I’m running a commode out to a patient as a favour to a colleague. I’ve got another call to make before I’m off, and if I’m to finish on time it’ll be a close-run thing, but at least this is simple enough. My only worry is the address. Old Nonesuch Road is about the longest road in the county, possibly the country. Number Twelve doesn’t sound all that credible, given that my satnav has placed the postcode somewhere in the middle. Still, I take it on trust, and eventually turn off the Nonesuch into a little drive that runs between twelve and fourteen.
I ring the bell.
It’s not unusual for a patient or their relative to take time coming to the door. They need a commode, after all; they’re bound to be slow. After a while I press the bell again. Maybe I didn’t push hard enough. I listen closely, and hear it ring deep inside the house.
I look around for a key safe, check my notes. Ring the bell again, knock.
Just as I’m about to call the office and ask for clarification, the front door flies open and an extraordinary woman stands there. She has a pile of hair as woolly and full as the fleece from an Angora goat, painted eyebrows in two thinly arched lines, bright pink eye-shadow, a scarlet rosebud mouth, all above a shabby cerise top and holed slacks.
She smiles, her teeth pasty with the remains of a sandwich.
‘Ye-es?’ she says.
‘Hi! I’ve been asked to drop round a commode…?’
‘Got one!’ she says, folding her arms and looking me up and down. ‘District nurse came round about an hour ago!’
‘Oh! Well! That’s good, then!’
‘Who sent you?’
‘Who sent me? The hospital avoidance team. They said you needed a commode, for erm..’
‘My mum, yes. But no, the district nurse was only just here and she gave us one. Thanks anyway.’
‘That’s all right. I was in the area, as they say.’
‘You know. People. Who say that sort of thing.’
‘Who do you work for?’
‘The hospital avoidance team. We help people with bits and pieces, to erm… keep them out of hospital.’
There’s a pause, which I feel obliged to fill.
‘I was a bit worried about the address,’ I tell her.
‘Number Twelve, Nonesuch. Given that it’s a long road.’
‘It is a long road. You’re right. That’s why they have to start the numbering again at various points. Otherwise by the time you reached town you’d have house number twenty thousand and something. It’d take up the whole envelope. If you look just up there, by the bus stop? That’s where it starts at number one again. And we’re number twelve.’
‘But you knew that didn’t you?’
She smiles at me, her teeth crackling slightly.
She holds me there for a moment, still smiling, then glances behind her, as if she’s heard something that needs attending to.
‘When the traffic goes quiet it means the lights have changed,’ she says, taking a step back. ‘You can reverse out then if you’re quick.’
And with that she slams the door.