I have had a life full of untold stories. All eighty-five years of it – school days in wartime, work in foreign lands, exploits at home. Every one of them was an adventure, every one a tale to tell. When I was younger, it didn’t matter that I had nobody to share these memories with, that my life had been full of experiences, but empty of listeners. Now, it’s the only way left for me to stay alive. With the sword of ‘terminal’ swinging over my head, I was getting desperate – plaguing anyone, everyone, with reminiscences, terrified of disappearing, being forgotten. But people did not have the time, or the inclination, to humour me.
Then one day, I found her. The one who would hear my life in words, and find it worth heeding.
In the midst of the confusion and bleached terror of ward D, this quiet girl pushes a racket of a trolley. It squeaks and rattles, but with the promise of something familiar. Something normal. No hopes shattered, no lives shortened here. Just a cup of tea. That’s all that matters.
“Cup of tea, sir?”
Nobody ever looks anybody straight in the face here. But this girl does.
“Goodness, I haven’t been called sir in a long time.”
“And here’s me being called dear a thousand times a day!”
She’s twinkling with humour, and it’s infectious. In a healthy kind of a way.
My hand is making the tea slop, and I feel a ridiculous need to weep.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that, well, you’re the first person to see me”
“You haven’t been with the doctor yet?”
“Oh, no. I have. But he – he isn’t like you.”
“That’s for sure.” She laughs.
“Well then, if you can’t talk to him, talk to me. I’ve got time. What’s your story?”
“I’m sure you don’t want to hear about me, better things to do.”
She sits down and waits.
My words start shakily, then pick up pace, getting stronger.
I am no longer half-dead. As I share the best parts of my existence, I begin to feel alive again.
After half-an-hour packed with recollections of many years, someone, she, squeezes my hand, and I stop.
My cheeks are wet, but I am smiling, and so is she.
“I’m sorry – too much. I haven’t even asked about you.”
“Me? Oh, there’s nothing to me, compared to you. My life’s just been about serving tea,”
Her eyes go floorwards.
“Nothing to you?!” I shake my head, and grip her hand.
“To many, many people, for many half-hours or even five minute snatches, you, my dear, and your cups of tea, have been everything.”