The inside of the hospital is almost exactly how I remember it. Pale lighting, grey colours everywhere with a little bit of white mixed in. Beeping and noises that keep away the silence but aren’t overwhelming. There’s a middle-aged man sitting behind the reception counter typing away on a computer that is begging to be updated. A couple of people are moving around beyond a doorway behind the counter. He notices me walking towards him and gives me a smile.
“Hello sir, how can I help you today.”
“I’m supposed to be meeting someone here, Ryan Campbell?”
“Oh yes, he said you would be coming by today. He should be here any minute. He said eight.”
“Just take a seat and he’ll be here, he told me he would meet you here.”
I walk over to an empty bench and sit down, instinctively take out my phone and ignore the world around me.
A few minutes pass and then I notice a shadow looming over me. I look up and meet a familiar face.
“I don’t believe it,” I start. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
I half smile, half wince at the sight of him.
“You’ve changed quite a bit. Cut your hair short. Suits you.”
“Thanks,” I say with half a heart.
My whole-body tenses up, expecting him to hit me. To yell at me, or something along those lines.
“So, life treating you well since you left town? I read your article and it seems like you’re doing pretty well.”
“Not bad I suppose, but nothing special.”
“I don’t think everyone would agree with you about that. That article, man, it was eye opening. That’s why I wanted to meet with you.”
“Right,” I say, and then pause. “I don’t really know how I can help.”
“Can we get out of here? I know a cafe, we can get a coffee. I’ll pay. And I’ll tell you everything that I know. I’m sure you will change your mind once you’ve heard what I have to say.”
“Sure, that’s why I’m here.”
I follow him out of the building, not wanting to be alone with him. Silently wishing that someone would stop him, that some emergency crept up and we had to delay our meeting. The outside welcomes us, the evening sun feels warm on my face, as the soothing breeze slightly rustles the trees. I can’t believe how mental the weather has been today. It’s all over the place. Wouldn’t believe how cold it was earlier.
A crow chirps in a tree high up above us and breaks the silence.
“How long have you been a doctor?” I asked.
“I’m not a doctor, just a nurse. That’s where the real work is anyway. We have to look after the patients all day. Not just turn up and be heroes for a minute.”
He laughs, letting me know he’s only joking. I’m sure he’s used to people assuming he’s a doctor or that he at least wants to be one.
“Ah, sorry,” I offer.
“No worries, man. I get it all the time and it doesn’t bother me. Honestly. It’s just one of those things. I never wanted to be a doctor. Never wanted to be a nurse either, things just happened like this. I would have to think about it to tell you how. I feel like I just ended up here. Had to get out of the town, you know.”
“Yeah. I think I know a little about that.”
We reach my car and Ryan walks around to the passenger side. As I unlock the door, he joins his hands together, interlocking each finger and places them on top of the car, as if he was about to start praying.
“I’m not that bad of a driver, I promise.”
He chuckles. “I don’t think you are, I just wanted to speak quickly before we get in the car.”
“What about?” I stiffen.
“You know, man. I can see it on your face. You’ve got some guts coming down here,” He says with a welcoming smile. “I don’t think I could have done it if the roles were reversed. I respect that. And I just wanted you to know, that I don’t blame you for what happened. It wasn’t your fault. It may have felt like it at the time, and for that I apologise. But I know it wasn’t your fault. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, and you weren’t to blame.”
“Please don’t do that. Don’t apologise. I know I played my part. I’ve had just as much time to think about it. I didn’t need to tell my dad, I could have let it go and no one would have found out.”
“Someone would have though, that’s my point. Anyone could have let that slip. If you didn’t then someone else would have found out and told people. Hell, it could have even been me.”
He steps backwards away from the car and towards the wall behind him, the whole time looking me in the eye. When he reaches the wall, he leans back on it and lowers his hands.
“It could have been me, man. I could have been the one who let it slip. I would have done if I’d known. I can’t deny that. That town wasn’t a nice place back then. Backwards thinking nut jobs. He wasn’t ever going to survive that.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I think I do. You do too. Remember how brutal it was. Everyone turned against him, not just the kids. The adults as well. The teachers knew he was having a hard time and they did nothing to help, they turned a blind eye because they felt the same. The whole town was just full of backwards thinking low-lives. Even our family turned a blind eye to it. They knew what he was going through, and while they didn’t make it worse, they didn’t help him. I think they almost thought he deserved it. I think they were ashamed.”
“Don’t say stuff like that. I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.”
“It was, and you can’t tell me otherwise. I was a child at the time, sure, but I was there. I remember the way they looked at him. Dad came home from work and he was worked up. He was pacing up and down the living room, as Tim was glued to his seat, in the centre of the sofa. I was sitting on the stairs, watching through the banister beams. Dad started shouting, telling him it was a phase and he would grow out of it. He told him not to embarrass himself and that people wouldn’t forget things like this easily. Mum was crying, she said it was because nothing has changed, and her boy was still her boy, and Dad was scaring her. But I don’t think I believe that, I think deep down she was just as disappointed as Dad was. She just knew how to hide it better.”
“Ryan, I don’t think it was completely like that. I’m sure they were shocked but deep down they cared.”
“I don’t think they do. The last time I went to their house they’d taken down all of the pictures of him, and when I asked why they just bounced to another subject. It’s like they want to just delete him from history. Even our joint school photo was folded in half.”
“People grieve in different ways.”
“Will you listen to me, this isn’t grief. It’s been over ten years and they never used to hide away like this. We moved on, we had too, and then it’s like they forgot.”
“Is this the story you had for me?”
“It’s not all of it, but it’s part of it, yes.”
“I don’t think this is a story. I’m sorry. But there really isn’t anything to go on here.”
“Don’t shush me. I’m telling you there is more than what meets the eye here. There is something going on in that town that is dangerous, and you need to get the word out before it spreads.”
“Get in the car,” I tell him.
If I’m going to have to listen to his insane nonsense, I can at least be drinking coffee.
To be continued…