Stewart Devitt was born in Belfast, worked and played there and in Dublin, donning the jerseys of Instonians and Bective Rangers rugby clubs. An experienced training professional, specialising in communication and personal development, he now lives in Auckland. New Zealand and enjoys being able to devote more time to writing, a lifelong hobby and pleasure. http://nz.linkedin.com/pub/stewart-devitt/14/ba/a8b
By Stewart Devitt
When it came to food Billy’s timing was uncanny and Friday evening proved no exception. He appeared just as the six chimes of the clock in the hall welcomed me home tired and exhausted after a long day. As I made my way to the kitchen I wished he was as disciplined in other matters.
“Dory not home?” I asked already knowing the answer.
Reenergising myself by sipping an ice cool beer I went about the task of satisfying his hunger. It was a plain meal, quickly prepared and even more quickly eaten. I moved to the lounge to relax, thinking about to-morrow’s wine and cheese evening with the Anderson’s, only to be rudely disturbed as Billy came back into the room. His shiny, carefully groomed black hair caught the early evening light and there was a glint in his eye as in a final act of preparation for an evening out he picked carefully at his nails.
Soon Dory arrived home. “What’s for tea? Billy about? … has he eaten?”
The questions shot out, not waiting for a reply. Opting for a warmed up plate of yesterday’s Moroccan chicken with saffron rice and a slice of homemade wheaten bread we eventually settled down for a quiet evening, sipping a glass of New Zealand Pinot Noir and pulling out the Scrabble board for our weekly challenge.
As the night wore on my concentration lapsed and my mind continually wandered, wondering about Billy and where he had gone. “He’s usually in well before this time,” I mused finally breaking my silence.
Dory smiled. “He’ll be fine, you worry about him too much, and he’s not likely to go far.”
“Well, yes, although I hope he stays away from the corner of the estate; there has been trouble there over recent weeks. Stones and bottles were thrown at Sammy the other night and I heard he could easily have lost an eye. And it’s after ten o’clock; surely he should be back by now?”
“Oh, give it a rest, I’m telling you everything will be fine. I’m off to bed now. I have a Pilate’s class first thing in the morning. No need for you to stay up, he can let himself in.”
Anxiety continued to hang over me as I tried to finish the crossword and then the Sudoka. An hour later I was roaming from room to room, occasionally opening the front door squinting through the light drizzle as the street lights flickered on and off. I didn’t expect a walk around the semi dark streets would provide an answer to my concerns although went anyway. It was quiet with curtains drawn tight as neighbours endeavoured to keep the warmth in. The street had an empty eerie silence, and there was no sign of Billy.
I considered getting into the car and looking farther afield although suddenly felt uncomfortable, even silly, at being so concerned even though my gut feeling kept telling me that something was wrong. Back in the house I practised deep breathing exercises in a bid to remain calm, before dimming the lamp in the corner and following Dory up the stairs.
A sudden noise awoke me in the early hours. The luminous hands of the bedside clock indicated it was just after 4.00am. “Billy”? Is that you?” My whispered words seemed to echo all round the room. Slipping out of bed I put on a dressing gown and went downstairs. There was no one there, the place was just the same as when I had left it only a few hours earlier. Billy still had not come home.
Opening the front door and peering up and down the street again proved futile and I slowly closed it before returning to bed to try and get some more sleep. When the alarm went off Dory made no attempt to move, despite her need for an early start. Shaking her gently only resulted in her rolling over and burrowing deeper into the pillow.
“Billy’s still not come home.”
She stirred, eased herself onto one elbow and sensing my concern tried to make little of it.
“He’ll have stayed somewhere safe. You’re going to have to get used to this sort of behaviour.”
“I suppose so although I find it difficult and at times I don’t think you care enough about him.”
“That’s very unfair and you know it is. I just show my concern in a different way.”
My comment had been brought on by my own frustration and anger and by the time Dory was leaving the house I could tell she was equally disturbed. I ushered her out of the house ignoring offers to cancel her class.
“Give him another couple of hours and then maybe ring round. Love you, see you late afternoon”. With that she gave me a peck on the cheek and left.
Later when the doorbell rang I felt an instant chill. Instinct told me bad news was at hand. I opened the door. The huge bulk of John the community policeman filled the doorway. He was well known, respected and liked by all in the neighbourhood and seldom without a smile. This morning he had a serious look on his face as he entered the house without waiting to be invited in. Closing the door I followed him down the hall into the kitchen where he beckoned towards the chairs around the table and we both sat down. Leaning forward looking me in the face I detected a certain sadness in his eyes.
“I’ll come straight to the point. There’s been an accident. Late last night, just on the road leading into the estate; hit and run. Sometime after midnight we think, although it wasn’t reported until the milkman passed by early this morning.”
Words got stuck in my throat; unable to speak I just stared at John waiting for what was to follow.
“We thought it was Sammy at first when they the call came in, he and your Billy are dead ringers for each other. I left them to it, nothing further I could do to help; said I would break the news to you. Here’s a number, give them a ring. I’ll wait until you talk with someone and get the latest news; it looked bad at the time to me.”
I gripped the phone tightly barely able to dial the number on the piece of paper John had handed to me. My instinct had been right; I had known all along something was wrong. My only thought now was of Billy and how bad were his injuries.
When Dory returned she found me slumped red eyed in a chair looking blankly up at the ceiling. I didn’t have to tell her that something serious had happened.
“What’s wrong? Tell me, what it is? Is it Billy?”
“Yes, he got knocked down by a car. The nurse said they need our permission to operate. His jaw’s broken and will need to be pinned and his leg is shattered. Not sure what they are going to do to it. It is going to be a long haul and there may be a need for further ongoing treatment.”
We drove in silence across town both wondering what state we would find him in. One glance was enough to confirm the seriousness of his injuries. Lying on a trolley heavily sedated his eyes seemed to momentarily acknowledge our presence. We signed the necessary forms and watched tearfully as he was wheeled away towards the operating theatre.
“It really won’t help you both sitting around.” The receptionist broke into our thoughts.
“I’ll get you each a cup of strong sweet tea, then it would be best to go back home. Ring us in a couple of hours, try and get some rest.”
“You will contact us if there are any complications?”
“Of course we will, everything will be fine”, a trained sympathetic smile came over her face as I wondered how many times she had said that to people.
The next few hours were spent brooding in front of the television, holding hands, walking around the house, attempting to give each other extra strength. One phone call, and then another, brought no real news.
“The operation is taking longer than expected….. It’s going as well as it can…. Ring in another hour.” They were matter of fact replies.
It was nearing midnight when we went back to see him. This time a younger nurse greeted us with openness and empathy as she led the way into the waiting room before leaving to check on the situation.
In less than five minutes she returned, pushing a white trolley that looked like a converted pram with Billy lying curled up in the middle of it, eyes closed and rather dishevelled.
“Well I guess that’s the first of his nine lives then”, joked the nurse.
We scarcely appreciated her humour. Billy, Billy the family cat was still alive.