The day before they let me out, a man came to see me. I was sort of half-dozing at the time – not really asleep as such, but I’d found that I couldn’t actually concentrate on anything, so my mind was in a strange soupy slump; he had to cough to get my attention.
He was quite a big man – tall and broad, not fat, just very solid – but somehow he was one of those people that your eye naturally slips over, so it was a bit startling to discover him looming over me. When he started talking I realised how I had managed to miss his arrival; he was the type who would usually be politely requesting money for some deserving cause or earnestly asking to tell you about mortal sin; the kind of person you automatically pretend is invisible when walking past on the street.
“You’re awake,” he informed me. His eyes were clear and serious – luminous blue with long lashes, curiously delicate on his large face.
“Yes,” I agreed.
“When I last saw you, you were sleeping.”
“I was in a coma,” I explained.
“I know. That’s why I was here. We read to people.”
“Oh,” I said.
Had I been more compos mentis I might have found his presence unsettling and the conversation awkward; as it was, of late the world had all become too surreal for him to bother me overly. My head was in a fug of hospital, and the rules of real life, of normality, felt very far away indeed.
“Thanks,” I added uncertainly.
“It’s no problem. It can help people to be read to. We want to help people. But I didn’t get to finish reading it to you. So I’ve brought you the book.”
He handed me a flimsy volume with a blue cover; ‘The Book’ it proclaimed on the spine, apparently by ‘The Kraken’.
“We have many boxes of them,” the man admitted. “It’s a good book. I hope you like it. You’re welcome to come to our Mission House and meet the other Children. The address is printed inside.”
“Children?” I asked, somewhat perturbed.
“Like me,” the man explained. “Children of the Sea. I’m a Child of the Sea. You could be too.”
“Ah,” I said, looking around as subtly as I could for a passing nurse to save me from the lunatic.
“Did you find the Secret?” he asked wistfully.
“When you were under, in the deep… did you find the Secret?”
His eyes were fixed on mine, unblinking.
“No,” I said, and, watching him deflate, “I’m sorry.”
He nodded sadly, smiled anxiously, and disappeared.
“Where did you get that?” Gemma the nice nurse asked later, noticing the book.
“Some nutter gave it to me; one of the reading volunteers.”
“One of the what?”
“You know, the people who come in and read to us coma folk.”
“Nope,” Gemma said firmly. “That doesn’t happen on this ward.”
I’d learnt already that there was no point contradicting her, so I let it go.
“I brought you this,” she said, handing me a small, shiny black object. “Thought you might like it back.”
“Thanks,” I said, examining it as she briskly went on with her business.
It was my phone, I realised.
Strange, how it suddenly felt so unfamiliar in my fingers. There was a fresh new crack on the screen, no doubt from being pummelled into the concrete along with my body.
I turned it on, watching in a daze as the it came to life in a fanfare of coloured lights and tinkling sounds. It took a moment or two to find a signal, then began to flood with messages, missed calls, voice messages… people had been trying to reach me…
Most of the messages were from Sophie. Guilt trickled coldly through me as I read them.
Haven’t seen you for ages. All ok? Don’t forget rent is due soon! X
Rent due tomorrow! X
Well, I suppose I can sub you for this month, but would be good to know when you can pay me back please?! X
Ok. Silence speaks volumes. I assume you no longer live here. Bye then.
You could at least have the decency to let me know.
You just don’t give a shit about anyone, do you?
Nothing. Seriously. Arsehole.
I’m starting to worry actually. Are you alive?
Please can you let me know that you’re ok?
If you are ok, you’re a fucking bastard not to let me know as much.
I really hope you’re ok…
I’m very drunk. How are you? Dead? Alive? Indifferent? X
Yes, in response to your imaginary question, I had a lovely birthday thanks. Roger took me for dinner at the fucking Ivy. Food a bit bland, actually, but plenty of champagne and famous people to gawp at. I do like champagne.
Where are you? What’s going on?
Please, please, please just tell me you’re ok…
Well, Happy Christmas then.
The final message was just one word.
I stared at it in horror.