Minutiae: Red and grey pavers

Words by Daniel Smith

Pictures by Jacky Hawkeswood

Published on June 25, 2014

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Red and grey pavers. Red and grey pavers, everywhere. Who was it that thought red and grey pavers were a good idea? Was it for some sort of calming effect? I light a cigarette and inhale slowly, and as my lungs take the smoke the jitters begin to disperse.

I’m standing in the courtyard in the middle of the palliative care unit of the hospital, having been told by a sleep-deprived nurse that this was the hospital’s smoking area. The building is eight stories high and from the ground floor where I am standing the walls that surround the courtyard in a circular manner evoke the ever-so-subtle feeling of motion sickness: not an overly pleasant sensation for patients that I’m sure would already be feeling the nauseating effect of a range of opiates.

A hefty man in a white business shirt pushes an older woman in a wheelchair through the electric doors and out into the courtyard. He is sweating profusely through the shirt, leaving faded yellow stains that crawl effortlessly over the inside of his collar, disappear across the chest before reappearing again further in towards the armpits. I am unsure whether the man is sweating from the combination of the heat and his large rippling deposits of fat, or perhaps just the stress of an unknown but relatively easy-to-guess situation. We are in a palliative care unit; anyone not here to die is most likely visiting someone that is.

I nod politely to him as he passes me by but get no response; his eyes are fixed firmly on the footpath ahead of his wheelchair-bound accomplice and his forehead glistens brilliantly in the sunlight with beads of perspiration. They find a place to stop a few metres to my left and begin talking in a lowered tone, voices broken like some terrible event has been bestowed on them both, so I light another cigarette and try not to look directly at them as I cautiously listen to their conversation.

The elderly woman in the chair is the obese man’s mother. She has just been transferred here with what doctors expect to be the final stages of pancreatic cancer and her ‘final’ stint in the hospital. As she explains this to him he sobs, touching all four fingers of his left hand to the crown of his skull and his thumb to his cheek. I can’t stop myself from thinking that perhaps if he bleached his shirt once in a while the yellow stains wouldn’t be so apparent. I make my way back inside. The sliding doors glide open and the cool smell of ventilated air mixed with disinfectant waft through my sinuses and instantly find the back of my throat, leaving an unpleasant aftertaste in the back of my mouth. I have always hated the way that hospitals smell.