FLOWERS FOR MUM
Fate had decided that we sat next to each other. I would have guessed he was about twelve years old as drops of rain ran down his well-worn coat onto the waiting-room floor. In his hand was a bunch of flowers, limp and lifeless from being held tightly so long. He sat perfectly still, eyes transfixed on the hospital clock edging its way to half-past-two. That’s when visitors’ time began.
“I’ve come to see my mum,” he said without any prompting. “This is the third week she’s been in here and I haven’t missed a day yet. My Dad is too ill to come.”
“Then I’m sure your dad is proud of you, and you must be an enormous comfort to mum.”
He glanced down at his hands which looked cold and pink from the rain. “She likes Dad’s flowers more than anything else, but they’re a bit bedraggled today. I’ve no idea what to bring tomorrow as he couldn’t grow many this year.”
“Perhaps you could buy some?” I said.
Disbelief showed all over his face. “Buy some! I really don’t think so. If I only have half the bus fare here every day I can hardly buy flowers as well?”
Something didn’t seem right and I wanted to press him further. “You only have half the bus fare here? Then how do you manage each day?”
“Well, what I do is walk halfway here and then I get on the bus. Then do exactly the same when I go back home, except that it’s in reverse. Halfway is all I can afford you see, but it’s worth it just to see mum.”
I felt myself swallowing hard. Something like this from someone so young came as a revelation to me. “And does your mother know about this?” I asked.
“Lord,no,” he said shaking his head, “she’d have a fit if she knew. And so would my dad if he ever found out as we live a long way from here.”
I didn’t know what to say. Here was this young lad, pale-faced and wet, making this journey each day. It would seem they were tight for money and thoughts of my own journey there in a comfortable car it made me feel awkward and guilty. I felt I wanted to help. The hospital clock said it was visitors’ time and his flowers looked even more jaded. I only had a few minutes to think of what I could do. My suggestion was casual but serious.
“Why not get mum some nice fresh fruit and perhaps some chocolates, too? There’s a hospital shop on the way to the wards where you can buy that of thing.”
I pressed enough money into his hands to cover whatever he bought. He resisted a while then said thank you. Then we went on our different ways.
I didn’t expect to see him again, like ships that pass in the night, but he was waiting at the foot of the stairs when visitors’ time was over. He looked pale and his eyes were tearful and red.
“The end just came out of nowhere,” he said, “I was just a few minutes too late. They explained it was all rather sudden and there was nothing at all they could do. So they’ve asked me to wait in the office and someone will take me home. Then someone has got to tell my dad and I think it ought to be me.” He delved deeply into his pocket and thrust something into my hand. It was a couple of crumpled banknotes wet from the young man’s tears.
“I won’t be needing this money now, for fruit or chocolates and things. But it was all very kind of you, sir. Thank you.” And then he was gone.
Moments later I saw him leave in the care of hospital staff. In one hand was a hospital carrier-bag, in the other his dad’s bunch of flowers. Although most of the flowers were wilted or dead he seemed determined not to let go, leaving a trail of petals across the waiting room floor. “I want to take them home, please,” I heard him say to the nurse. “My mother never did see them and they’ll last a day or two more.”
Then he put on a very brave face for his father as he stepped out into the rain.