“Here’s what we’re going to do on Sunday morning,” she says, breaking the silence. She pulls up a chair and sits down. She puts her hands on her knees, obviously getting ready to talk business. “It’s very simple,” she says with what I detect as fake reasonableness. “At exactly 11.05 hours on Sunday 24th May you will have packed all your stuff and you will edge your way towards the lift, carefully avoiding contact with anybody in the Nursing Station. You will see Robbie in the corridor. You will not acknowledge his presence. He will engage any staff who may be in the vicinity of the Station in conversation, and you will descend in the lift to ground level. Are you listening to me?”
“At 11.09 a man will approach you as you stand in the entrance,” she continues. He will hand you a car fob. He will say, ‘Take it and enjoy.’ You will say, ‘You enjoy your health.’ Do you understand?”
“You will then proceed to a Honda CRV – the registration is on this slip of paper I’m giving you now – and you will activate the fob device and you will let yourself into the front passenger seat of the vehicle. Is that clear?”
“Uh-huh,” I mumble through flaccid lips.
I force myself to focus. What is this mumbo-jumbo – passwords and responses – about? Questions loop in my head and then float out. Marion issues more orders. I mutter a slurred ‘Yeah’ now and again like someone who has just left the dentist.
“Charge your phone,” Marion commands. “Robbie will call you at 11.00 hours on Sunday morning. Be at the Nursing station. Robbie will engage the staff in conversation while you edge towards the lift that’ll take you to the entrance. Remember, Norman, – Sunday is the day – come on, Robbie, let’s go.”
Robbie Fraser, who has been standing silently behind Marion throughout her urgent instructions, smiles and says something I don’t hear properly. Marion takes his arm and delivers a departing line: “This is not complicated. We walk in, you walk out – that’s it.”
Walk in, walk out? Nighean Chaluim Chaluim Iain is tripping, I think.
“Bye, folks,” is all I manage to whisper before I fall asleep again.
The following three days were filled with sleep. When I wasn’t sleeping, when I floated back into the world, I spent hours scanning the stippled linoleum on the ward floor and the striped curtains surrounding my wee white bed. I ate meals of indifferent quality from a tray on my lap as I sat with my back pressed against a pile of pillows.
On the Sunday, I come to around 10.30 and find myself already awake wearing boxers and t-shirt. I struggle into a raggedy woollen dressing gown and am relieved to find my cigarettes and disposable lighter are in the right hand pocket. In green slippers made of paper I take baby steps in the direction of the nursing station. Once there, I pause at the sliding glass window. I forget what I am doing. Making a gesture with two fingers of my right hand to indicate to the nurse seated at a computer terminal that I am going downstairs for a smoke, I wheel away to my right. On heavy legs I enter the lift and jab the G-button.
In the following ten minutes or so I make a babhsgaid, a careless mess, of Marion’s detailed plans. Hold it: I’m aware that the relentless self-deprecatory tone that runs through many of my narratives can seem a tad needy to the reader. On this occasion, however, I somehow decide that it is time to draw a line. What happens, to the best of my recollection, is compounded by the weird behaviour of Robbie and Marion and my own sluggish thought processes that morning.