Coma

 

The funny thing is, I remember the posters on the front of the bus. They were for the Lion King. One showed a stylised lion, the other the name of the show in one of those parody native fonts. And that’s the last thing I saw – except for the exaggerated O of the mouth of the bus driver, as he tugged on the steering wheel like a pair of reins.

*  *  *

I wake up in the night. It’s dark, and someone has left the radio on. I can hear voices: one of those smug Radio 4 afternoon plays. ‘No change?’ says a Scots baritone, answered by ‘No sign of life,’ in a female Caribbean voice. ‘We thought he twitched a finger,’ she continues, ‘but it must have been just a reflex, you know.’

Oh, god, it’s one of those heartstring-tugging medical dramas. It’ll end in misery. Catharsis at coffee time. Mind you, the sound effects are good. The distant rattle of a trolley, muted conversations some way off, a siren passing outside.

*  *  *

My eyes blink open suddenly, then shut again. The light is dazzling. Cautiously, I open them more slowly. A nurse is changing the bedclothes across the ward. I try to speak, but can’t make a sound. I can’t even move a finger. So I blink.

It takes some minutes before she glances my way, and when she does she drops the blankets and claps: ‘Mercy!’ She runs over, and looks closely at me. ‘Can you hear me? Blink for yes’. I blink. ‘Mercy!’ she says again. ‘Your wife will be over the moon, darling!’

I don’t have a wife. I’ve never been married. What on earth is she talking about?

*  *  *

The next day, a woman comes into the ward. Mid 40s, attractive, blonde with dark roots, brown corduroy coat. She gives me one of those looks you give someone in a wheelchair. All compassion and pitying eyebrows. ‘Oh, Brian,’ she says, ‘I thought I’d lost you.’ And she bends down and hugs me, sobbing great tears into my hospital gown. Who on earth can she be?

*  *  *

The woman comes in every day, always around tea time. ‘Darling,’ she says, sitting on the bed. I want to tell her that she must be mistaken, but no words come. The nurse is cross with me when she leaves. Her name is Agnes. ‘That poor woman,’ she says, ‘she’s been coming here every day for two months, you know. Can’t you give her some sign that you love her?’

I want to tell her, I don’t have a wife.

*  *  *

A fat man with a goatee beard visits me. He tries to teach me how to move my hand. By the end of a week, I can twitch a finger. Agnes is overjoyed. ‘See,’ she says, ‘you’ll be up playing football again in no time.’ I have never played football. Have they got me confused with someone else?

*  *  *

Its surprising how communicative you can be with one finger. The blonde woman keeps coming, and keeps kissing my cheek. Agnes says her name is Moira. One day, she has a secretive look on her face. When no-one’s looking, she unbuttons her brown corduroy coat. She’s wearing nothing underneath. I was right about the roots. ‘Get well, Brian,’ she says. ‘I’m waiting for you.’ And then she does the coat up again.

How can I have forgotten her? She’s beautiful. I’m a very lucky man.

*  *  *

‘I need to move our car, darling,’ says Moira. ‘It’s still at your office. Can I have the keys?’ And she takes a bunch of keys from the bedside cupboard. They’re mine. I recognise the BMW key fob. I twitch a finger. Once for yes.

She really is very attractive. You’d think I’d remember having married her.

*  *  *

The fat man has got my right hand moving. ‘Your wife,’ he says. ‘Your memory. No, don’t argue, I can see it in your eyes. But it will come back. It takes time.’

*  *  *

‘Hello, darling,’ she says, breezing in. She sits in her customary place on the bed. ‘I’ve brought Turkish Delight. Remember? You loved it that time in Antalya. At the Majestic.’ Can I really have forgotten so much? Maybe it will come back. Maybe all it takes is will power.

*  *  *

Moira looks troubled. ‘There’s a problem with your tax return,’ she says. ‘It’s overdue. I can sort it out, but they won’t let me submit it.’ I wave my hand in a dismissive way, don’t worry about it. The fat man has worked hard. I can walk, a few paces, with a stick.

*  *  *

The next day Moira brings an envelope. ‘It’s the tax thing,’ she says. ‘It won’t go away. They’re getting nasty. You’ll have to sign this so I can sort it out.’ And she brings out a document from a brown envelope.

Nurse Agnes looks over. ‘So you kept your maiden name, then, dear?’ she says. ‘Yes,’ says Moira. ‘I had to. For my career.’

*  *  *

I go home tomorrow. I’ll need care. I can walk, but I still can’t talk. Agnes is overjoyed. I’m anxious. It will mean rebuilding my life with Moira. My wife.

*  *  *

Moira isn’t there to collect me. She must have got held up. I’m standing outside the hospital, with my stick and my bag of Turkish Delight. There’s cash in my wallet, my address is written down, so I take a taxi.

When I get home, I don’t have my keys. Moira took them to move the car, but it isn’t in the drive. I ring the bell. A man answers. He’s wearing overalls and holding a paintbrush.

‘Moira?’ I say.

‘They’ve gone, mate,’ he says. ‘We completed a week ago. Moved in on Thursday. Just doing the place up.’

I look over his shoulder. The furniture isn’t mine. Nothing is mine. Everything – my car, my clothes, my signed Francis Bacon lithograph. It’s all gone.

I look up and down the road, unsure what to do next.

I told you I wasn’t married.