He’s been told that the cancer has not been eliminated, but has spread. There was no-one with him when he heard the news. His wife is herself too incapacitated and confused to leave the nursing home, and their two children live abroad.
He didn’t know how he was going to tell any of them. He found it somehow unfair that the doctors only get to break the news to one person, and then that individual has to tell many.
So he walked down to the main entrance, in his dressing gown and slippers, and queued for the payphone. Some people glanced at him in his state of undress, but looked away quickly, pre-occupied. He shifted from one soft shoe to the other, going over what he would say.
“Hello, it’s dad. I’ll be dead in a fortnight” No – too abrupt. “Hello, I’m afraid I have some bad news.” But where to go from there? “Help me. I’m all on my own, and I’m terrified. Make it stop.” Definitely not that one.
He looked up, and a young girl smiled at him. He found himself smiling back, wishing she could stand beside him for a while. Crazily, he followed her, and did that almost banging/swerving thing outside the toilets, just to get another look, another smile. It worked. Knowing that this was all the friendliness that he was going to get, he moved back to the phone queue.
It was his turn. He stepped forward, took out the change from his pocket, and counted it into the slots. 10p, 50p, £1. How much does it cost to tell your family you’re dying?
The dial tone changed to beeps, then rings, and finally his son picked up.
“Hello, it’s dad.”