Doing Good Business

Entry by: Seaside Scribbler

2nd June 2017
The Business of Life

I need more clients. Desperately. There's never a gap like this - somewhere my links have been broken. People are supposed to pass me on by word of mouth, it's part of the contract. That way I get enough clients to carry on and people who need me, find me.

Two of the staff are walking towards me. Dammit - I hate it when they come and I'm having a bad day.

'Good morning, Mr Gowan,' says one of them. She's new and I can't remember her name, though I'm sure she told me yesterday. A bad sign.

Lesley, who's with her, smiles and sits by me. 'Cat got your tongue this morning?' she touches my arm. 'BP time.'

I roll up my sleeve and proffer my arm. I know what they'll find.

'You're a little high, Mr G. You feeling okay?'

I shrug. Wish I could ask for her help but a) she'd never believe me and b) she'd probably have me carted off to see the psychiatrist.

The new nurse with the missing name takes my pulse, frowns and nudges Lesley who takes over.

'Strange,' she murmurs. 'Your BP is up and your pulse is... I think I'll call the doctor.'

I roll my eyes at their departing backs. Just get me some new clients, I think, and I'll be fine.

Old Fred Mac's missing from his table at lunchtime. There are whisperings amongst the staff through which I learn Fred had a heart attack in the night. There are a few eyes beamed on me and I know they think I'm next. They don't know I know, but I know they take bets on who's going to go next. It sounds awful, and I guess it is but they're a good bunch and humour is what keeps us going in life, isn't it? I don't mind them betting on me. They'll never get it right, anyway. I wonder what my odds are now? I've been here seven years, and I was expected to stay for two months. That was BT - Before Transex. Transex is a crappy term that sounds like something illegal and sexually iffy, but it's the only one I could come up with. Transexperiential Feelings - that's what I call what I can transmit, and feel.

But I need another client. The last one was a squirt of a lad called William. William was 17 and desperately depressed. He learned about me from his colleague at the factory Tim, who learned about me form his cousin, and so it goes on. There's a link in the chain connecting each person from me all the way back to Gracey, who was my first. Gracey was my nurse, back when they all thought I was going to die. I was sent to Meadowfields straight out of hospital when I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I shouldn't really still be here but I still have cancer and I pay my bills and if I keep on living it's a win win. They think it's down to their care and use me as advertising fodder when showing people around, and I get a nice warm place to live. My flat was given to a young family when I was taken into hospital and I suppose I'm off the end of the list, now.

By teatime I'm feeling worse. The doctor's not been - some emergency at the hospital - but I know from worried looks shot between Lesley and the next shift at handover that they are concerned.

Just get me someone who needs help, I want to say.

By eight o'clock, my wish is fulfilled.

She's shown into my room on the usual pretext, once I've convinced them it's not too late and I feel strong enough. As far as the staff are concerned, I give advice on finances as that's what I did back in the real world. I made money for other people. Now I help them in other ways. We're always given privacy on the basis that clients need privacy when talking about their money.

'William sent me,' she says. 'I'm Helen.'

I run through all the usual stuff - how to continue the chain, the absolute need for discretion, the facts about Helen's slightly adjusted lifespan - more quickly than usual because I can feel myself failing, fast. My eyesight is odd - like looking through frosted glass; my hands are shaking and I feel weak as a kitten.

She nods and agrees to everything.

'Hold my hands,' I say.

She sits down and takes them. 'Will it hurt?' she says.

I shake my head, impatient to begin, impatient to get my energy back.

'Focus on what's wrong,' I say. I never want to know details; it's the energy that concerns me.

As hers begins to fill me, I let out a sigh of absolute bliss. She's young and strong and I don;t need much to fill me up - I wasn't as weak as I thought.

Helen lets out a whimper and I tighten my grip. She'll want to pull away and I mustn't let her - for both our sakes. She starts shaking her head and I know what she's feeling.

First comes denial.

Of course I'm not going to die, you want to protest. Of course it's not terminal.

Then: But I did look after myself, you want to yell. Why me?

After that it's the feeling of malaise and of your body letting you down. You grow weak, in body and spirit.

Anger might be next, or further denial. The desire to walk or run away from it - this is when I must hold really tight as it's important my clients get through this stage.

When their hands relax, I know I can relax too. They've stayed the distance, they've stayed with me and felt it all properly. Now comes the most important bit. That initial stage takes mere minutes but this last one, up to an hour, or maybe two in severe cases.

With me it was regrets. Mostly, it's regrets. But sometimes its forgiveness, or anger, or revenge, or anything at all. Everyone comes with a different story.

With Helen, it looks like forgiveness, or guilt. Her closed eyes are glistening at the corners and she's half-forming words. I hear 'sorr- but- I couldn't - I'm angry- No! -orry,' Ghost words, coming from who knows where in her life. I don't really care and I never want to know. They are nothing but my clients, and they give me nothing but my payment.

When the Transex is over, she lets go of my hands. She looks like they all do - born again. And I feel like a new man, which I am. It's cost her months of her life, and it's given me weeks. But she'll be able to live out the rest of her years without the burden that was stopping her living properly. Sometimes my clients are suicidal so in their case they pay me months, but they gain their lives back.

'Thank you,' she says. 'I told William I was okay but I wasn't. I'd got a plan, you see. A plan to end it. To stop all of it. All the blame...'

The last thing I want to hear is the reasons why so I hold up my hand. 'Less I know the better,' I say. The truth is their problems bore me. I don't help them out of any altruistic desire; I help them because I get to live longer. Simple.

Helen leaves and I lay back and let the life sink fully into me. I feel it from my brain to my toes, a tingling, a tickle, a teasing of life.

The night nurse comes in. It's Anne, one of the brisk, efficient people who takes no nonsense but has a heart full of care.

'Hear you've been a bit unwell today?' she says, brandishing a BP kit. I give her my arm, and smile.

'I feel better again,' I tell her.

She takes the reading, listens to my chest, takes my pulse and steps backwards. 'You're fine,' she says, sounding confused.

I know what they'll have told her. Early stages. Old age. High blood pressure. His time, coming.

'I'm a tough old bugger, you know that,' I say, giving her a wink.

'Heard you had one of your special visitors this evening?' she says. 'One of you money clients? What is it you do, exactly?'

'I give financial secrets. Sort of life tips, really. To those who really need them.'

'Must be a good business,' she says.

'Oh it is. It definitely is. A win-win, in fact. They leave richer and more sorted, I get job satisfaction. Kind of keeps me going, you could say.'

'Call me if you need anything,' says Anna, as she leaves.

I lay back and smile. I'll not be needing anything more tonight. It's been a successful day - and to think it started so badly. I wonder how much longer I've gained.

A client asked me once why I wanted to live so much. Why, when I was stuck in here, surrounded by old people, dying around me.

I look out of the window at the setting sun, at my stack of books - unread - on the table, at the cup of tea waiting to be drunk, at the phone, ready to call my family, at the TV, through which I can travel the world. I answered her simply: I'm just not ready to die. Not yet.

Am I afraid? Yes, I probably am. Have been since they told me I'd got mere months to live. All the things I've not seen, all the books I've not read. Does it matter why? I stick with the answer I know for sure.

I'm just not ready to go. And as long as I keep getting new clients, I won't have to.

Like I told Anna, a win-win.

If you need my services, ask about. I'm pretty well known, in certain circles. Just find the chain, and link on to the end of it, as if you're grabbing a lifebelt. And come to see me.