts – it is only available to keen ears eager learn something about their environment . It tells me nothing.
Then suddenly: “Good morning.”
Like a genie, but without the smoke: “Would you like a cup of tea?” It comes from nowhere until I can get my eyes focused on a man in a white uniform appearing by my bed. Which direction did he come from?
The man is from the Philippines is my guess. I open my mouth to answer and get nothing. My mind is saying ‘yes, please’ but the words are not there – the man realises my distress and asks if I take sugar. I shake my head ‘no’ and he turns away, but I am trying to add ‘and no milk’ – again, no words come out. This is important because it is probably against the law in England to order tea with no milk – each time somebody asks if I’d like a cuppa, I get strange looks when I say no sugar and no milk, sort of like I’d requested something sinister and Communist, but I like tea like that. This is the first time I have not been able to express myself except for trying to explain some errant school boy behaviour to my father. I have lived relying the spoken and written word. I want to say them, but I can’t.
The tea comes with milk and no sugar – it is indicative of the day ahead, indeed, it points to a whole new way of life.