I know who I am; I know what I am. I shall go to my grave with that knowledge.
It will not take long, now – the end is, as the prophets used to say, nigh. I have known that I was dying for some months – I consider it unfair, as many before me have done, but it doesn’t do to complain. My father would not have complained, and nor shall I.
It occurred to me that I ought to mark this sequence of events with a little more than my normal daily diary entry. I am not certain why I suddenly think this a good idea, perhaps it is a consequence of having been forced to talk about myself earlier today.
I am a kind man, a gentleman in the true sense of that word, I am generous to a fault, and I have – above all things – behaved with propriety. Yet, here I sit, to all intents and purposes alone in the world. I await my fate with calm and no particular desire to revisit my past, yet when I close my eyes, I seem to see the streets of a city half a world away; the streets I knew as a boy.
I maintain that I had been lured to the place under false pretences. I was asked to come and discuss my needs as my disease progresses. I went, under my own steam, in my own vehicle; I could have left at any moment had I so chosen, but I stayed – as I say, I am a gentleman.
The place – I shall call it a home, although it is more hospital-like than I had anticipated – will, I believe, give me all that I need in my final months, yet I did not feel as comfortable with it as I told everyone. Those people were doing their jobs; it is not for me to point out the unfortunate staining on the carpet inside the front door, nor the lingering smell of boiled cabbage which permeates the place.
An unfortunately large woman in civvies showed me round; there were staff in uniforms which spoke of hospital care – scrubs, I believe they are called – but many of the staff I met were dressed as if for a day at work, although perhaps not as well-dressed as I was. I have found that this is part of life today, people dressing without enough care. In some ways, I shall not miss this world.
Once the tour was done, and the intrusive questioning into my personal habits and bathroom needs was over, I looked over to the coat stand in the corner of the large woman’s office – a clear indicator, for those who pay attention to these things that I was ready to take my leave. She, however, was not well enough versed in the niceties of polite conversation, and asked if I would like to join the cancer group discussion.
I was brought up with a certain set of conversational tools and gambits; above all things, I have always known, politeness. Inwardly, I despaired – talking with a group of strangers about my disease seemed to me to be the thing I least wanted to do this morning, but I heard my instinctive mouth reply that I might indeed enjoy that.
Fourteen people – two of them surprisingly young – sitting in a semi-circle. It seemed to me something of a cliché; a setup from one of those dreadfully earnest films Amelia used to enjoy. The man at the focal point of the curve was about the age of my elder grandchild, unkempt and with a large sticker affixed to where his lapel might have been had he been properly dressed proclaiming him to be ‘Brian’.
I was stickered and seated. I did not protest, but I resolved not to join in.
Thirty-two minutes later, I had learned more than I would ever have chosen to know about these poor unfortunates – all of them, it seemed to me, brought to their current state by their own behaviours. Finally, ‘Brian’ turned to me.
“Ooh how do we say your name? Welcome, please share anything you wish to share.”
I gazed back, stuck on my polite smile and carefully explained how to pronounce my name. A conversation I have had many times in the last forty years. Why I ever thought moving to Canada would be a good idea, I have no idea.