These days he drank his tea from a green plastic cornflakes bowl. Every morning he would place a teabag in the bowl and throw in a measure of sugar. He then poured water from the hot tap into the bowl. When he had milk he would put that in too. He held the bowl in both hands, like a beggar and drank the tea in one long draught.
Every day he seemed to get more confused. There were days when he found it impossible to hold a coherent thought for any length of time. He was also finding it more difficult to undertake even the simplest of tasks. He’d start off doing something and after a few minutes he would give it up having lost all interest. This could be anything, from trying to take out the rubbish to opening a small tin of fish for his supper. It was all getting too much for him.
Elbu sat at the small dining table and let his eyes wander around the one bedroom flat. It was a miserable sight to behold. Not unlike a rubbish tip. Empty milk cartons and wine bottles, half open tins of fish and baked beans, and old newspapers and magazines covered the work tops in the kitchen area. The small sink was full of dirty pots and pans and the water would not go. The smell was quite unpleasant.
It was Thursday morning. The one day of the week when Elbu had to leave his flat and he hated it. He shuddered at the thought of leaving the relative safety of his flat. These days going out into the public was a terrifying prospect. He tried to think it through. Getting dressed would be no problem. He now slept in his outdoor clothes. He was always ready to go out.
Next he pondered the likelihood of getting out of the flat without his neighbour, Estella seeing him. The lady seemed to have a special sixth sense which told her when Elbu was leaving his flat. She would pounce on him at the front entrance and give him the third degree. She was a nice lady really but too much of a busy body. She wanted him to eat well and dress better and go out more often so that he could find a nice girl to look after him. He discounted the idea of climbing out of a bedroom window into the street outside. All it needed was some nosey curtain twitching neighbour to report a burglary. He could well imagine the consequences of such a choice. He would far rather take his chances with do gooder Estella. If he met her he would just say he was late for an appointment.
Appointments actually. In truth Elbu had several appointments scheduled for this Thursday. For a start he would make his way down the road to the post office at the shopping square. In his mind’s eye he pictured the long Thursday queues that he hated. Why did everyone go to the post office on a Thursday? He had a genuine reason. He was there to collect his fortnightly payment from the Benefits Agency. All the other people, as far as he could tell were malingerers and inconsiderate work shy office types and young mothers with kids who came here to pass their sterile lives in long winding queues. How he despised them. But even worse were the post office staff themselves. As far as Elbu could work it out it was official post office policy to frustrate, undermine and demoralise the poor customers in the hope that they would flee, thus creating a large, empty, post office hall. There were five serving counters at this particular office. In the last 18 months or so Elbu had never seen more than two counters open to serve the public. He loathed the post office.
Elbu imagined now how after collecting his money he would walk down the lane to the bus stop just outside the old community centre. His number 5 bus would appear and just as it did Elbu would forget where he had put his money and where he wanted to go. There would follow a bust up with the driver as Elbu tried to explain where he was going. He mind would draw a blank and the driver would tell him that they did not have all day. Pay up or get off!
To add insult to injury a good Samaritan, obviously fed up with the delay, would pay Elbu’s fare and remonstrate with the driver reminding him quite loudly to show Compassion and Respect to passengers with Learning Difficulties.
Elbu shakes his head as he relives previous episodes. He shudders again on remembering how his fellow passengers moved back involuntarily, some clutching hankies to their noses, as he moved into the bus to take a seat. A little girl asked her mum in a sweet innocent voice why the man in the great coat smelled so bad. The child’s mum would not look Elbu in the eye. Few people look at him directly these days and when they speak to him at all they seem to address an imaginary spot just above his left shoulder. Elbu knew he smelled. He didn’t wash much and his clothes were never laundered. Most days this did not bother him.
His bus will get him to the hospital on time. He has an appointment with the nurse to change the dressing on his wound. It is a wound that few people are aware of because he wears a cap low over his head to hide the bandage. When the depression first made itself known Elbu would bang his head against the wall for hours on end. Self-harm the consultant called it. In time the skin was broken and he developed an allergy, perhaps to the paint from the wall. The eczema that followed was so itchy that he scratched at it all night. There was no pain. He scratched out small chunks of flesh from his forehead and the whole thing became sceptic. A smelly discharge oozed from the wound and he had sought professional help.
The nurse changes his dressing quickly and efficiently without unnecessary comment. He gives Elbu a fresh prescription for antibiotics to take to the Hospital Pharmacy. There is a queue at the pharmacy but this one is better. You pick a numbered ticket and sit down to wait until it is called. The machine has just called out number 19. Elbu’s ticket is number 97.
Eighteen months ago on a morning such as this Elbu had said goodbye to his wife and two young children and had set off from their comfortable home in a leafy suburb for the 20 minute drive to work. As he approached the exit from the highway he noticed that the carriageway was down to one lane. There had been an accident. A slow moving queue of traffic had formed. It took an hour and a half to get past the obstruction.
When Elbu had finally arrived at work he was immediately summoned to the director’s office. The young director was not interested in traffic delays and such like. He harangued Elbu for about ten minutes on the merits of time keeping. Suddenly something snapped. Elbu attacked the director and grabbed him by the neck. As he squeezed the director’s neck the poor man’s eyes grew larger and they seemed about to pop out of their sockets. The other workers heard the commotion as chairs and tables were knocked over and they came to the director’s rescue. Elbu was escorted out of the building. He was subsequently dismissed for gross misconduct. The company decided not to prosecute him for the assault if he agreed to take anger management treatment.
Then his depression set in. Elbu became aggressive and violent in the house. He constantly picked fights over silly little things. Money was tight. It was during the last recession and companies were not hiring. Things got from bad to worse and his wife decided she could not let the children see their father drown himself in cheap liquor. He left the home and moved into the flat that the social service people had found for him. Next door to Estella.
Elbu’s prescription is ready. He picks up his pills and heads off to another appointment. It is in room 237 on the second floor. The plaque on the door reads Extreme Anger Management. Consultant: Ms Dre