The man in Room 22

He doesn’t know I’m here, didn’t hear the knock. The withered body, once that of a fearless hockey pro, lies slumped on the bed where I left it last week.

I touch his shoulder and he turns slowly, struggling to place this person, his lifelong friend.

I help him sit up and a crooked smile parts his lips, a life of success and failure etched on wrinkled, parchment cheeks.

I clip his nails, brittle splinters of horn littering the quilt and wash the long, still-strong fingers. He’s grateful and I’m pleased this simple act still matters. We share the biscuits I’ve brought, crumbs tumbling unnoticed down an unbuttoned shirt to collect in the crotch of stained jogging trousers. Athlete’s trousers.

The dying rays of a November sun fall across a face speckled with the razor nicks of a careless carer. Then through the window he spots two elderly, bent women, struggling to pull reluctant weeds from an overgrown flower bed.

He tries to speak. I’m patient and finally, dragged from somewhere deep within, Lothario mutters ‘Don’t fancy your one’.

I’m stunned. Here in this hopeless, humourless cell, with its stench of urine and sweat, where the days and the weeks merge into immeasurable boredom, when all of life’s pleasures have evaporated, a tiny flame still flickers.

I turn to answer but he’s already asleep.

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