Opal enjoys long walks around the park near her flat. She always carries a small
blue tote bag with a compact umbrella inside, just in case. Today’s afternoon stroll
is seemingly no different to any other. Small children from a local school kick a
battered football in no particular direction and tired parents sit on picnic benches,
relieved to have finished their working day. Traditionally, Opal likes to carry
wholemeal bread for the ducks, but instead has settled on fifty-fifty due to
shortages of her preferred brand, I assume.
On this particular day, Opal counts seven females, five males and nine ducklings,
noting this down in her daily journal. They shuffle towards her and wait
impatiently for their daily treat. Opal never tires of watching the creatures fight
over her offerings and plead to her for more. She allocates four slices for the ducks
and wraps up the rest to store in her bag, later to be made into sandwiches or
toast, I imagine. Then, she stands up, smiles to herself, and heads back to the
tower block, satisfied until her next outing.
I silently observed Opal until this ending point, for the twelfth time since I tracked
her down. I close my notepad ready to store it in my coat pocket and remove my
sunglasses. Then, I notice Opal stride straight past her entrance path and further
down the road. Determined not to let her slip away, I follow, even as she enters an
unnerving alleyway and jumps over a fence towards the railway track. She nearly
trips several times as she hops through the overgrown grass but doesn’t let this
defeat her. Finally, she reaches the embankment and climbs onto the platform. I
am fortunately reasonably fit and so find no trouble in mirroring her movements at
a safe distance away. We peer at the schedule which tells us the next train to North
Brook will arrive in twenty minutes. Opal shakes her head in disgust, pacing up
and down the platform edge. Her frustration heightens as a railway operative points
out the obvious yellow barrier that she is failing to comply with.
When the carriages arrive, Opal runs to the front coach and hesitates, before
tenderly clutching the handrails to assist her up the small step. A few minutes after
boarding, a whistle is blown and our journey begins. Opal has chosen a forward facing
window seat and she places her belongings adjacent, ensuring nobody will
sit there. When her position allows, I catch a glimpse as she flicks through each
page of a dog-eared novel and licks her finger as she does so. Sometimes I hear a
faint giggle or a gentle hum, but mostly I sit in silence owing to being situated in
the quiet coach. The trolley lady offers tea and coffee, which I decline, but Opal
requests a speciality tea with almond milk and four sugars. I watch the genuine
disappointment on her face as she is told it shall be standard tea, or none at all.
The train gradually pulls to a halt and its travellers filter out and disperse towards
the exit or other platforms. For Opal, the arrival is a huge deal and she takes a
while to digest. Ten minutes later she plucks up the courage to join the queue for
customer services. When she reaches the desk, I hear her mumble something
about tea and ask the unenthusiastic assistant how she can reach Withington
Road. Sandra, I make out from her badge, shrugs and hands Opal a town map. The
temptation is too hard for me to resist. I demand Sandra directs me to the nearest
taxi rank and hurriedly chase after Opal upon receiving this information.
“Excuse me, sorry, I overheard you mention Withington Road. I’m actually heading
there myself and wondered if you might want to share a journey. I’ve heard taxis
are pretty expensive around here so it will save us both a fortune”
My offer is too good for Opal to refuse and she gladly accepts, following me blindly
to the station car park. It feels strange to observe her this close up and I can’t help
but be mesmerised by her witchy eyes and matted hair. She is visibly discomforted
by my obvious staring and so I look out of the taxi window instead, taking in the
urban surroundings. I am startled by an intense voice belonging to Opal.
“I would like to know where you’re going.” she states, twiddling her thumbs.
“My friend's place. She lives here. How about you?”
“Me too.” is her final response before turning her head to lean against the glass.
We exit the vehicle in complete silence and I hand over eight pounds to the driver.
Opal still says nothing. I intentionally cross the road but continue walking in the
same direction as she. Opal stops at every building, squinting in order to make out
the number on each door. I can only assume; she has never visited this friend
Opal reaches the gates of a long-stoned driveway. She gently pushes it open and
takes in the view which presents itself to her. I am in awe of the architectural
masterpiece that demands our attention. My goodness, Opal must have a rich
friend, I think.
“Does your friend live here too?” she queries, as I follow behind.
“That’s right.” I say, thankful for her assumption.
I follow her into the daunting yet distinctly charming occupancy and wait a few
metres away as she is greeted by a soft-spoken lady.
“Good evening Opal, my dear. Welcome back to Withington hospital. You are
always welcome here. In fact, we still have your room waiting for you. Lucky for you
it was vacated this morning. Right now, do tell how your mind has been treating
you since I last saw you? Are those visions still causing you grief?”
Opal clasps the lady’s hands and turns to face me, I offer an empathetic smile to
my mother and she responds with a knowing nod, almost as though she can sense
that I am hiding something.
(c) Jessica Disney