the band

Normally you can judge how expensive the nursing home fees are by how quiet it is. Today, though, Shaftesbury Manor is positively rowdy. There’s a birthday party in the dining room, and a sea cadet’s brass band putting on a show for the other residents in the lounge.

I’m waiting to take blood from birthday girl (awkward, but the GP was insistent). The party’s just breaking up, so to pass the time I loiter in the doorway watching the band. The conductor is sweating so much her cap is sliding off, her tunic so tight she can barely lift her arms. It’s quite a racket they’re making. Handheld xylophones, trumpets, a drum. I’m guessing the residents slumped in the armchairs are either dead or have their hearing aids turned off, because they look remarkably unmoved, given the volume. Right at the front is a tiny kid on a tuba, blowing so enthusiastically every third bar he’s at risk of putting himself through the window. The band looks confined, antsy, on the verge of something desperate. Any minute now, despite the conductor, they’ll simply have to start marching – over chairs, residents, whatever – down the corridor, out the front door, and off into the free world.

All the party guests have started making their goodbyes, putting on coats, clapping each other on the shoulders, shaking hands, kissing, laughing. I stand back but even so I’m almost drawn in to it. Maybe they think I’m the long-lost great great nephew or something, wearing a backpack because I’ve come from the airport.
‘No, no!’ I say to one of them coming out. ‘I’m a nursing assistant. I’m here to take blood.’
He does a comedy double-take, holds his hands out to the side, turns round and shouts to the others: ‘Who ordered the vampire?’
One of the carers taps me on the shoulder.
‘I’ll get Luciana and wheel her through’ she says. ‘I’m guessing you want a little privacy.’
I nod at the band.
‘I don’t know. At least you won’t hear her scream,’ I say.
The carer frowns, and hurries on.