“Stay away from my river! It’s MY river! If you come in my river, I’ll eat you all.”
I have a bad feeling as soon as I wake up and when the phone goes, the feeling gets worse. It’s Dad calling from my sisters. It’s my turn to have him in my river.
Dad tells me a list of things he has to do and it is a list of me driving him to appointments. It is pissing down. I drop off the children at their various schools and play schools then grudgingly pick him up. I watch him hobble to the car, the rain in his eyes.
“Who’ve I got today?” asks Dad at the doctors surgery. This place is an old one, a converted house and its full of stairs. Please don’t make us go up the stairs.
The receptionist says, “It’s Oyagone,” and because Dad looks blank she adds helpfully, “It’s O and E, like A and E but with an O!”
“They’re sending me to A and E?” Dad asks, horrified. His hands shake.
“No, no, it’s Dr. O and E.”
I’m worried that Dad is going to say something like “He must be coloured,” but instead, in the waiting room, under the poster for the Samaritans, he says loudly, “my poo is black as night.”
“That’s normal,” I hiss, “when you’re taking iron tablets.”
“You’ve never seen anything like it,” Dad adds. “I’m on my way out, I must be.” I stare at the floor and my left eye starts to twitch.
Yesterday, we took the children down the seafront on their bikes. Arnie reluctantly mounted his, he adjusted his helmet, checked his brakes, scrutinized his stabilizers, looked at us, got off his bike and decided he wanted to walk instead. Mini however was off, tearing down the sea-front without a backwards glance. She is how Dad used to be.
Doctor O and E is at his computer and I realise I have met him before. I feel like he is an old friend. I say, “What rain,” and he says something I don’t catch but I guess it’s something like he is lucky to be out in the rain, lucky to be alive in the rain, or perhaps its just, “take a seat please.”
Dad wants to take less medicine. “I’m not a pill taker,” he sneers as though I’ve accused him of being a banker of something but Doctor O and E is on my side and he says “that’s really not a good idea,” and I agree, ho ho ho. Silly Dad. “The medicines are meant to help you!” I add. I think of Mini and her loathing of the helmet and the stabilizers and think, hmm, Dad hasn’t changed so much after all.
Doctor O and E says he has the results of Dad’s blood test back and I am surprised and a little frightened. I hadn’t expected they would be back so quick, when everything else has been so slow.
Its good news! The good cells are at 10.9. Dad nearly has an average blood count!
“I’m nearly normal!”
“I dunno about that, Dad,” I say to impress the Doctor with my wit.
The Doctor is beaming and I think, you don’t get to give out good news very often, do you?
“It’s the best thing I’ve heard for ages,” says Dad and his shoulders sag with relief.
I say, “there’s still the biopsy and of course the knee.” I seem unable to catch up with this new information. But why isn’t he better then? If his bloods are so good, why is he sleeping all day? Is that nearly normal too? It’s like being told you’ve lost loads of weight but still, none of your clothes fit. Something seems a bit ‘off’. Or maybe it’s me. I’m like a foul weather daughter. How can I be so down-beat? I wonder if I’m depressed but it can’t be that because I was born like this. And my sister will whoop and cheer and respond correctly. For she is not a Selfish Crocodile, she is the little mouse doing what has to be done, fixing a toothache, changing the world.
In the car, Dad is quiet. “I can’t believe it, 10.9!”
“I’ll take you back to yours then.” I say. It sounds spiteful somehow. Like I’m punishing him for his blood improving. But I just want things to return to normalcy. I want to forget about being a daughter for a while and just be me. And if he says, one thing, just one thing, about the Doctor being ‘coloured’ then I swear I will drive him home as fast as this knackered ‘family’ car will take us.
“I don’t really want to,” he says.”There’s nothing there. It’s lonely” It must take a lot for him to admit it. And I remember suddenly, how it was Grandad who taught Ray to ride without stabilizers. One afternoon, in the park near his house when I was cold and in a mood about something (again), it was Grandad who ran alongside him shouting, “Pedal, keep going, you’ve got it!”
“What’s his name again? That doctor?”
“O and E,” I say. I’m thinking, I O U. I’m thinking, the selfish crocodile let all the animals come to the river in the end.