Gary Goes to Hospital
By Nejmeh Khalil-Habib
He made his way to the kitchen, intending to make himself a cup of coffee. But just in time he remembered: “no Coffee for you Garry this morning.” The fridge magnet calendar reminded him that today was the 9th of September, the date scheduled for his operation. It just happened to be Father’s day as well. A made-up day, he never liked it, not even when he used to have a daughter who came around with a bunch of flowers.
Slowly and as skilfully as possible he shaved his stubble and felt content regardless of the tiny cuts the razor left on his skin. He stuffed a few personal belonging in an overnight bag. And there was still plenty of time left before his admission. He turned on the TV. The first thing he saw was the Tampa, a ship carrying the refugees who were denied landing in this country. He didn’t like what he was seeing. He didn’t care too much about politics or the economy but he hated seeing fathers and mothers being met with ruthless treatment, when what they were seeking was refuge for their children.
He remembered the big waves of immigration that rushed into the country after the Second World War. He was only a boy at the time, and was happy to see streets and shopping strips full of pretty girls from different races. He loved the variety of cuisines on offer in the takeaway shops that sprung up as he grew. He changed the channel.
Ian Thorpe, Australia’s pride and joy, cheered him up. He liked this boy every since his early star rose to prominence in the 90s. He used to say to his wife “he’s a digger, Linda!” He changed the channel.
He felt sorry for the villages hit by the hurricane in West Australia, but he was more sorry because the insurance companies refused to compensate them for their loss. His heart broke when he saw pine trees blackened after the Canberra fires. When the picture of the prime minister appeared, he shouted: “Shame on you John, to hell with you! You don’t have my vote, any more!”
At the last moment, he decided to call his granddaughter who lived a few kilometres away. He was still harbouring some resentment towards her because of a confrontation they had a few years ago. And he still remembered how her words made the wrinkles on his forehead go deeper, but this is a critical moment in his life. A heart surgery is not an easy thing at his age, who knows where he might end up? In a wooden box in Rockwood maybe. He shook his head at the impetuousness of youth. If she had been ever so slightly more patient, the house would’ve been hers, he would’ve left it to her.
“Were you in the wrong, Gary, when you refused to leave her your house in the will?” he whispered to himself. God knows how much he loved her; she made up for the daughter he lost to a drug overdose. Gone too soon.
But like most young people these days, she preferred a Rock star maniac over him. H hadn’t refused her demand because he was selfish or spiteful, but because it was difficult to him to leave the place that housed all his memories to someone who had no connection to the place.
The last time he visited his cousin Grant in Warroona village was an unhappy occasion. The place smelled like death. He felt as if all residents there were queuing up to be transferred to their dark crypts in Rockwood. He dialled her number so many times, each time stopping before the last digit. It was the same silly cliché he despised seeing in movies. At last he overcame his hesitation and dialled the full number.
“Hi, you have reached Gloria, since I’m unavailable now, please leave your name and number and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”
He hung up and walked with heavy, lazy steps toward the bedroom muttering an A.D.
Hope poem to himself.
“Yes Alex! You knew it! We are like wondering islands, with no roots or bridges.”
He checked his overnight bag for the tenth time. The Medicare card, the pension card, the admission letter, all there, nothing missing. He found it more appropriate to add his credit card. You never know! You might need some money unexpectedly, Gary.
The clock on the wall hadn’t reached six yet. The apple tree that he could see from the window, towering like a proud bride queen, seduced him into going out to the backyard. He liked this tree at this time of year; he liked how it blzed with white flower buds like a virgin suddenly reaching maturity. He liked the flowers and their smell more than the small green apples it bore. The memory of his wife jumped surfaced. He remembered how he used to stand at the window full of enchantment, asking her to look on and share the panorama with him. But she would only turn her head for a moment, just long enough to say “pretty” and then go back to her book.
The memory of that decent, considerate lady brought tears to his eye. She passed away few years ago without letting him knowing if she had really loved him, or if she lived all her life with him out of duty. He wished she hadn’t been perfect. If only she had lost her nerve once, or got jealous, or swore at him. If only she’d had an affair with another man. Then maybe he’d have a clue as the whether she truly loved him or not.
From over the fence he noticed the almond tree in his neighbour’s backyard. It was calm and humble, like the smile of an angel. He imagined as if it were a beautiful woman, smiling back at him. He bent over and pulled out the weeds from among the parsley bed that he had planted a month earlier.
“I will cut them and give them to the Lebanese neighbour, when I come back. She’ll make tabouli with them,” he whispered to himself.
He didn’t know enough about his neighbour. He was only familiar with the shouts of her two, near in age children, and the stunning whiteness of her washing that hung on
the line. He would be sad if she refused to take the parsley. No, he wouldn’t risk it, he’d only leave them at the doorstep.
He felt empty when no dog came to welcome him as he walked back into the house. He’d had to let him go, there was no other choice since there was no one to look after him.
The clock struck seven. He decided not to order a taxi as he had planned the night before. He decided to commute by bus. The bus would take longer, but he might meet up with a friendly commuter who could keep him company and make the journey shorter.
“This time I won’t hesitate like I normally do. I’ll chat to people and give them my contact number. I’ll be lucky if it happens with a woman.”
He threw the bag on his back, glanced around at the place, switched off all the electrical lights, checked the keys were in his pocket and then locked the door.
He noticed his neighbour bending down over the lawn. He waited until he came back up.
“Hello, good morning.”
The man answered with the same plastic smile. Ten years and there’s never been anything more than that “hello” and “good morning.” The man didn’t understand English and Gary didn’t speak Chinese. He leaned over the fence, facing the man bunched up his fingers over his chest and said: “I. Go. Hospital.”
A blank look appeared over the man’s face. Gary repeated his phrase, slower this time, after the third attempt the puzzled face lit up and the man shook his head.
“Yes, yes. Hospital!”
Mixing syllables with mimics, Gary got his neighbour to understand that he was going to stay six weeks in the hospital and that he wanted him to water his plants, the gardenias and the roses in particular.
He relaxed. The impressions on the man’s face told him that he had understood and that he would be able to help. He felt relieved knowing that his gardenias and roses would be taken care of.
He walked to the bus station, got on the bus, and expected that he would be at Bankstown Hospital in exactly 35 minutes.