Gregory turned the corner just in time to see his bus pull away in a cloud of spray.
Shit!’ He forced himself to breath deeply, quelling the tears that welled up all too often for no reason. Pulling the anorak hood over an already soaked head and leaning heavily on the single crutch he limped forward to join the line, resigned to wait with the rest as long as fate demanded. At least it was raining, he was grateful for that. The wind blown rain masked the shameful tears that coursed down his cheeks. If nothing else he had learnt to cry well, the tears might flow but the face remained expressionless as a granite rock unmoved by the salty streams.
More sodden forms, walking umbrellas tilted against the wind, stood in a bedraggled but regulated queue. Gregor took up position behind the last like a decoy pigeon in a field of flattened wheat. In no time three further flapping mackintoshes appeared to line up behind him. A heavy lorry swished past, double tyres cleaving passage through the water logged street. A ship in full sail, drenching the line with a thigh high bow wave of spray, rumbling on ignoring their cries of outrage snatched away in turn by an indifferent wind.
A memory of walking in another day of teaming rain flashed picture bright in his mind. High winds hurling huge seas that pounded against the harbour wall in ground shuddering blasts. Great explosions of water hanging high in the air before crashing down in freezing sheets, sluicing the concrete clean in knee deep tides, soaking them all to the skin. He was laughing, head thrown back in a wild carefree exhilaration, oblivious of risk, filled with an exaltation of life. Absurdly happy dancing in the rain and spray, jubilant in the crazy joy of risk and wet.
If only he could remember the where and who. But as always the memories so graphically precise, remained stubbornly obscure when it came to personalities. Who he had been with that day, and where had they gone and why? He thought in the plural because he was sure there was more than one, and that he loved each of them more deeply than life. They had to be waiting for him somewhere, worrying, wondering where he was and why he had abandoned them for so long and when he would return. His inability to reach out to find them through the misty quick sands of memory was driving him insane with frustration.
A bus loomed large through the wall of grey, bright yellow interior a beckoning haven of warmth and shelter. A quiver of anticipation stirred the queue, as people straightened, tightening grips on parcels and briefcases, their heads raised in eager expectation. Only to recoil in disappointment as they backed away to avoid the spraying wash as the number 7 became clearly visible and the vehicle whooshed past without pause. Only Gregor remained unmoved, statuesque and unaware of the passing traffic, his mind a whirl of chasing dreams and memories.
He was in a hospital, but not like the one across the street where he had spent the afternoon. This had been a light airy happy place, filled with smiling nurses and gurgling babies. He was sure one of them must have been his, well almost sure, why else would he be there along with all the other fathers. Holding on to small hands as they passed along the passageways eager to greet the new arrival. He could still feel the grip of little fingers clutching tightly as they hurried down the corridor, while he made halfhearted attempts to restrain the children from skipping forward in uncontrolled excitement as they neared the door. But somehow he could never get beyond that door and no matter how he tried something always stopped him from looking down at the child with a hand in his.
Another bus bore down out of the gloom, this time coming to a halt beside them, brake linings squealing in protest at the damp. Gregor moved aside, letting the others board first. He was in no hurry and anyway his leg was hurting again, it always did after standing for a while and he knew it would give him trouble when he tried to climb on board. Better to give the rest of them time to settle, or someone would only try to help and he dreaded that. They meant well of course, which made it all the more churlish to reject their offers, and he hated that too. The lawyer had told him to take it easy, forget about buses and use taxis instead; saying money was not a problem. He even had a house somewhere though he hadn’t got around to seeing it; material things had lost their significance. The rented room suited him fine and there was a café round the corner when he felt hungry. Most of the time he spent lying on the bed, peering through the mists, fighting for his memory in an endless search to know where he should go to find them.
Two doctors watched Gregory board the bus from a second floor window of the hospital across the street, the twisted leg making it difficult for him to climb the vehicle stairs.
‘Can’t say I’m happy to discharge a man in his mental state. What happens if his memory returns when he is alone with no one to turn for help and support?’
‘What else can we do,’ his companion shrugged, ‘ we have no legal cause to restrain him, as it is we are lucky he agreed to come in for treatment once a week. Ease up, Michael, we are here to help and we do as best we can, but there is no way we can protect people from their own passed actions. We are not God after all, and the hospital doesn’t run to time machines.’
‘You’re right of course. It’s just that I’m afraid he’s a likely suicide when he remembers, and if he’s out there on his own he will probably succeed.’
‘I’m sorry too, I really am. But he will have to face up to it one day. Two young children and a wife with a new babe strapped to her back, all dancing like mad things on a sea wall in the middle of a storm. Let’s face it, Michael, it might have been a freak wave but that’s no excuse and he’ll know it. There’s no way he should have allowed any one of them anywhere near the sea wall in such conditions. And I’m sure he wouldn’t have if they both hadn’t been sky high on coke. If you ask me the real tragedy is he survived’
The bus pulled out to join the rain washed jam of evening traffic and the doctors returned to the wards. Other patients with other problems needed their attention. For the time being Gregory and his amnesia was forgotten.