This is a piece written from just one of many experiences visiting the residential home where my elderly mum is currently cared for, fortunately without the affliction of dementia.
The coded door clicked open and the now familiar floral aroma swept out to greet me. Inside there were the usual background sounds, quiet unrecognisable voices, doors opening and closing and the occasional chuckle of soft laughter; but all very discreet.
The large communal area was empty except for its high-backed comfortable chairs set in a semi-circle around the electric fake fire on the wall. A short stout lady in smart pale blue tunic distracted me usual path past them toward the wings.
“The lunches are a little late today, can you wait ‘till their done?”
“Hi Jackie, no problem, how are you today? I’ll just sit here for a bit shall I?”
“Make a coffee if you want, you know where the stuff is”
The kettle was hot and the coffee welcome, the chair even more so after the long twice weekly cycle ride. There was music playing quietly from somewhere but it was just to take away the relative silence. Despite the sun outside being the brightest it had been for weeks, the flicker of artificial flames on the curved black glass of the fire captivated my gaze hypnotically.
There was a shuffling sound.
“Can you let me outside please, I have to go home now.”
The voice was familiar although I didn’t really know anything about the person that stood leaning on her walking frame next to me.
“Hello, I’m sorry I can’t open the door, it’s not safe to go outside I don’t think.”
“But I’ve had my dinner and now I need to go and get ready for the children to come home from school!” the wobble in her voice gave away the degree of concern that she obviously felt.
“I think they’ll be able to manage, don’t you?” I tried to sound sympathetic but firm.
“But they can’t get in, the house is locked up when I come for my dinner, I said I didn’t want to come today but they insisted, and it was sponge pudding, my favourite.”
A half-smile lit in her eyes.
“Why don’t you pop back and see if there’s some seconds, I bet there’s lots.”
The suggestion was made with good intention but as much for myself as the frequent conversations like this were always difficult.
“Do you run this place? It’s like a prison, all the locked doors, not like my house, I leave my doors open, my husband was the postman, he used to pop in for a cup of tea every day you know,” the light in her stare brightened at the potential memory.
“That’s nice,” I had always found it helped to be pleasant but non-committal in these situations.
“He’s still at the front, getting shot at they tell me I haven’t seen him for so long, could you find out when he’s coming back?”
The question didn’t require an answer.
“Winnie, Winnie dear, shall we go back and finish your lunch?”
The soft lilting tone of the returning uniform which had appeared from somewhere unseen, was meant to calm and reassure, but also be firm.
“Hi Jackie we were just talking about lunch,” I smiled knowingly at the kind face as she raised her eyebrows as a silent comment.
“Don’t think I’m staying all day again, my husband, he’ll be home and the children, what about the children?”
“The children will be fine Winnie, don’t worry about them,”
“But Charlie will want his dinner on the table ready.”
“Charlie’s not here now is he?” Jackie had taken the confused Winnie by the arm and was gently guiding the walking frame towards one of the wide doors leading to the residents living quarters.
“Can I get the door for you?” having already stood up and stepped forward, my finger was outstretched for the keypad while I was trying to remember the code to unlock it.
“Are you coming back for tea young man? My son is looking for someone to play football with afterwards if your mum would let you?”
“He’s got things to do Winnie, let’s just sort you out and find that lunch shall we, you liked the salmon you said?”
There was a pause in the progress and Winnie struggled to lift her head to look in my general direction.
“Are you going to find those socks I lost, someone keep stealing them you know, I can’t find two the same anywhere.”
“OK Winnie,” I leant forward to appear sympathetic, “you go and finish your lunch and I’ll see what I can do.”
The carer mouthed a silent ‘thank you’ and gently urged the hunched figure forward once more. The door whooshed open from the correct code and then clicked closed again behind the two slowly shuffling figures.
The coffee had formed a bit of a skin but was still welcome. The noises around the building started to ramp up as lunch was finally finished in each of the wings and people appeared from doors and corridors for the day to move into its afternoon phase, mostly napping on full stomachs. Jackie re-appeared and we shared another knowing smile.
“You can go through now I would think.”
“Thanks Jackie, I’ll look for those socks on my way shall I?”
© David Rollason