When I walk
into The Cedars Health Centre, she is midway
through her usual mantra. No. We don't have
any appointments today... No, I can't fit
you in. Youll have to ring back at eight-thirty
call off her switchboard, she turns on me, fixing
me with her special look, her pale grey eyes
widening and her eyebrows arching under red-framed
rimless specs. Discomforted by the silence, I
open my mouth meaning to enquire after her health,
even though until now - mine had been the
principal reason for my visit.
help you? She speaks at last, her icy tone
just polite enough to head off a possible
complaint, and I reflect on how
English words change over time - help,
I lean over to
speak through the chink in the glass, inferring,
implying, suggesting... that I might have an
appointment with Dr Choudhury at 4.15. As
she searches for me on her computer screen, a
bare light bulb shines in the back office and I
study the post cards blu-tacked to the walls -
Benidorm, Florida, Fuerteventura, then the
Lubyanka Building, a heavy, beige lump with slit
windows lurking behind a caption reading
Mockba in fancy Cyrillic writing.
clicks with her mouse and peers at her screen.
She doesnt do computers, makes a point of
not understanding them, and sings the virtues of
leather-bound, dog-eared appointment books. The
switchboard buzzes again, and another sick
patient is instructed to hold on to mortality
until eight-thirty tomorrow morning. As she kills
the call (and maybe the caller), she reads out my
full name in a loud, primary school teacher voice.
retreat into the teeming waiting room: coughs and
sneezes; sticks and crutches; peaky teenagers
wearing too many scarves; toddlers well enough to
whinge and crawl around under my feet. Reading
twelve-month old issues of celebrity magazines
with pages missing, I pity for anyone who has to
work here and a faint light flickers in my brain.
But not for
Half an hour
after my appointment time, I see the doctor.
Its all over in a few minutes, and, as I
walk back through the waiting room, I hear,
The doctors are very busy at this time of
year. And I reflect that they always
are... school holidays, school term-time, cold
weather, hot weather, Christmas, Easter...
Ring back at eight-thirty tomorrow morning.
I return to
real life, to the restaurant where I work. When
the telephone rings, I recognise her voice.
Can I book a table for tomorrow night,
please? she says.
full up, I'm afraid, madam. Its the
truth. We are.
got nothing at all?
its my wedding anniversary. Couldn't
you just fit us in?
I lie awake
all night, dreading her call at eight-thirty