by Owen Jones
1 William Davies
“He’s coming back, Peter!”
“Hang on to him!” ordered the cardiovascular surgeon as he quickly scanned the machines and monitors on the racks above the opposite side of the bed with a well-practiced eye. “Don’t let him lose consciousness again, it might be the last time if we do.”
All the flashing, spiking and streaming lights on all the monitors were normalising, as were the beeps and buzzing sounds.
“Come on, William, don’t go to sleep on us now,” he urged his patient.
“I’m trying not to,” I heard myself saying in my head, but I couldn’t get my lips to voice my thoughts. In fact, for a while, I thought that I had died ten minutes before I heard the first voice speak. The only reason I had for doubting my demise was that I’m a Spiritualist, and I have always believed that friends and relatives waited on the Other Side to welcome the dying over. There had been no-one waiting for me… Not that I have many friends or relatives dead or alive, although there was one I knew I could count on.
I had to put myself into the doctors’ hands and trust in their ability. I wanted to give them a sign that I could hear them, so I tried to drum my fingers and wiggle my toes, but had no idea whether they were moving or not. I guessed not by the lack of reaction from the doctors and nurses who were obviously surrounding the bed trying to help me.
“His eyes are twitching, I think he’s trying to open them,” observed a female voice emotionally. Emboldened by such encouragement I tried harder, and, after a minute or so, I could see a kindly male face smiling down at me through a crack in my eyelids.
“Welcome back, William,” he said seeming to mean it, “we thought we’d lost you that time. Welcome back to the land of the living. I’m terribly sorry about this, Old Man, but I have to rush off now that you’re going to be all right, but these ladies and gentlemen are supremely competent and will take care of you just as well as I could. I’ll see you later”.
He whispered his instructions to the others and left.
It is strange, but when you have very little strength left, you can feel it ebbing or returning remarkably easily. In my case, I was getting stronger by the second. I don’t know what drugs they’ve given me, but they and the will to live are working wonders.
“We’ll keep you in tonight, William, but if the signs are good tomorrow, you can go back to your own bed. That’ll be nice, won’t it?”
I tried to nod and smile, but instead, I felt a tear run out of my left eye down over my temple and into my ear. I haven’t slept in my own bed for nearly three years, but I knew what she meant of course. She was just trying to be kind… upbeat, and I did appreciate it. It’s just that it’s funny what you think about when you realise that you might be drawing your last breaths.
I don’t consider myself religious, although I suppose others might. I believe simply in life after death, reincarnation and Karma. Therefore, death has never held any terrors for me, and life is only slightly preferable because it allows a wider range of experiences and more of them.
My last thoughts had not been about life or death or even meeting my Maker, they had been about the people I have loved, and especially the females, because I had always preferred theirs to male company. You could argue that that was my life flashing before my eyes, but it was a niche, edited version and it didn’t flash. It lingered in a languid, lavish, seductive fashion.
In fact, I don’t believe that that film of my life would have finished if I had died from the heart attack when I thought I might have. It would have carried on and I would have been without a body – the only change.
I have been a big, strong man all my adult life: over six feet and over sixteen stones, but fit and healthy with it. I have been ill and broken bones, but nothing has floored me for long. However, I fear that those days are at an end, because that was the second heart attack you just saw me recover from, and I am realistic enough to know, that I will probably not be able to ignore the third call to leave this Mortal Coil.
To be honest, I’m not all that sure that I would want to anyway. I am now seventy-one, living in an old people’s home in southern Spain and my wife and friends have all gone on before me. Don’t get me wrong, it is a very comfortable hospice, operated especially for English-speaking oldies like myself. It really is very nice, but it’s not home, as I am sure you can appreciate and the bed they referred to as my own, is not the one I shared with my wife until she died two years, three months and seventeen days ago.
Actually, she was rushed from our bed into hospital and died there without recovering consciousness. She didn’t survive her first heart attack. It’s a shame, I thought she would have… when the time came. I slept in a hotel after that for a while and then I moved into the hospice – God’s Waiting Room, we residents call it!
Anyway, I digress, but I’m afraid you will have to forgive me, dear reader, for it is true, an old man’s mind does wander. However, if you have the tenacity to stick with me to the end, I will tell you the story of a woman that I want the whole world to know.
Trying to tell the story of someone else is difficult, and in this case it is obscured by the mists of time and an old man’s power of recollection, but I will get there, I promise you that most sincerely
“I am the eldest child in my family, of my generation in our family, I should say, three years older than my next sibling, so for a long time, I was like an only child. I was lucky though, because there were lots of children in the nearest five houses to ours and as luck would have it, eight of those nine children were girls. I loved them all in my preschool days as I had no sisters of my own… I have fond memories of playing Daddy to their Mummy at make-believe tea parties.
Most of them were years older than myself, so when they started school they found new friends and eventually, so did I. It was there that at the age of six I fell in love with a girl called Debbie. One day, after school, at the age of seven, we were sitting on the swings in the thunder, lightening and rain and hoped that a bolt of lightening would send us to a romantic death together. It didn’t, of course, all it got us was a telling-off from our parents.
Then there was Sally when we were nine. I used to stalk her and when she said that I was the third most handsome boy she knew, I was in Seventh Heaven. At fifteen there was Lesley, whom I loved from afar, but never ever spoke to, and so it went on until I was seventeen.
I will never forget those wonderful girls, our innocence and the great times we had, or I wanted to have, together.
Some things you cannot tell, even at seventy-one and fresh off your death bed, and other things you don’t want to tell because they are memories best savoured in private. I often wonder whether those early loves, for lovers they were not, remember me fondly too, but I will never know now and that is probably for the best. I can pretend that they do.
You see, I cannot ask them, because I have always moved around and never kept in touch. It is a reason for the lack of friends and close family. First, I went to university a hundred and fifty miles from home and then I joined the Diplomatic Service which also involved travelling… but I am starting to get ahead of myself.
Between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three, the girls I was going out with started to become women, and that was even more exciting. I remember Janine, Glenys and Andrea… so many more friends and lovers alike. I dream about them all often and in a way which is not disrespectful to my wife.
The nurse has come to put me to sleep… not like an old dog, you understand, more in the manner of a sick child, which I am frightened I am in danger of becoming. It is a reason for wanting to tell you my story soon. I will do my best to get on with it tomorrow.
Muesli and fresh pineapple crowned with plain yoghurt for breakfast accompanied by a cup of weak herbal tea. I can’t tell which one from the flavour, but it is all very nice, if predictable. I am not going to be in a fit state for jogging for a while, so I need plenty of roughage. The tea is probably a mild laxative as well.
Anyway, I have become aware over night, that, if my story is going to be published one day, it needs to be written down or recorded. A Dictaphone would be the least strenuous on me, so I asked the nurse who brought my breakfast to arrange for the hospice staff to buy me one. She tried to get out of doing it by reminding me that I would be ‘going home’ within eight hours, so I could ask them myself.
I wasn’t having any of that though. ‘I haven’t forgotten I’m going back to the hospice today if I’m well enough!’ I told her. ‘Phone them to get me a Dictaphone as I asked, please!’ She went off in a huff, but at my age we are allowed to be a bit crotchety from time to time, it’s expected of us and one of the compensations for old age. You could call it a prize for surpassing the allotted three score years and ten.
When my plates are being cleared away by a different nurse, I ask about my Dictaphone again. Ten minutes later she phoned me back on my bedside phone to say that it was being taken care of. They are pretty obliging here, on the whole, and where I live too.
While we are waiting for them to take me ‘home’ where my Dictaphone should be waiting so that I can recount the story I have been promising you, I will fill in the time by telling you a little more about myself, but don’t worry, I will keep it brief. I do not want to bore you and the real story is not about me anyway. This is not an ego trip, as the dear old Hippies used to say.
I loved the Seventies, but was too young to enjoy the Sixties.
I was born the eldest child in Cardiff, South Wales, the UK to an industrious working-class family. My father was a carpenter when he finished his National Service, but soon had his own construction firm and he and my mother soon had a family of five boys too. We all grew up fit, strong and happy. Our parents were Spiritualists, and Dad took us to Church with him every Friday night when he did his healing to give my mother a well-deserved ‘night off’.
However, religion was never forced upon us. In fact, our schools were Church of Wales, cubs and scouts were Methodist and our closest aunty was Catholic. Religion was just not an issue in our family or neighbourhood. The first two things I can remember my mother saying are that she would die before she was forty-two and that I should become a diplomat. Both of which came true.
English was my mother language, but I learned Welsh from the age of six and then French, German, Latin, Dutch and Russian to fluency and a little Chinese and Spanish. The Diplomatic Service pays a bonus for every language you can speak which was a big attraction for me. So was the promise of foreign travel, as I had travelled and studied abroad by the time I was fifteen. I was a confident traveller by eighteen.
I particularly liked to hitch-hike, but then all the young people did it back in those days and it was safer than it is now for some reason.
As a person, I tend to be a loner and a thinker, although I wouldn’t claim to come to more sensible conclusions than anyone else. However, I do try to, and that was one of the reasons they employed me in the Diplomatic Service. I had a great life in the Service, and lots of fun… but there I go again hijacking this story, bending it towards me and my life… Oh, yes, I forgot… we’re waiting for the Dictaphone before we can get onto the nitty-gritty, aren’t we?
I apologise for that, but I am as impatient as you must be. Honestly!
The journey from the hospital to the hospice was only a few kilometres, so didn’t take long in the large comfortable ambulance they provided. In fact, we left the hospital without warning at eleven a.m. and I was sitting in a large comfortable chair in the hospice grounds overlooking the beautiful marina in Marbella waiting for my lunch by noon.
Now, I realise that you have been waiting quite a while for me to get to the point of this book, I haven’t forgotten, although I can’t quite remember how long it’s been exactly, so when the nurse brought me my lunch, I asked about the machine again. She used her mobile to ring the desk, and assured me that it would be delivered within the hour. I smiled, thanked her and tucked into my boiled fish and salad, followed by yoghurt and tea again.
I like that sort of food, but I have always been easy to please in culinary matters as long as I’m not asked to eat junk food. In earlier days, I favoured Indian and then Thai food, but that is all but denied me now, as is cheese, my clear all-time favourite. I have always had a passion for cheese, fresh, crispy bread and red wine or beer, which are also very rare treats these days.
The food and the hour have both disappeared now, but the only change to my circumstances is that I feel sleepy. It’s the sea air probably. If they don’t bring me my new toy soon, I’ll be asleep again… dreaming about people from my youth, people perhaps long dead… Maybe, I should be as well, what useful purpose am I serving here? Eating and drinking and spending money, but to what end? Just to keep myself alive? No-one cares except the owners of the hospice, and that would soon stop if my money ran out, which it won’t… The dear old British government will see to that until I pop my clogs.
In a way though, I am being held back from my inevitable journey through yet another death and rebirth. I just can’t help thinking that my money would be better spent elsewhere. I’m drifting again, I sense it. I need to stay alive to tell you my story, which is not really my story because it is not about me, I know, I’ve told you that before, but I have known this story for most of my life. That’s why I’m keeping myself alive, not just for the sake of it.
“If the truth be known, I am anxious to continue on to the next leg of my journey and have been for two years, seven months and fourteen days. I miss her so much, I could cry every time I think of her, tough old bastard that I think that I am… pretend that I am. Eventually, everyone believes the image and lets you get on with it… not realising that that’s the last thing you want them to do really. I’m just too scared to show my feelings, that’s the truth… but then most men are.
Well, it’s too late to change now… Maybe in the next life or the one after that. It’s a good job that infinity is so long, it gives you plenty of time to correct your failings and weaknesses and, Lord knows, I need it.
I’m getting a sudden, unexpected memory of Ricky, a boy from university. He was from Battersea and affected a Cockney accent. He tried to act like the cock of the walk, but asked me to take him for an Indian curry one night because he’d never had one and wanted to impress a girl who said it was her favourite food. He got so drunk on red wine and beer that he fell face down in his Chicken Madras blowing bubbles! Ha, ha, ha… Good old days. A waiter and I cleaned him up and I took him home to his girlfriend, who had a houseful of nude photos of herself taken by her female flatmate.
“I can’t remember the flatmate’s name, but she was Jewish and took me to bed that night with more red wine. I feel bad that I can’t remember her name, but Maria or Marsha seems to fit the face I see in my head. Strange, I haven’t thought about those three people for almost fifty years.
Excuse me, I must have drifted off. There is a note protruding from under my saucer: ‘Your Dictaphone is at reception. Please ring and it will be brought out to you’. I am as happy for you as for myself, dear reader, because now I will be able to fulfil my promise and you will be able to assess whether what I have been saying is true or not. Just a moment, please, while I make a call.
“Here you are, William. I took the liberty of putting it on charge while you were asleep. Have fun with it” said the girl who delivered it.
“Yes, thank you, I will,” I replied cheerily, but thought ‘What a saucy mare!’ Some of the younger ones treat us all as if we’re senile. It drives me mad. It is true that some of us are totally doolally tap, but not all… not yet.
I played with the Nokia, turning it over in my hands looking for familiar features. It was a simple one, just what I wanted… could be voice-activated too. I was no stranger to modern technology, but another sudden thought came into my mind. I have written thousands of reports, but never written a biography. Read many, yes, but not written one. I can’t think how to start. Really! This is most annoying. I, we, have been waiting for the recorder for twenty-four hours and now I still can’t start!
I picked up my saucer to finish my tea, and a warm breeze blew the note down the lawn. I realise that the story I want to tell, her story, could not have taken place unless other events had happened first… Well, in that case, since you have indulged me thus far, I will push you a little further and take you back to the very beginning, as far as I am humanly able. The real beginning of this story is in yet another country which found itself in very trying circumstances almost a decade before even I was born.
The woman I really want to tell you about went by many names, but she was born Natalya in Soviet Kazakhstan, although we will have to start in Japan with the Mizuki family. I have pieced their story together over the decades from various case notes which I was able to uncover in my professional life as a diplomat, and from things that I was told and overheard. So, with my fully-functioning, brand-new Dictaphone, I will now tell you about the first performers in our drama, Yui Mizuki and her family and hope that I don’t receive that third curtain call before we get to the end.