You walk into the room hesitantly as if unsure of what lies within. Staring around anxiously you take in your surroundings as one hand clasps a plastic bag, the other a young child’s hand. She glances up at you – the perfect giant in her eyes – face glowing with warmth.
Perhaps it is lack of sleep which shakes you into such a confused state, or else the circumstances of your stay. Regardless, your daughter leads you further into the room in a perfect rendition of subverted relationships. You are an obedient child, though your jet black hair is ruffled and glasses askew. She is a caring mother; a comfortable balance of laughter and strictness.
“Where are we going today, daddy?” Her eyes sparkled, clear and bright as the Sun reflecting off water. Her head practically bent ninety degrees to look at her father, though she didn’t seem to mind.
“To hospital. To your mum. Would you like that?” Though his tone was light and cheerful, there was a sadness in his voice which spoke of deeper torment. I wondered if she could hear it. Her face betrayed no knowledge of it, however.
She nodded yes, slow and steady, with an all encompassing grin on her face that only the innocent and the elderly can achieve.
They perch themselves upon a table with the softest of seats, him pulling grotesque faces for her amusement as they ate, her giggling so hard that she couldn’t help but clutch her stomach; cheeks ruddy with glee.
They continued in this fashion for the duration of the meal, their connection so glaringly flawless that many besotted women turned to stare at this man alone with his daughter, cooing from afar like vultures circling their prey. Such was her good nature that she simply smiled sweetly, offering pieces of her toast to these dark creatures and waving at them with a Queenly hand. He merely continued raising his lips in that sad smile of his, only half seeming to notice his surroundings as he fed his thin build and her soft flesh.
Soon they were gone, leaving a line of waving women in their wake and a pile of empty, already forgotten, plates.
They hastily got ready to venture out, as if both realised the importance of such a feat. Though they both left eagerly, she grew weary as soon as she stepped outside. Shoulders sagged to an all time low; shoe laces seemed to untie themselves so as to reflect her growing despair. So he lifted her, speaking to her continually (though she did not always answer) in that voice of an adult talking to a child of unimportant subjects.
“So what did mummy want us to bring her?” He waited for a reply which never came. “Ah, some more pyjamas and underwear! Imagine being stuck on an island with no clean pyjamas or knickers!”
To which she replied with a sleepy, “Eww…” She wrinkled her nose as she spoke.
This continues on the bus, causing more loving turns of the head, until she fell asleep, head resting against his lower arm and eyes clenched shut.
Time passes swiftly as they traipse around the shops, picking an assortment of goods for all three family members. Finally, visiting times were upon them. They reached the hospital with five minutes to spare.
Though arms are heavy with child and shopping, his smile seems to brighten as he walks across the room, hope filling his eyes as he tells the receptionist the ward he wants to visit. Her clinical smile does not even cause his happiness to faulter, “Please wait in the waiting room until visiting hours.” She says in a brisk voice, sighing as soon as he turns around as if fed up with her job.
Every second becomes a lifetime; every minute an age. He sits hunched, glancing every now and then at the unlit neon sign above him. He had waited so many times that he knew without truly looking that it reads, “Visiting times,” but it was too faint in that moment, like a life threatening to fall through outstretched fingers. He chirped away to his daughter and his daughter chirped away at him, both ignoring the sick and incapacitated around them: it was their reality.
After it seemed as though the new millenium had been and gone, the sign flickered alice, faint at first but soon growing in strength.
They both appeared overcome by a sudden spurt of energy; both rushed along the hallways; twisting and turning hand in hand; out of breath by the time they reached the door.
“Mummy!” Her face was radiant now, as she used the last of her energy to throw her arms around her mother.
He stood at the foot of the bed before them, panting still, as they both smiled happily at him.
He grinned, eyes wet with unfallen tears.