Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Waiting room

The Waiting Room by Essel Art

"I have told you to keep your hands to yourself, Dante," the large lady sat on the sofa beside me in the waiting room of the doctor's office booms across the room at her young son of about four or five, probably four, because he, too, is of a big build and Polynesian, unlike his mother, who is Caucasian.

I can't help but smile at the name of the boy presently tugging a play gym from his younger sister in the corner of the small waiting room, thinking that a less Dante-esque scenario might be hard to imagine.

When the girl, also sturdy, in tight pink top and mauve leggings, comes over to throw herself at her mother, who is checking her mobile, fixing me with a second questioning, slightly wary glance -- the daughter not the mother -- I think about moving to sit on the adjacent sofa to give the family room, after the couple waiting there were called in by the doctor. The third sofa, stretched out opposite the one we are sitting on, with me squashed in one corner, is still basked in sun from the skylight overhead, which was why I avoided it in the first place. The last thing I need right now is sun while I wait.

Girls notice everything, while boys are busy doing. It is difficult not to notice my face scars mind you, though Dante doesn't seem to. His younger sister, three or four, they might be twins, noticed my scars from across the room the first time I looked up, her smile twisting slowly into a slightly frightened frown.

I could not put cover-up on this morning, as I wanted the doctor to see the scars in all their burning red and yellow crusted glory. Well wanted is not quite the word. M was worried about the swelling under my left eye caused by the treatment, also I needed some more cancer cream, which isn't subsidised by the government unless the doctor takes another biopsy.

"Thank the lady for moving, Dante," the large woman says, as I finally decide to take my things to the other sofa just as Dante is preparing to land on his mother too, losing interest in the play gym as soon as his sister leaves it behind.

Dante can't quite muster a thank-you and says instead "I'm sitting here," plonking himself down on the chair next to the sofa, the high one with a straight back reserved for elderly patients who can't get out of a squishy, low-lying sofa.

I smile at the large woman, trying to convey no need for a thank-you and to Dante too, who casts me a fleeting look then, his first, still not noticing my scars as his broad brown face doesn't change expression from one of cheeky defiance. But the woman's face does change. She is so large her lower legs could be thighs and I can't tell if she is heavily pregnant or not, but with her children and her mobile phone to hide behind she exudes a confidence that I have seen often on fat women and mothers. Perhaps confidence is not the word, but more of a strong defiant shield, such as a warrior might carry, except with an easily wounded shame lurking just beneath the surface, not unlike my cancer before the treatment. But when she sees my scars, which she had not noticed before when I was sitting next to her, the less scarred side of my face facing towards her, that surface defiance relaxes as her face opens up in almost happy surprise and intrigue, as she stares, considers smiling, then turns away and back again for another reassuring look. She is fat, I am scarred. We are equals. There is some satisfaction in this for me too.

After a few moments Dante drops his easy-come-easy-go child's defiance and flops down into the soft sofa seat I have just vacated, next to his comfy mother, before taking up a red plastic play phone off the floor onto his lap to make a call: "Hello, I've had an ackident with someone. Can you send a man for an awest." Dante seems to have some experience with the police.

"Hello, Sally speaking," the receptionist answers a call, and my resentment of her having MY NAME, though I hate it enough to have changed it, brews up with brimming irrationalism inside me. "How dare she!" I don't like her anyway. She is too tall to be a Sally.

A thin middle-aged woman wearing fitted boy shorts and sandals, springs in then, exuding lightness and chatty confidence with the receptionist who appears to know her, not in the way she 'knows' the rest of us, but a closer confidence than that. Or perhaps that's what she or the receptionist want the other to think. She turns to breeze her way out, flinging chit-chat over her shoulder back at Sally who replies with equal fling, having hung up the phone.

"Hi! How are you?" says the chatty woman in boy shorts then, having changed her mind about leaving, seeing someone else she knows now sat where the large woman and her children had been -- they are now in the nurse's room down the end of a short hall with the door closed on some of their noise. Dante is too loud for the closed door. Perhaps the name fits after all.

"Hi! How are you?" the other woman replies, repeating the exact phrase the first woman used, making both redundant, like double negatives. They both say at once that they are "great!"

The woman in boy shorts stays standing, directly in front of me, looking down on the seated woman, showing off her boy legs which, on closer inspection, have fine purple veins showing all over the clammy-looking off-white skin. It's January 19 so too late for New Years' wishes amongst the sophisticated set of which these two are clearly paid-up members, but not too late to find out if the other has been somewhere fancier than they have for their holidays.

Woman B: "How have the holidays been for you?"
Woman A: "Oh, great. Actually we went to America for the skiing."
Woman B: "Really! How fantastic. Where?"

The 'where' comes a little too fast for it to be a matter of genuine interest rather than prying to find out to which ski resort boy shorts went, and how rich she really is.

Woman A: "Aspen," she says, for the benefit of the entire waiting room, also a little too fast for it not to be the case that she knows all too well the game they are playing and that she has just played the trump card.

Woman B, almost apologetically quiet now, being tragically bound to tell the truth about their inferior holiday because her son (twelve-ish) is sat with her on the sofa, has to then recount her humble sailing trip to the Coromandel, adding that Ben (husband, presumably) had to come back for one day in the middle so they couldn't go too far, trying to redeem some points for having a husband doing such important work that he must interrupt his holiday for it. Also, that they went with 'friends'. They have friends, better than all the Aspen in Aspen. Still, when boy shorts says how wonderful, the second woman, either from honesty or humility in the presence of the very rich, or sensing a slight condescension in boy shorts' enthusiasm, and/or to show that she too can not only ski, but, much more importantly, can afford to ski, says "I'd rather have been skiing, to be honest with you."

Meanwhile, I who can't ski or afford to, sit there, less than a metre away, the unwilling silent accomplice in this jealous joust, struggling to read P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and the Yule-tide Spirit collection of short stories, M's Christmas present to me. Aspen is winning. But just as boy shorts is letting rip with the next instalment of her holiday adventures, on which, the room then learns, she is venturing as soon as tomorrow! I read about poor old Ukridge in trouble with his creditors on account of his performing-dog business going awry, defending himself with the view that: "Without credit commerce has no elasticity. And if commerce has no elasticity what dam' good is it?" and let out an involuntary "Ha!" Boy shorts and the other woman, who is also trim but better dressed in a blue fitted stretch-cotton wrap-around dress that I had earlier admired when she walked into the waiting room, turn together to notice me for the first time. Well, when I say notice me, they notice my scars as I glance up, momentarily forgetting the scars, wanting to smile apologetically for my outburst, sensing they had turned to look. But seeing their brows knit and noses lift in confused repulsion, almost in an identical fashion, possibly wondering what on earth I could have to laugh about, I smile, not in apology but in arrogance: "My scars will heal, but yours are for life" I say to myself, before hastily burying my scarred nose back in my book, cursing the dam' sun and wishing I could ski.


  1. Talk about express writing – good one. I like the Ukridge reference amid the comings and goings.

  2. Yes. The reading of it was a surprising fit with the comings and goings in a rather Wodehouse-ian way. Thanks.