By the time I’d put the parking ticket into the car window and followed Jim into the emergency room, he was already seated inside the glass cubicle having his vitals checked. I thought that was a good sign, but I was wrong.
As I approached the waiting area I caught a glimpse of a scraggly looking young man occupying the first chair, a chair that was behind a post making it out of view of the reception desk.
I took a seat near the check-in area and pulled out my book and water and settled in to wait for Jim. When I looked back around he’d disappeared and it was two hours before I would see him again. Other than the boy behind the pillar, I was the only one in the waiting area. The TV was on, but muted. Within ten minutes, however, I was drawn away from my book by the sounds of people gradually filling up the other seats. I heard a small baby crying and sounding croupy. I turned to see a woman sitting in the cubicle where Jim had been, holding and rocking this little red-faced infant. Beside her stood a young girl of perhaps 8 or 9.
A forty-something woman sat down in a chair opposite me and began to cough a loud hacking cough that made me want to run for cover. I was already fighting a cold and had no wish for more.
A young couple that looked to be in their late teens sat in the two chairs beside the TV and snuggled up for a bit, then moved about the room. The boy was tall and thin and wore black baggy clothes including the required jeans that hung half way down his legs. He carried a set of keys in his hand and ventured back and forth to the outside from time to time. The girl was a little chubby and wore her reddish hair pulled up into a very short pony tail. Her clothes were tight and the jeans low below her rolling waist. From their conversation it appeared that they were waiting for someone.
I went back to my book but was soon distracted again by a constant clicking noise across the room. Looking up I saw a man holding a plastic bottle of water in one hand and the lid in the other. Although I couldn’t be certain I thought that the sound was the result of his clicking the lid between his finger and thumb.
Another woman sat down beside me and began rummaging around in her purse. I glanced up occasionally to see her twisting a pen apart and putting it back together. When the teenagers left their seats, she moved over to take one of them.
The clicking man left and the woman with the baby sat down in his place. She and her little girl began to play a game with pen and paper, hangman perhaps. She too seemed to have a terrible cough. I was surprised when I looked at her face. Her weary face made her appear almost old enough to be the grandmother rather than the mother.
Another man strolled past me to take up a seat on the other side of the TV. He was neatly dressed in gray slacks and a beige summer jacket, but he carried a rather beat up duffle bag. Between the handles lay a paint spattered brown leather jacket. His dark hair was cut short and he looked to be maybe in his thirties or forties. He looked worried and got up several times to walk around then returned to his seat. After about an hour he left. When I looked back to the line now forming in front of the cubicle I saw that he was in it. I wondered why he’d waited so long.
The scraggly young man emerged from behind the pillar carrying a duffle bag and a garment on a hanger covered in cream coloured plastic. He wore a dirty looking great
coat over dark coloured jeans and t-shirt. Beneath a like-wise colourless toque his fuzzy dirty-blond hair protruded. He circled past me then headed for the door. A few minutes later he returned empty handed and reclaimed his position behind the pillar.
A middle-aged woman arrived next and took the now empty seat next to the TV. She was carrying an extra jacket and purse. CNN was on the TV and from time to time I’d been looking up to catch some of the news. The news apparently didn’t interest this woman. She picked up the remote and changed the station to something that looked like Degrassi Junior High. She looked around smiling, as if expecting that someone else might be pleased with her choice. No one responded. When that ended she once again changed channels, this time bringing in the soap opera “The Young and the Restless.” Again she looked around, seemingly wanting to share her knowledge of the program with someone. By now the teenage girl was sitting by herself in the chair opposite me and was soon caught up in the story. The two exchanged their knowledge and opinions.
I was realizing that all of the people sitting there were, like me, waiting on someone who was being treated.
I turned once again to see if Jim was anywhere to be seen. He wasn’t, but I caught sight of two uniformed police officers escorting a battered and bearded man through a door by the cubicle. His wore only jeans and a t-shirt over his thin body and his hands were handcuffed behind his back.
Beyond the line I could hear someone being told that his or her OHIP card was coming up as invalid. Either they were hard of hearing or they didn’t understand because it was repeated several times.
At last I felt Jim’s hands on my shoulders as he leaned down and whispered, “Where have you been?”