A tale of old age.
|BLACK FRIDAY! How appropriate. I unzipped my purse and poured the contents onto the table. No notes, just coins. One, two, three, four, five. Five pound coins stacked on the table. Two more left. Fifty pence, two twenties and a ten...
"Ten pounds forty; that's not gonna buy much. Four quid for the bus, that leaves ... six forty."
As soon as I opened the front door the wind hit, icy, piercing. I pulled up my hood and tied it tight under my chin. I grabbed my shopping trolley and heaved it over the threshold. Why is it so heavy these days even before I fill it with shopping? My stick hanging from my arm I locked the door. My eyes drifted up the mountain of steps I was about to climb. "I can do it," I think I said out loud, but my subconscious was having doubts, doubts that made my head swim. "Come on, Ruby, ol' gal, you can do it. You gotta do it, gotta get a pressie for my little angel."
With my stick in the trolley, and my hand firmly on the rail, I dragged myself up the seventeen steps; one by one, breath by breath, cough by cough. Wow! Nearly went. OK, made it. I stopped to catch my breath and wait for that swirly feeling to subside, then I trudged toward the bus stop, head down, fighting the gusts.
The bus was crowded; guess everyone's after a bargain today. Is that kid in the front seat really disabled? Doesn't look it but ... A white bearded, elderly gent got up from the second row and pointed to the seat he had vacated. He looked just as decrepit as me and I felt guilty accepting his offer, but my doubts were soon overcome as the vehicle jolted and I almost fell.
At each stop they piled in; Mum's with pushchairs, men in dirty work clothes, and kids, kids and more kids; a sweaty wave of humanity packed together like sardines, jostling, poking, tottering, all breathing in time to the throbbing of the engine, all bound for that elusive bargain.
As the doors opened the front runners almost fell from the bus. I waited and watched. The old gent who gave me his seat clung to the pole as the hordes barreled past. "You OK?" He nodded but his face was ashen. As I rose he took my arm and helped me from the bus. Then he rushed off, far quicker than I would have thought possible.
I took my time reaching the Armada Centre. Each painful step made me more breathless, more light headed. The automatic doors slid open and a rush of warm air hit me and my vision blurred. I spotted a bench and headed in that direction, not caring who I trampled at that point. "Ouch," a little girl yelled as I ran over her foot with my trolley. "Sorry," I mouthed, gasping. The child's mother gave me such a look.
I tried to look around for the toy shop, but from my seat all I could see was a sea of feet and legs, seemingly entwined, hurrying but going nowhere fast. A loud hum assailed my ears; mumble, buzzz, hiss, Mumeee, burble, rumble, NO. The noise and the heat were closing in on me. I was glad to be sitting as the world begin to whirl about me. I took a deep breath and swallowed hard. "Think of my little angel, her face when she sees Nanna's present," I told myself.
"Excuse me, what time is it," I asked the young woman who came and sat next to me.
"Half four," she muttered, looking down at her phone.
"My foot hurts, Mummy." A little girl hobbled over and it was then I recognized the pair. It was time to move. I struggled to my feet, my knees creaking after sitting so long. I had a slightly better view from this angle. Over the heads of some, and the shoulders of many, I saw the brightly coloured sign I had been looking for.
"Excuse me ... sorry ... it's OK ... can I ... Pardon me ... sorry." I struggled on, my focus on the doorway to victory. Dolls, where are you? No, not action man, nor barbie, just a sweet little baby doll for my angel. One that pees, thirty odd quid, no chance. A rag doll with buttons and laces, would be good but not at that price. I thought about the contents of my purse. Six pounds forty. Even in the sale I wouldn't get a doll for that.
I trundled back towards the door, no longer seeing the people in front, beside and behind me as I held back the tears.
"You!" a voice rang out. It was the kid's mother. I barely felt her touch me as I staggered backwards and my rear hit a metal bar. The world gave way and I spun into oblivion. I didn't even feel my body hit the ground.
"Ho, ho, wha..." was the first thing I heard. Was I dreaming? A white beard came into focus, inches from my face. My left ear was ice cold; that was the first thing I noticed. I put my hand out to raise myself and it came in contact with the marble floor. "No, stay still," a deep voice boomed.
"I gotta get the doll," I heard myself mumble through the fog. My voice was muffled by the sound of an alarm somewhere nearby.
"The emergency exit is alarmed. You set it off when you fell against it," Santa explained in answer to my puzzled expression. Uniformed arms reached out to me and I was lifted into a wheelchair. As my confusion cleared I looked at my location. It was cold, not just the temperature but the clinical white walls and the lack of decoration. The corridor seemed endless as I was pushed to an unknown destination. It took a moment to register that Santa was along for the ride.
I mentally examined my body. Did I have any pain? Was everything working? Surprisingly, I was shaken but not really harmed. But I still didn't have the precious doll. A door opened to the side of the corridor, at the far end, and I was wheeled into some sort of sick bay. "Here we go again!" I thought to myself. I have spent more than my fair share of time in hospital. "I don't need an ambulance," I assured the nurse. There's only one thing I DO need; the doll.
Caring hands wandered over my limbs and neck. "Did you pass out before or after you fell?" I was asked.
"Before, I think. I've been having blackouts for a while." I looked over at Santa, looking on anxiously, and felt calmer than I had all day. It was only then that I recognized the old gent from the bus was Santa. There was something reassuring about it. I didn't even notice the blood pressure cuff tightening on my arm.
"You were talking about a doll. Is that what you came for today?" Santa asked.
"Yes, a present for my granddaughter. She's two." I reached into my bag for my phone. "That's Angela," I said, holding out the phone.
"I think you're going to be OK. No need for an ambulance this time. But you should stay here for a while, get over the shock," the nurse directed.
"Will you excuse me for a moment," the old gent said, leaving the room. I felt a sense of desertion as I watched him walk out of the door. I think I dozed off soon after. I was woken by a knock on the door.
"Come in," the nurse called out. My own personal Santa came in carrying a package. It was the doll that pees.
"I can't afford one of those," I stammered, that black mood descending again.
"Call it a present from Santa."
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