by Corinne Nguyen
Little Ritchie, aged 6, was dozing on his hospital bed, in the coolness of this spring morning. He had had the opportunity to be alloted a room all for himself, for fear he would be infested by the other patients.
He had made a pleurisy crisis last week, and had to be hospitalized on emergency while he was in the middle of a Gymnastics course. All of a sudden he had felt a deep tearing pain in his chest, that virtually took his breath away. Then the uproar of his classmates who were running in a mess after a ball went fading, more and more distant and indistinct, as if he was retiring in another universe, in a bubble where no one could reach him ; then it went pitch dark and his senses became useless.
When Ritchie woke up, he found himself in a white clean bed, in the sickening smell that was so typical of hospitals. His mother was sitting on his bedside, and she smiled tenderly to him when their eyes met. Unfortunately she had to leave soon, having other occupations which were helping her to maintain her home hospitable in spite of obvious financial trouble since Ritch's dad didn't give sign of life anymore.
Though spring was announced since a long time by the calendar, outside there was only greyness this day. Wherever one put one's eyes, one felt the boredom of an unlimited dead sky which had the same sad shades as the buidings around. We could guess at first sight that war had left its mark on the town for a long while. The ruins of a church and of some habitations nearby was the remaining witnesses of a heavy bombing during the years 1940 and 1941 mainly. Grey was wrapping the whole landscape.
The first rain droplets which hammered the room's window awoke him completely. He felt that his breathing was less painstaking than the previous days; he sat up crossed-legged and caught a glance around. No one. Not even the littlest noise. In the shadowy light, Ritch could spot his nightstand where the medicines one prescribed him were piling up and he listened to the silence only slightly troubled by the noise of the monotonous falling of the rain.It was as if one had left him all alone in the deserted hospital He didn't expect his mother to visit him before 6 in the afternoon, and it was 9 am. A long boring day in view again...!
Ritchie didn't mind though. He was accustomed to the rainy weather of northern England and the lack of occupations in his Spartan room led him to find a distraction quickly. He jumped off his bed and went out bare-foot in the corridor. He went behind a cleaner who was putting in order some clean folded sheets on her trolley and stopped in front of the half-opened door of the next room. He thought for a while that he never met the neighbour of his room but remembered having awoken in the middle of the night by some mumbles who were sounding like a plaint from this room. It was quite a gloomy sound but he heard from the conversation of some nurses that his neighbour was in fact a little boy of his age, struck down by an incurable disease. His parents didn't see him often so that he stayed alone and miserable for most of the time. In fact, Ritchie never saw anyone visit him since he arrived there. He didn't even think of the risk of being infected in his great unconciousness, though it was cancer that was threatening the kid's life, and cancer's not an infectious disease.
Ritchie made up his mind to enter the room only to finally find an empty bed with stripped sheets and some American comics left in a mess on the pillow. He jumped on the bed and grabbed the comics with delight. Maybe this day won't be, at least, as empty as the other ones !
One more time Superman won over the baddies in extremis and Ritchie felt his head becoming heavy , so heavy that he rested it on the pillow then sank into sleep...
In his dream, he was taking a stroll in a sunny park under the dense leaves of some lime trees and reached a little space of rank weeds.
He heard a sob not far away, made his way to the place and found out a little boy of his age hidden in a bush, who was clasping a little dog in his arms to such a point that he was nearly choking it. The little boy had heard Ritchie getting near and wiped quickly away his tears with the cuff of his sleeve. He eyed suspiciously this intruder who had discovered his secret hiding place and Ritch felt he had to talk first :
- Hello ! My name's Ritchie. You've got quite a cute dog there!
Ritchie smiled at him with his smile that melted at once the other's walls of mistrust.
- Hello, I'm John ... and this is Sally.
He presented his dog holding it at arm' s length and the puppy uttered a little yapping
- Can I sit near you? There's nothing to do here and I'm boring like dead. Let's talk, shall we?
- Sit down here.
John moved up to make room for Ritch. Then followed some minutes of silence that Ritchie interrupted.
- Are you alright?
- Yeah, though it could be better. Especially at home.
- What happened?
- Dad and Mum don't wanna live together anymore. A week ago, Dad has taken me away from my aunt Mimi. He said that he wanted me to live with him in Blackpool, that I was going to have a new life. And when I asked him if Mum was in Blackpool, he frowned and said that I'd see my mother again from time to time yet not often, that from now on I was his son first and foremost.
- He took you away? And you saw your mother? What has she said?
- Mum has come the very evening. I was staying in my room and I was hearing them arguing and shouting on the ground floor. I felt quite bad...
Ritch respected John's silence for a while and began patting the puppy dog which was trying to sniff him. It provoked a smile from John and he ruffled Sally's head.
John - You can take her if you want. Hold on!
Ritchie - How cute she is ! How did you get her?
- I just have been given her from my aunt Mimi. I am in charge of taking care of her by myself. I feed her, I wash her, I teach her the good manners... Sometimes she does exactly what she pleases ! Auntie says that she acts like me. She claims that if I could bring her up alone, I'd understand better why she gets annoyed when I disobey her all the time...!
Ritchie burst out laughing and John couldn't help doing the same.
- It's not the same thing at all. But that's quite great to have a dog all for yourself. Thus you're never alone.
- Yeah, that's right.
- What happened when your parents quarreled ?
- Dad wanted me to go downstairs. When I went in the living-room, my mother was sitting on an armchair, facing the opposite window and when she turned her face to look at me I could see she was absolutely furious, whereas Dad seemed so self assured and relaxed. Mum's face frightened me; I didn't even dare say hello.
It was as if a wall was separating them ; as soon as I saw them I knew that I'd have to lose one of them sooner or later.
The windows were close ...but I felt such a cold in the room...
John muttered and shivered.
- You're alright ? Ritchie asked concerned.
- It' OK . In fact it did me a lot of good to talk to you. It's as though I had divided my grief in two.
- So much the better for you. Anyway if you need someone to talk to, there's no problem with me. I'm at your entire disposition.
- That's nice.
When I arrived in front of my parents, they started to talk about what they had in mind: to break their links, and they said that each of them wanted to bring me away but that obviously they couldn't split me in two and that I was given the right to choose myself who I'd prefer to live with.
I didn't reflect a lot; I chose Dad. He seemed so self-confident at this moment...
- And you stayed with him ? In Blackpool ?
- No, finally not. Because Mum started to cry. She took her coat and made his way to the door, avoiding my stare. I couldn't help following her saying that in the end I wanted to be with her. And I left Blackpool with her.
- So today you live with your mother. That's what you really wanted ?
John bent his head, picked up a chalky stone which he rubbed against another stone.
- No, today I'm living at my aunt Mimi's house. She's my mother's sister. Mum told me she didn't have enough time to take care of me. She decided that I'd live at Mimi's and that I shouldn't worry since she would visit me often, and that I'd never find myself alone.
I miss her all the same.
- It must be hard not to see your parents often. My Dad left Mum and so far we didn't see him again. they however reached an agreement about the fact that Mum should keep me with her. She does lots of efforts in order to procure me decent clothes and to make me eat my fill. And when I come back from school she's always there to welcome me. Fortunately for her I am her only child !
But like you sometimes I feel that Dad is missing. Now he treats us like strangers. It's as if he had forgotten about us. There's a big void in the house.
Ritchie couldn't help but sigh deeply.
John gathered all his sympathy in a long stare and a pat on Ritch's shoulders and went on with his story.
- Now it's Mimi and Uncle George who look after me. Uncle George offered me an accordion not a long time ago. I don't know how to play it yet. It seems rather difficult. Do you play music ?
- It doesn't interest you ?
- Eeeer...no. You know, the guitar, the trumpet, all these instruments... not my thing really.
- One day you may change your mind and find something that will please you. You know, as soon as you begin loving playing something, you're sure to never be able to stop afterwards...
- So you're already fond of your accordion !!
- It's not especially that ! I heard Gospel singers on the radio once and I really felt something special... It reflected my emotions.
- Let's have a walk !
- Alright !
The two boys stood up, shaking the leaves that were sticking in their clothes, John put Sally safely in the rucksack he always brought to carry her for fear that she would escape, and both kids headed through the wild grass to the place where there were less and less trees. They reached a little dirt track and Ritchie, his hands still stuffed in his pockets, found a little round stone on the ground. John ran just in front of him and shot in the improvised ball. Ritch reacted first time and they soon began an eager match along the path till they arrived in a building site . The front of one of the buildings in construction was already standing, while its foundations were hardly roughed out. It was probably the lunch break since no worker was on the site. Nevertheless, an only man was still working on the scaffolding covering the first façade, yet the boys didn't notice his presence, neither did he.
Some heaps of sand were scatterred all over the site and what was dangerous (what the boys ignored) was that sometimes there could be some holes dug in the ground and which could be hardly seen, especially by the two little boys whose attention was completely monopolized by the game.
- Hey ! This is a penalty ! You don't have the right to take the ball in your hands ! That's not handball !
- Oh shit... OK let's go for the shot. Where's the goal ?
John indicated the place where he was going to shoot and took a run ...SHOT !
Ritch wanted to stop the stone with his right foot but he didn't notice the hole next to him and he fell right in it.
John ran to his rescue and stretched out a hand to his poor friend.
- Are you OK ? How can I help you ?
He saw that Ritch was holding his ankle and was grimacing through the pain. Some tears were silently running down his cheeks and his right knee was scratched and bleeding. Ritch had fell from 1.5 meter high and wouldn't obviously be able to stand up by himself or even climb up from the hole.
- Aye, it's my fault, I'm sorry... John started to worry and looked around to catch sight of a ladder left along the scaffolding. John looked back to Ritch and tried to reassure him;
- Hey Ritch ! I'm going to get a ladder so that I can help you.
A little moment afterwards, John was back with the ladder, struggling to carry this heavy weight. He rested a little on the edge of the hole and managed to put the bottom of the ladder on the ground of the hole. Then he went down to find Ritch who had recovered a little from his pain and who was trying to stand up by leaning on the side of the hole.
- My ankle is still hurting but I think, if you help me, that I will manage to go out by the ladder.
- Alright, you climb up first while I do my best to support you.
Ritch grabbed with difficulty but strongly the rungs and put his left foot on the first bottom rung. During the whole ascent, whenever he had to use his right foot, leaning on his injured limb, pain didn't miss extracting some tears from Ritch, though he finally managed to get to the top, reassured by the John's hand that the latter was always keeping within his reach.
They sat down near a heap of sand.
John asked :
- You can move your leg and foot right ?
Ritch moved it and declared that it was going better:
- I was more frightened than hurt!
And he gave a weak smile to John.
- Let's talk a little and rest for a while.
- Where do you live ?
- In Woolton, at Menlove Ave. And you ?
- In the Dingle. Madryn Street.
- We'll meet again, won't we ?
- For sure ! In spite of all, I spent a rather pleasant day with you.
- So let's fix a meeting point. Let's say the place where you found me, OK ? Tomorrow at 9 AM.
Suddenly Ritch caught faraway voices; they were calling :
Ritchie ! Ritchie ! Wake up ! Ritchie ?
- Did you hear the voices ?
- Yeah I heard. That must be Mimi ... She's calling me for lunch.
Ritch looked at him strangely then said :
- I must go back. See you tomorrow !
Ritch and John left each other with a last wave and for Ritch it seemed that the landscape was losing its colours, that all went fading as he was getting nearer and nearer of the voices.
He opened his eyes, put himself on the back and caught a glance of a nurse who was looking surprised.
- I made a funny dream !
- You shouldn't have left your room little boy. The whole staff was worrying when we found out your empty bed. We thought you had ran away. Never do that again, is it understood ?
- Yeah yeah...
The future Ringo remained silent and dreamy for seconds then jumped of the bed. He asked the nurse :
- Can I keep the magazines, please ?
- Yes you can. They are nobodys property now.
Ritchie went back to his room and didn't think to his dream any more.
Not so far away, another little boy was pondering about this dream that seemed so real while having lunch.
At last, on the building site that was situated near the Strawberry Fields Park, a worker that was still working on a building's front, found himself stuck on his scaffolding, his ladder having mysteriously disappeared, until some other workers went to his rescue.