We are at the calm centre of a nightmare of activity in the Observation Room of Centenary Hospital's Emergency Department. Around us swirl and moan the sick and injured, their families and doctors and nurses.
My mother is mumbling quietly, her hands occasionally reaching out for things only she can see. Rarely the mumbles become words, "shoes and boots" she'll suddenly say, or "I could tell she was angry with me". My mother's voice, its timber and pitch unfamiliar to me.
We are sealed off from the turmoil around us by a thin curtain and more than enough worries of our own.
Tired from an hour of tai chi this morning, I am trying to concentrate on Eliot Pattison's book, Prayer Of The Dragon, when my mother's mumblings suddenly become coherent as she starts to whisper a song in her new but tiny voice.
"O're land or sea or foam,
You can always hear me singing this song,
Show me the way...show me the way...show me..."
Her voice trails off into confusion.
"...the way to go home." I finish for her and she suddenly smiles with contentment. "Oh, hello son," she says.
"Hi mom" I say, taking her cold hand. "How are you doing?"
"Is it time for breakfast?" she asks.
"No mom, it's 2 o'clock in the afternoon."
"Oh is it? I don't feel like having an egg today."
"You're in hospital, mom."
"Am I? (Show me the way to go home, I'm tired and I want to go to bed....)Did you say we were having breakfast?"
"No mom. Are you hungry? Thirsty?"
"She didn't want me to wear shoes. Boots....She was angry with me..." her eyes close and she drifts back to muttering.
I continue to hold her cold hand for a while longer, looking at her tired face, her hair unkempt, her eyes fluttering, her breath laboured. In my mind I'm picturing the photo we have of her in our family album, in her bridal gown, her face nervous but radiant, being escorted to the church by her father, an amazingly long life time ahead of her. Two husbands, four sons, a stepson, four daughters-in-law, five grand children, four great grand children.
And for the longest while I just stand there, holding her hand and stroking her hair.
She is eleven days away from her 91st birthday.
on the wind's breath
7 hours ago