There is something about being a passenger when your used to driving. First you can’t help but play backseat driver, even if only in your head. It doesn’t help when you’re in a foreign country where they drive on the opposite side of the road. Add an 18 year old driver who thinks that speedometers and breaks are useless appendages on a car to and it takes all of your willpower not to succumb to a sudden panic attack. Images of trucks laying in ambush around blind corner filled my mind. Any second now we would collide with a little old lady going at 15 mph engulfing us in a mass of twisted burning metal.
Relief came when entered the iron gated confines of St George’s Hospital and Hospice for the Infirm. Large neoclassical columns dominated the brilliant white facade. Everything about the place was enormous. From the wide empty corridors to the surrounding gardens that stretched to the horizon. It looked more like a mausoleum than a place for the healing of souls. The staff looked friendly enough with their white uniforms and blue shawls. The décor would not be out of place in an World War Two war movie. I half expected the scene to turn black and white before my eyes. No luck there.
Michael plowed ahead, clutching the bouquet of flowers nervously as he sped through the corridors. He didn’t run. I doubted the nurses would have put up with such nonsense, but had I not been a fast walker myself he would have left behind. We finally reached our destination, the large gardens that enchanted the grounds. He headed straight for a small figure sitting under an oak tree. I hung back and watched. That had to be Michael’s mother. Their where the kisses and hugs and the giving of the flowers. From this distance Michael appeared to be a completely different creature. The angry youth morphed into a caring son, doting over his ailing mother and she doing the same.
“He is a good boy” said a nurse as she came up behind me. She wore the uniform well. Her eyes reflected the many patients she had cared for over the years.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“Mrs. Mendoza’s son. Comes here every Sunday. Spends hours with her. I know he can’t come more often, with his school and all.”
“How long has she been sick?”
“The past two years. Took a terrible toll on her husband. Always serious that Mr. Mendoza. He was nervous, but he tried to hide it. Always quick with the questions, even if he had to struggle with the language”.
“How quaint. Never saw head or hair of him when my mother died.”
“Are you related to Mr. Mendoza?” she asked. But it sounded like she already knew the answers. How many times had she seen scenes like these? Families members pushed together by the grim reaper.
“Mr. Mendoza was my father.”
“I see, so sorry for your loss.”
“No long hospital stays for my mother. She died of sudden heart failure. I found her dead on the kitchen floor. Doctor said that if she had received treatment in time she would have survived. At least she didn’t suffer much or so they told me.”
“Saying goodbye brings closure.”
“I guess. I wouldn’t know anything about that.”
“Well I have other patients to take care off, good to meet you Mr. Mendoza” she said as she walked away.
I turned back to the scene between Michael and his mother. He was lucky to have these moments with her. I was not. Seeing my brother and his mother together I thought of the time that was denied to me, the time to say goodbye.
Michael approached “She wants to talk to you.”
We switched places, I sat beside her while Michael stood a ways back, but close enough to eavesdrop. I could see the resemblance, the green eyes and the red hair, although hers was fading to white. She extended her hand and I shook it. It was thin and frail. I guessed she was in her late forties or so. I would say a decade or so younger than dad, but in her current condition it was hard to tell.
“You look so much like him” she said.
I sat down in the bench next to her “Like who?”
“Your father” she said, her eyes piercing me.
“Of course, and Michael looks a lot like you” I replied. For some reason, with her legs covered by a mantle and the bouquet of lilies lying in her lap, all the fire and venom that I wanted to spew forth at her would not come forth. Here she was, the woman that had been the center of my father life for the past twenty years and I could do nothing but exchange the obligatory pleasantries.
“So how is the house? Have you settle in ok?”
“Still there. Although to be honest I don’t spend much time in it, with the business and all.”
“Of course” her eyes where searching for something in my face. “Call Mrs. Cravis, she does her fair share of house cleaning around the neighborhood. Her fees are reasonable and she was very helpful when, well, when I first fell ill”.
“And how is Charlie and the gang?”
“Doing well, I guess”.
“Charlie is good people and so its James. Be careful with James. He will talk you to death if you let him”.
She then changed tack suddenly “Antonio, am I what you expected?”
The question caught me by surprised and it showed.
“I was hoping that it didn’t come down to this. I wanted to meet you for so long but…” her voiced trailed off.
“I understand” no I did not understand, but I was not about to tell her that.
“Well I think its time for us to go” I said as I got up quickly. I never felt the urge to flee a place as strong as I did at that moment.
On the way back Michael spoke up “Happy now?”
“She is dying you know. The doctors say is a matter of time, with the bone loss and all.”
Silence marked the trip back to 354 Church Drive. Both of us alone with our thoughts.