This piece won a runner-up position in the Two Voices Competition, organised by Writing the City. It’s a great place to meet fellow writers, share your work and get critique. Also – they hold monthly themed competitions – so you get an incentive to start writing, and a launchpad for your story ideas. A useful resource – if you need an excuse to start writing.
For June/July, they’re having another competition – winner gets an e-reader. Sounds pretty cool.
It was Mr Chan. Lily recognised him the moment she exited the lift. Immediately, she felt the desire to flee. Hospitals were the worst places to meet anyone. Plus, she had always hated the awkwardness of small talk. She lowered her gaze, not wanting to meet his. He probably didn’t remember her.
She turned her head towards his gravelly voice. He was frowning, as if trying to recall her name.
“Mr Chan!” She stopped. Feigned surprise.
He smiled, kind eyes wrinkling. “You’re my student, yes?”
“Lily. Class of 2006.”
“Yes! Lily. I remember you. One of the good students.”
Despite herself, she smiled. “I didn’t expect you to remember.”
“Oh, I remember faces. Just have trouble with names.” He glanced at the closing lift doors.
“Do you need to go?” She asked, a little too quickly.
“It’s okay, I’m in no hurry.”
She stifled a sigh, then glanced at her watch.
“Do you need to go?” He asked.
“I’m going to see my grandma.” Inwardly, she grimaced.
“She’s in hospital?” Concern radiated from his hunched shoulders, forming new lines on his pale, drawn face. “Better hurry, visiting hours are almost over.”
It was the perfect excuse to excuse herself.
“No, she’s not here. I mean, I’m going to her house. I was just dropping off … her stool sample at the clinic.”
So much for avoiding awkward conversations, Lily thought, I really should learn to keep my mouth shut.
“They’re testing her for dementia.”
“Oh. … I’m- “
“Why are you here?” Lily interjected. Her eyes darted to the corridor behind him.
Mr Chan sensed his ex-student’s reluctance to continue the conversation. The polite thing would be to let her go on her way. Instead, he continued.
“I’m visiting my wife. She broke her hip.”
“I’m so sorry. I hope she’s okay.”
“She has Parkinson’s.”
He wondered why he was telling her this. But then, being childless, he had no one to tell. Suddenly, he envied her grandma.
Lily was silent. Annoyance flashed in her eyes, then awkward sympathy.
“I’m sorry.” She bit her lip, searching for words, not finding any.
He wondered what he wanted her to say. For a moment, he pitied her, being caught here, wrong place, wrong time.
The lift dinged, the doors opened and a crowd streamed out, replaced quickly by a new bevy of nurses, doctors and hushed visitors. Her eyes glanced longingly at the door as they closed without him.
“Are you alright?” She asked, finally.
He shrugged. “How’s your grandma?”
She sighed. Restraint vied with a sudden urge to commiserate.
“Grandma… forgets things. Forgets she has eaten. So she’s always hungry. She scolds the maid for starving her. She scolds almost everyone. My uncle has given up. Mom has to check on her everyday.”
“You visit her too, don’t you?”
“… Not as much as I should.” She was looking away now. Her eyes followed the movement of the lift doors, opening and closing, ferrying stream after stream of people in and out of the hospital’s sterile belly. “Grandma hardly scolds me. Sometimes I think she doesn’t know who I am.”
“It’s confirmed? Alzeihmer’s?”
Lily shook her head. “She has her lucid moments. But her memory is failing.“ She put her hand in her pocket, fishing out a small bottle of red nail polish.
Lily smiled, a small thin smile. “I was going to paint her nails tonight. After dinner. It might help her to remember when she’s eaten.”
“Sounds like a good idea.”
“Grandma’s always liked her little vanities. I thought it’d amuse her.”
“You’re a filial kid.”
Her fingers tightened around the tiny bottle. “Maybe it’ll also help her to remember me. In case – you know, she forgets.”
He wanted to pat her hand, tell her it would be alright. But he wasn’t sure it would be.
“How serious is it?” She asked.
“Your wife? Parkinson’s?”
“I guess… there’s still some time…”
She pushed the bottle of nail polish into his hands.
“For you. Paint her nails. Help her feel pretty. Make new memories while you can.”
Holding the tiny red bottle, he felt a sudden flowering of heartache.
“I’ve kept you for too long. You should get going.”
She smiled at him, a warmer smile this time. She seemed happier somehow, her eyes lighter.
“It’s alright. I hope you’re okay, Mr Chan.”
“I will be. Thank you.” He held out the polish to her. “Your grandma-”
“I have another bottle.” She waved then, flashing another smile before turning away and disappearing into the crowd.
The lift doors opened. He stepped inside.