My mother always loved her job, even if she was only a housekeeper at the nursing home.
She would take my sister and I there to visit her co-workers or some of the old folk. She had an aunt who lived there too.
The nursing home was painted a drab and faded white. But it was always dark and shadowy despite the huge windows and buzzing lights everywhere.
Even though I was young I knew this was a place of death. The people were frail and sickly watching reruns all day long. Even the artful wall that bore the names of the deceased seemed foul despite the many attempts to make it a more pleasant monument.
None of this affected my mother who always remained upbeat and spoke about the many reasons why she loved working with the elderly. Maybe that’s why she always took us along with her. We were always there on the weekends and we would have to wait till she finished her lunch and took us to attend mass.
We’d mill about and explore while she ate, ignoring the strong stench of urine that haunted the place. Once when I was six I wandered off while my sister stayed with my mother.
I heard a women shout “I’m in pain” over and over. There was something familiar about the voice. When I asked my mother about it she said the woman would do that every day and we should just ignore it. Later she explained stroke or dementia patients have verbal preservation, or the repetition of certain words or phrases due to the condition.
When I grew up I started work at the nursing home’s sister institution. I didn’t want to come back home to be honest but I didn’t have many options. I was also curious about my aunt. I couldn’t remember a thing about her except that she had dementia.
Family friends would always talk about her as a forceful and determined woman who had a habit of bearing grudges. She grew quite bitter after a car crash severly injured her arms and she was confined to her bed.
I though my conservative relatives weren’t giving a free thinker her due and was curious to learn more about her. Strangely ever since I moved back I would have bizzare dreams of me at her bedside, playing the crule games only children who don’t quite know what pain is yet can. My sister cries in the background while my aunt struggles to say something.
The two facilities were connected so that staff could get around easily. I’d often make trips to the other facilities kitchen. It just so happens that this was the faculty where the shouting lady lived but I didn’t remember at the time.
I though I heard a distant “I’m in pain” echo a few times. I looked around a few times to see where it came from, but all I saw were empty rooms and made beds.
I stopped a nurse and told her I thought I heard something.
“You did”she replied. “Every now and then the call light will go off and then you hear…”
“I’m in pain”
I realised that the voice sounded very familiar and the dream with my aunt flashed before my eyes. I shook it off and told myself to stop being silly.
Back at the other facility I was talking to a regular dementia patient I was working with. She still had moments of clarity and enjoyed stories, although she would always remain silent. I told her the story and wondered if it was a ghost.
“I wonder why it doesn’t just grab me” I said as I drew up my chair. I noticed my patient look straight into my eyes.
Without breaking her stare she said “That’s because the woman under your chair has no arms.”