Jeanette slumps back in her leather tub chair as woefully inert as a deflated balloon.
‘They let me out too early,’ she says. ‘I feel terrible.’
‘In what way terrible?’
‘In what way do you feel terrible?’
‘Just that. Terrible.’
‘Are you in pain?’
She squeezes her eyes shut as if she is, but finally admits that no, not as such, she isn’t.
‘Do you feel sick, or dizzy?’
‘Short of breath?’
‘Any pins and needles, numbness, or funny feelings anywhere?’
She shakes her head.
‘Have you opened your bowels today?’
She says she had. It was all normal. Everything was – is – normal.
‘Good. That’s good.’
‘I’m just – I don’t know. I can’t explain it.’
She puts one hand up to her brow, extending the other arm along the back of the chair in a tragic, broken-winged kind of pose.
‘Are you feeling lacking in energy, or exhausted, perhaps?’
‘Yes,’ she says. ‘They shouldn’t have let me out. I wasn’t ready to come out.’
She was in a fair while, admitted after a non-injury fall at home. All her observations were – and remain – perfectly normal, though. Recent bloods – fine. Swabs, scans, colonoscopy – NAD. Her little flat is bright, clean and well-laid out, with an en-suite wet room and views over the garden. She has all the equipment she could possibly want, carers three times a day, and a son, Peter, who lives nearby and visits often. But perhaps more encouraging than any of this, is the place Jeanette was discharged home to.
Bletchley House is one of the sweetest, friendliest places I know. Two Edwardian terraced houses knocked into one, sensitively converted into a dozen self-contained flats for independent living. Environmentally it’s as spacious and sunlit as a boutique hotel, with lush gardens, an expansive patio and an arbor shaded with vines. There’s a communal TV room, a free library, sofa spaces. Everyone seems bright and awake, inquisitive without being pushy. There’s a co-operative feel to it all that invites you to sit down, have a cup of tea and a chat. And of course, the best thing about Bletchley House is its housekeeper, Abigay.
Abigay is a Jamaican goddess, a manifest spirit of love and good sense. Although she’s in her seventies, she has such a shine to her you could easily mistake her for a woman half that age, merrily crashing around in the kitchen, baking, singing. Her head is shaved, her lips rouged, she has yellow plastic earrings in her ears and on her hands, ornate clusters of silver rings.
‘Why don’ ya sit down and take a cup a’tea, fella? Tell me everytink.’
Jeanette had asked me to come down and speak to Abigay, to see if she’ll send her some food up later.
‘O’ course!’ says Abigay, throwing a red check tea towel over her shoulder. ‘Wha’ ja think me got all this fancy kitchen for?’
She’s sorry to hear Jeanette isn’t feeling well enough to come down – but then her face takes on a pantomime expression of severity.
‘Poor Jeanette. Ya know she never come out dat room so much. We all try to tempt her out wi’ stuff. Me lovely dinners. Me special salad.’
The way she says salad, dipping her knees slightly, like she’s swinging on a big handle. Behind her lined up on the stainless steel counter are bowls of fresh leaves, fruits and colourful things, pots rattling on the stove.
‘O’ course me take it up to her. I wish though – I wish, wish wish she’d come down here and eat wi’ da rest of us. She know she always welcome. Her son, Peter, he such a good boy. He take a lot o’ trouble wid his mama, ya know. It a shame she gat dat problem in her head wi’ this kinda ting. I’m not sure she comin’ out dat room anytime soon.’
I relay the good news to Jeanette about the food.
‘What exactly is she making?’ she says, with the haunted expression of someone asking what manner of poison she’ll be asked to swallow.
‘One of her lovely big salads, I think.’
‘Urgh,’ she shudders. ‘Go back down and ask her to do me a cheese sandwich instead, would you? No pickle.’
She rests her head back and shuts her eyes again.
‘Although quite how I’ll force it down I don’t know.’