I was inclined to turn to the woman sitting beside me and ask, “Do you see me?” I really wanted to, but if she could I figured it would creep her out; and if she couldn’t, well, that would mean something worse. I had been sitting there for two hours -- watching people come, sit and wait their turn to be called into the back room, and then they were gone; I had been sitting for two hours and no one had spoken to me or even made eye contact with me. So I couldn’t help but think maybe I had died and was now just a spirit trapped in this waiting room.
In the natural, it was a hospital waiting room, and everyone in it except me was waiting to have an x-ray; but if I had crossed over into the ethereal plane, as I feared, then I was waiting for … how would I know?! All I knew was what I saw. There was no smiling. Only the glum stare of those waiting to be taken into another room and – I don’t know, baked like a potato. There is no joy in a waiting room; no laughter; why would there be? There is nothing but anxiety in this place. It is, at best, a matter of pain, and, at worst, a matter of life facing death that brings all here.
There was no comfort to be had in this room. A television mounted on the wall blared so loudly that my ears hurt, which meant my head hurt. I couldn’t think. No matter how gently I try to place my head on the wall to rest, it bounced and jarred me. There is no mercy for me, I realized.
A few people sat with cell phones, speaking so annoyingly loudly to be heard over the television that they further irritated me as I was forced to listen to conversations I don’t want to hear; maybe this is purgatory, I thought.
Many that came in the room were old, and some were rolled in wheelchairs by assistants who looked equally grim. One woman’s eyes flickered toward me but showed no recognition and her face no acknowledgement. If she could indeed see me she didn’t let me know. Then she placed her head back in her hand and went back to her unhappy stare; someone else walked in and registered at the front desk, then went to a seat, joining the mournful crowd. And when one left, he, or she, never returned. Did they go to the supermarket and return to their life? Did they go home? Did they go where baked potatoes go once they have been radiated? Or did they leave this waiting room and go to some otherworldly place? I couldn’t help but think I would find out. I stood and stretched, but it offered limited comfort. I sit back down and the pain in my legs and back soon returned.
It was a sterile room with a cluster of cushioned but not particularly comfortable chairs in the middle of the floor and five sets of coupled chairs around the wall. There were two tables at opposite ends of the room with old magazines that no one would read unless they had no other choice. And even if you wanted to read, you couldn’t concentrate over the sound of the television or callers yelling to be heard. Yes, this was something more than purgatory, I thought.
“Mrs. Brown,” someone called from the doorway. A different someone would do that from time to time. I could see that was how they thinned the herd. The eyes that had been looking at me but never acknowledged me rose and took her crackly face and old, stooped body with them out the door.
“I thought you had forgotten about me,” she said as she followed the bearer of the voice. No, I thought, that would be me that has been forgotten; I’ve been lost, abandoned. This was most certainly more than purgatory; this has to be …
A man walked by the door and glanced in. We made eye contact and he nodded at me. At least, I think he was nodding at me. I nod back, but he has already passed.
Jamie C. Ruff is a former reporter, native of Greensboro, NC, and author of three e-books, the western “Colby Black: from Slave to Cowboy,” the contemporary tale of camaraderie and personal conflict “Reinventing the Uninvented Me,” and the coming of age story “The Peculiar Friendship.” All are available for download at Amazon.com.