I awoke with a start. It was the kind where you sat bolt upright. The kind where you were clutching at your chest because you just dreamed a bullet exploded your rib cage open. A quick visual inspection confirmed that all my major organs were on the inside of my body. It took a while to convince myself because my chest hurt.
Once I had that out of the way I began to take in my surroundings. I was in a very strange place. I also seemed to have bandages wrapped around me; it took me a moment to tell myself that it had been a dream when I felt them. But I was pretty sure bandages wouldn’t have helped if it wasn’t. Of all the places to wake up in, this wasn’t bad. I was in a bed; the room was clean and actually really quite pleasant. It wasn’t like I was waking up in a cell or something…
Ok, I remembered that now. Then these bandages were… Ah, I could see where the getting shot dream came from. I felt my face, yes another bandage.
So I was at Mz Gregory’s house. I had a vague memory of getting here and her taking me somewhere in a car, it felt like a hospital but I don’t think it was. There was a doctor though. I shuddered.
I swung my legs over the side of the bed, a double with clean plain linen. Standing sent spikes of pain so bad I had to sit back down again. I thought I felt something grinding in my chest. Ribs? I tried again, slower.
I had no idea what time or even day it was. How long had I been in that cell? There was no sign of Mz Gregory, maybe she had left for school. I shuffled to the door and listened, keeping my breaths shallow. No TV noises or knocking about like someone was home. Tentatively I turned the handle and swung it open.
The bedroom led directly onto a living room-kitchen. Empty. It was spacious, a large place by my eyes, but nowhere near as big as Beth’s. There looked to be only one bedroom. My exploration ended in the discovery in a small bathroom. Everything was clean, neat and tidy though there were still personal artefacts. Odds and ends collected over time. The only thing that seemed out of place was a bunch of spare covers thrown over the couch, clearly where Mz Gregory had spent the night.
I wish she hadn’t – I could have slept there; she shouldn’t have given away her bed to me.
I felt like I’d just run a marathon but I’d hardly spent five minutes walking round, slowly. Out of breath and trying my hardest not to pant, I collapsed into a soft looking chair, not wanting to disturb the sofa.
Then I spent a few minutes regretting the sudden movement’s effects on my chest and trying to stay as still as possible.
I wondered what to do now. Should I leave? Going home might not be a good idea; I didn’t know what would be there to meet me. I could hardly ask to stay here. Wouldn’t just leaving be rude? Maybe I should stay and say thanks. I’d have to find out how much that doctor had cost – he must have been out of hours. I couldn’t just leave all that money outstanding. I hoped I had enough left over…
I’d found a clock, it said ten. From the natural light coming in around the closed blinds I assumed that was ten in the morning. It must be Monday.
Feeling tired and not very motivated to induce anymore blinding pain I tucked my legs up and leaned against the arm of the chair, closing my eyes.
I opened them a moment later to find a dusky light seeping into the room. There were noises, jingling of keys and scraping at a lock. I was still dozy and didn’t react as I probably would have done if I’d been fully awake. Through half shut eyes I watched the door open and a shadowy figure enter – taking extra effort to be quiet by the way it was moving.
The door was carefully closed.
Mz Gregory came into the room fully and placed some bulging plastic bags on the table, groceries? She moved her hand out to a tall lamp besides the sofa.
I closed my eyes when she switched it on, I could still feel the brightness through my eyelids. A red glow.
There was a silence, she wasn’t moving – then I heard some tentative steps, maybe she thought I was asleep? I looked, the light hurt but I’d get used to it.
She had her back to me, at the section of the room that was clearly supposed to be the kitchen area, taking items out of the bags she had bought. I watched her put things away, it was strangely relaxing watching someone just doing something normal.
After she finished she turned and caught me watching. “Oh, you’re awake.”
She didn’t say anything else, just put a pan on the oven. Turning dials and picking out vegetables and utensils, making some kind of meal.
I let my eyes droop and listened, eventually drifting off to the smell of onions cooking – not something I often got to experience. It was nice.
When I awoke the TV was on, showing the news. I don’t remember what it was covering, something about an attempt at a division of territory with Russia. There was the usual strutting and threats for politicians on each side. They were usually empty threats.
Mz Gregory still hadn’t said another word. She sat for a bit then returned to whatever she was making to eat. I wondered if she’d share it with me, I couldn’t afford to pay her anything for it without going to get my money stashed in the parking garage.
That brought me back onto the thoughts of the medical care and its costs. I reached up and touched my face, the compress. I wondered a little how bad it was…
“I’ll need to change those bandages in a bit.” The sound made me jump, which induced more stabbing pains. I looked up to find a bowl of what looked like soup held in front of me.
I took it. “Thank you.”
I had a lot to thank her for, why was she being so nice to me? What did she want from me? I couldn’t offer her anything. I thought of Beth, what did I offer her? Maybe it didn’t work like that, not everything in life had to be an equal exchange otherwise people like me would be stuck with nothing. I made a resolve to try accept the help Mz Gregory willingly gave me, nothing was forcing her and if she decided I owed her something and wanted me to pay her back somehow I would be more than happy to. But if she really wanted to give me help and expect nothing back, who was I to tell her she couldn’t?
For now, I started eating the soup. It tasted of… vegetables. I couldn’t tell what. I think there were so many ingredients they were unidentifiable. It was good though. Better than any soup I’d had before, which usually came out of a tin. I ate as fast as I the scalding temperature and my broken body allowed me.
When I was done I wasn’t sure what to do with the bowl, I didn’t want to put it on the floor and I felt far too weak to try standing up to put it anywhere else so I just held it, feeling a bit stupid. We watched the TV in silence. I kept glancing at her, to check she wasn’t giving me looks – any indication that she didn’t want me here.
But they didn’t come. Eventually I relaxed enough to just curl up and half-sleep half watch the latest world events filtered through the perfect faces and smooth voices of the news readers.