I started conversations with the nurses when they passed my room. I wanted to ease their etched concern with a cheery word and a smile. I could see suspicion ripple beneath their nervous smiles. I smiled some more and they hurried off to perform some new and, seemingly urgent, exercise. For a long time, I was left to my own devices and I busied myself with ploughing through the remaining pages of The Stand, the bit where the Devil’s representative on Earth comes face to face with those ordinary humans who are prepared to risk their lives to defy him. I had read this book many times but never in a plague-induced lockdown and that fact added some context. Where the survivors of the apocalypse had Randal Flag (the anti-Christ) to deal with, I still had the midnight wanderers. I smiled some more.
As the evenings drifted into night, I finally dropped off the face of consciousness. My body is protectively stiff so as not to disturb those bones that scrape against themselves. I spend my last waking minutes organising my personal paraphernalia, the urine holder is placed to my left and within reach of my free arm. I reach over and put the assistance alarm on that side too. Anything down the right hand side of my bed will be beyond useless, just a taunt that reminds me of how restricted I am. The noise of the nurses’ change-over, the casual greetings and chatter begin to make their way into the time to come. My sleep arrives without announcing itself and I am gone into the chatter and laughter that mingles with the breeze and the rumble of engines.
At some point I am out of bed and the pain has gone. The body of a broken cyclist, inert and immobile, sleeps on as the din of conversations rise to a level which is not acceptable for a place of rest and recovery. Nevertheless, I am off without much of a thought about the part of me that floats upon an uneasy sleep. I am away before they see me go and I am walking across the sunlit courtyard into the field beyond. When I get there, the place is empty. Seats are vacated and some are tipped over. A cold wind is blowing in from the East and I am engulfed by its certainty. Behind me is the ward, but ahead is the anxious world that will soon be caught in the uncaring blast of its own actions. And as I scan the field and sky, a movement gains my focus; two small figures running into the trees as the shadow of aircraft fall down from above.
It wasn’t until later that thing began to take shape.