Photo: Jens Linder: https://unsplash.com/photos/cQ1BNRYjVJo

The Watcher

Three drops and counting. Now the fourth. Soon to be followed by the fifth. Now the drops are getting longer, running like fast moving worms down the window. Each drop ending at the window pane. She trailed her fingers softly against the glass leaving small smudgy fingerprints. A fraction of dull sunlight beamed through the window, shining on her face in the otherwise darkened room. Her long dark eye lashes fluttered as she slowly blinked, the rain drops reflecting on the teary sheen of her brown irises. She flinched ever so slightly as a clap of thunder surprised her and boomed across the sky. Flashes of lightning could be seen through the blurry window. She had no idea how long she had been there, time was no longer relevant to her. The day was passing quickly but endlessly, dusk might be along soon, or there may be a long stretch ahead. The uncertainty of the wait loomed over her, filling the space all around her, always present.

The rain became heavier outside, the thunder louder and closer. She pressed her head against the glass, the sound outside was a comfort against the deafening silence inside. The raindrops were smashing against the window now, no more fast-moving worms. Outside seemed further away. She shivered, the room was cold, she tried to wrap a shawl around herself but it didn’t warm her. She knew what would stop her chill but it was too far away.
The window seat creaked as she shifted slightly, adjusting her knees to a more comfortable position. Hours seemed to pass, or maybe it was minutes, she couldn’t tell. She breathed in deeply, her loose ponytail coming to rest at the nape of her neck. Her dark brown hair was messy and knotted, forgotten. The room she was in was sparsely furnished, a tattered armchair in the corner, a metal framed single bed against the wall, a small table next to the bed. The walls were whitewashed with grey stains in the corner near the ceiling, one picture on the wall of a vase of flowers. The colours were dull, faded over time. The room looked as it was when she moved in, she had made no changes, nothing of her had been placed in the room apart from herself. Even then she was only there temporarily, she would not allow a trace of her to be left when she eventually left. But she couldn’t leave until she heard from her and she didn’t know when that would be. She felt like she was stuck to the window seat, forever looking out into the garden. The only person who could release her was nowhere to be seen, no contact, her voice a distant memory.

The bell rang to announce dinner but she would not be joining the others. Instead she waited, her head pressed against the glass in a continuing clashing cycle of patience, fury and determination. Today only her patience was present, the evidence of her fury only seen on her arms, her skin still red and marked. Her determination was lacking today, the weight of the waiting crushing her, overwhelming her. All she felt she could do was look out the window, searching what was visible of the grounds for signs of her. But she was only met with silence. It was the silence that was the hardest part, the not knowing, of being shut out. It was a punishment she knew that, but for what she struggled to understand. She searched her mind, body and soul for an answer but came up with nothing, nothing could justify the quiet, the unrelenting rejection.

She heard voices down the hall. Some of the others must be going to dinner, they sounded happy to see each other, their voices raised and jovial. But she would not move, she needed to stay in the room, waiting for something, waiting for her questions to be answered.

More time passed, the rain softened and the garden came into view. The trees becoming a dark green in the glorious dusk, glorious as it was the sign of another day ending. The horizon turned from dark red to purple as the ebony night sky edged its way in. It was joined by a million twinkling stars. Another bell rang, this time the evening medication bell, reminding her that her day wasn’t really hers, it belonged to them for now, bells telling her when it time to eat, to sleep, to obey. But it would not be forever, she knew from last time, she knew there would be an end to this. There was always an end when she would hear from her and the rain would stop.

Another thought entered her mind, just fleeting but always present. She tried to push it away, telling it that it was not welcome in her brain, that it had no place there. What if she didn’t come back? What if this time there was no return, there was no answer to never-ending silence? Would she be left in this room, watching, waiting forever. The bells would ring at the same time each day, her day never becoming hers again, taken from her so it was no longer temporary, it would be permanent. Permanent emptiness, her waiting would be futile, her purpose undermined.

The footsteps were louder this time, stopping at the door. The knock was short and impatient, followed by the door opening with a long slow creak. A tall man in a white polo shirt and navy pants stood there, a small white cup in his right hand, offering her the contents. Two small white pills, one light blue one. Always the same, always the same time. She didn’t need a watch, she could set the time by her pills. His tired eyes examined her closely, she nodded and slowly crossed the room to accept his offering, knowing the consequence if she refused. He smiled at her, a small smile, one that only presented gratitude that there would be no argument tonight. He left quickly after parting with his gift, goodnights were exchanged, but she knew he would return later with torch in hand, checking and checking, always checking.

The sky was jet black now with one of the lights from the garden illuminating her room. The floorboards creaked as she walked across the room back to her post by the window. Dutifully she watched the darkness outside as the drizzle continued. After what seemed like hours and hours her eyelids felt heavy and started to close over her dark brown eyes. She rested her head against the window pane, fighting sleep, willing it away.

She woke up to sunlight filling her room, she had somehow made it to her bed for her night’s rest. Her head was heavy as she tried to lift it in reaction to the morning light, the sleeping pills still affecting her, she felt sluggish and hungover. Finally, she was able to wrap herself in an old grey oversized cardigan and padded over to the window seat to commence her day. It was still very early as barely any sounds could be heard from the corridors or rooms either side. She began waiting patiently again, her eyes set on the garden below, on the path that led to the building entrance. There was no rain today but a light mist had settled over the trees, only sections of their emerald green leaves could be seen. She spotted another patient, aimlessly walking around the garden, his white pants eventually having browns stains at the bottom as he didn’t seem to mind the mud. His expression was vacant and he tilted his head this way and that with rhythm. A rhythm that made sense to him anyway.

She flinched as she realised that a nurse had silently entered her room, some didn’t seem to think that knocking was required. The nurse spoke sharply and full of authority about attending the mess hall for breakfast as she had seen on the night shift notes that dinner had been ignored. Her piercing eyes examined her, judging effortlessly, as easy as breathing. Without waiting for a response, she left, not quite closing the door behind her.

She turned back to the window, the patient outside had retreated, probably ordered to. She decided that maybe breakfast was a good idea as she knew that she couldn’t wait this early for her to arrive, if she did. She had quite a journey to make so there would be time for a meal. Slowly she made her way across the creaking floorboards, each step an effort. She padded down the hallway and when she finally entered the mess hall it was overwhelming. She was used to the quiet of her solitary room, her hideout. There were still quite a few other patients finishing their breakfast, some on their own, some in small groups. She took a tray for herself, some toast and an apple and awkwardly sat down on her own, her eyes scanning the room, back and forth. She had tied her hair back up into another loose ponytail, the way she always wore it. She noticed some other patients cautiously turned to look at her, then turning quickly back to their meal when she caught them looking. She didn’t know many by name, socialising wasn’t something she wanted here. She wanted the entire facility to be like her room, untouched by her presence, ready to let her go when the time came. She wanted no-one to remember her, to recognise her face or her voice. She ate her meal in silence, being careful not to return looks, not glancing up. The food was like cardboard in her mouth, the taste and texture lost on her, its only purpose to provide fuel.
After she was done she went back to her room. As she opened the door she took in the space, small and desolate as it was. She had been good today she thought, eating breakfast, compliant with her medication. She noticed that the nurse from earlier had steeled herself for an argument when she approached the counter to claim her pills. But she simply took them and returned the nurse’s fierce glare. She much preferred the night nurse, his kind eyes were etched on her mind. He passed no judgement, he simply gave her what was needed so she was fine to comply with his requests. The day nurse had an agenda, her snarl seemed to be permanently fixed on her face through years of unhappiness.

Her gaze returned to the window, ever watchful. The garden was still empty but the mist had cleared. Dewey sheen could be seen on the grass and the trees, their mesmerising green was the feature of the space, the dull grey footpaths faded into the background. There was no one there now, but there would be. Someday. Her waiting endured as her gaze scanned in the distance which was nothing but trees and more white buildings. More of the same. Consistent and never changing.

The day moved along like any other day. Hours passed, the minutes dragged by. She held her post and watched the sky change as the afternoon arrived, the grey sky becoming slightly darker as new clouds moved through. The wind picked up and blew leaf litter across the lawn but all was quiet, silent. She let out a long breath, an attempt to let go of her frustration, her anger that bubbled inside. And then suddenly she saw her, walking down the concrete path, towards the building entrance. A small white handbag over one arm, her other hand clutching a teal coloured scarf. Her face was expressionless, determined, focused. She got closer and closer to the entrance, the path leading the way. She looked up, directly at the window from where she was being watched. Her watcher gasped and held her breath but kept her face still visible at the window, her expression was expectant, her eyes wide. Hope started to fill her, it started in her chest, then moved to her arms, then her hands, making them press against the window, craving contact and acceptance. The look they shared, although only for a moment, felt as though years passed, lifetimes lived.

As quickly and suddenly as she had arrived, a larger gust of wind came through the garden and she was gone. Only leaf litter slowly fell to the ground, scattering randomly on the path. The watcher blinked, shook her head, confused and dazed. She finally let out her breath, long and slow, feeling her hope exit her. Her hands became cold so she tucked them back in her cardigan pockets. But she continued to look out of the window, watching and waiting, determined that one day she would watch her finish walking down the path and make it to the entrance of the building. And then her hope wouldn’t be temporary.