M0 - Thursday
Shift work doesn’t suit everyone, but it suited Mo perfectly. Five days on, then two off followed by a shift change. Many of the nurses moaned that they never got into a proper sleep pattern, Mo had never had that trouble. He knew his evening prayers healed his soul and banished worry that could keep him awake. Mo slept well every night.
Mo had the coming weekend off before a rotation of earlies, usually working the weekend didn’t bother him, but this weekend was his sister Yaz’s birthday. She was coming over with her husband Kahil and their twins Zami and Shafi, for a feast their mother had been planning for the last week.
“Mohammed, which vegetable do you think I should stuff to make the Mahshi?” his mother would ask.
“This is your favourite, not your sister’s. Your sister likes my peppers best.”
“Your peppers are delicious.”
“I will make both,” she said adding more ingredients to the already substantial mental list she had in her head.
“Will Irene be coming on Sunday?”
Irene was their neighbour and had been since the day Mo’s parents had moved into the house in Carnarvon Road in 1978. The friendship between the two women had been an unlikely one. Mrs Akbar (as Irene had called her up until the time of Mr Akbar’s passing some five years ago) was as gracious and ladylike as a Siamese cat, whereas Irene was a cockney through and through. In the early days Irene and her husband Bill could often be heard yelling at one another through the terraced walls, a common theme being the amount of money Bill had squandered in the Coach & ’orses. Next door, Iqbal and Pari Akbar would look at each other in wild-eyed amazement at the velocity of the words used, even if they couldn’t understand most of it. Bill buggered off with some tart in the mid 80’s leaving Irene childless and husbandless, the latter bringing relief.
Since arriving in Britian in 1975 Mr Iqbal Akbar had done nothing but work, true enough their lives had improved since leaving Pakistan, but only monetarily. Iqbal worked two jobs, by day in the Ford factory in Dagenham, by night a waiter in a curry house near Stratford Station.
“Shall we go home?” Pari used to say.
“It’s for our children and their children,” he would reply.
“But you are a brilliant man. I hate to see you waiting on ungrateful white
people that call you a Paki and laugh at you.”
“I am stronger than that, so are you. I pity those foolish people that know nothing of other cultures or religion. Our children will be great and you will see my darling, that it will be worth it.”
It was loneliness that had bonded the two women. Pari at home on her own each and every day and evening, with Iqbal too exhausted after one job and before the other to do much more than sleep, in the brief time he was there. It was when Mo came along in 1985 that Irene became more of a fixture in the Akbar home. She knitted baby booties and hats for him, she cooed over the pram and offered to mind the infant whenever she thought Pari needed a rest.
“Mrs Akbar, you have a nap, you look exhausted. I’ll watch Mohammed for you.”
Pari was terribly homesick in Mo’s early years. She had been raised in a family, a proper family where the young were reared by their mothers, aunties and grandmothers, and when the older generation became infirm, they were in turn, minded by the youngsters they’d help rear. It was very different in England, where families were individual units and the old were often in care homes. Irene was the only support Pari had on offer, the only person she could say had smiled at her for as long as they had known one another. Slowly, very slowly Irene entered Mo’s young life. Thirty years later their friendship was as solid as the earth on which they stood, both still of very different character, but the passage of time having sealed them together.
His mother was washing the breakfast dishes when Mo left for work, his backpack packed for him with a chickpea Bryani for his lunch. His trainers were neatly stowed on the shoe rack by the front door, as were all the shoes he and his mother wore. Right foot forward he stepped from the calmness of home into the noisy street, gently closing the door behind him. As Mo strolled to the station he thought of little Callum and wondered what story he could make up for him today, he was feeling in a knights mood, yes knights, a castle, a princess and a dastardly dinosaur, that would throw him. Mo smiled as he pictured Callum’s eager face.
“Morning,” said old Mr Ahmed as Mo past his Halal supermarket where he was laying out some fresh produce. He threw Mo a pear. Mo caught it and smiled as he bid the elderly gentleman a good day.
The platform was more crowded than usual, Mo wondered if there would be space on the first train.
“Due to a signal failure at Leytonstone there is a slight delay. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause,” said the tannoy.
There was a collective sign from the awaiting many, followed by a crackle.
“Therefore,” continued the tannoy, “we will be getting a train from the sidings to carry you on your way. The next westbound train will be leaving from platform one.”
Everyone glanced up to see where platform 1 was, and were delighted to find they were already on it. When the empty train arrived a few minutes later, there was a stampede for seats. Mo happened to be standing directly in front of a door opening and was one of the first in.
“Praise be to Allah,” he thought, until he saw a heavily pregnant woman standing up. All around passengers were suddenly fully engrossed in an activity other than looking up. The woman was quite a bit further down the carriage. Mo stood to gesture to the woman to take his seat. A heavily made up blonde woman slipped into the momentarily vacant seat as soon as Mo was fully standing.
“It was for the pregnant lady over there,” he said to her.
“Well I’m pregnant too”, she replied whilst fishing in her bag for her phone.
“Sorry,” Mo mouthed to the other lady who shrugged and smiled.
“Thanks anyway,” she mouthed back.
Woodland Ward was busy when Mo arrived and Callum, who had been given the green light to go home, was in tears.
“My man, what’s wrong?” said Mo crouching to Callum’s eye level before he’d even removed his coat or put his backpack in his locker.
“I do want to go home but I want to stay with you,” cried the little boy.
“My man, ours was always going to be a beautiful friendship that wasn’t going to last forever. I tell you what, you get home and draw me a picture of your dog Mitsy, as you know how I love dogs but am not allowed one on the ward.”
“Will you write back to me?”
“Of course, what sort of question is that to ask of your oldest pal?”
“What was today’s story going to be?”
“To be honest Callum, I’ve run out, so you won’t be missing a single thing.”
“And Nanny’s at home waiting for you,” said Callum’s mum.
“Will Nanny let me make a cake?”
“I should think so.”
“Now, Callum, remember Her Majesty the Queen doesn’t like tears any more than your Nanny, and also it will make the cake taste funny.”
Callum smiled “I’ll post you a slice.”
“And I will have it with my 3 o’clock cup of tea.”
“Thank you Mo, thank you so much,” said Callum’s mum.
“Bye Mo, I love you,” said Callum sincerely.
“Be a good man for me,” he ruffled Callum’s hair.
“The new boy Louis has woken up by the way,” said Callum.
“In that case I had better go and say hello to him and let him know that my main man is leaving. Bye Callum, you’ve been a star and I’ll miss you. Now go quickly before the docs change their mind.”
Callum was right, the new boy in Bay four was awake.
“Hi Louis. I’m Mo. I’m one of the nurses that’s going to help get you better and home as fast as we can. Is it ok with you if I just have a look at you? Can I have a look at your tummy? And how are you Mum?”
Mum looked wobbly, tired and teary. “Do you want to get yourself a cuppa while I sit with Louis? Take all the time you need, we need to have a chat to get to know each other anyway.”
“No, it’s alright thanks. I’ll stay with him.”
Mo knew that she was too afraid to take her eyes off him in case he relapsed while she was gone. Arriving in an ambulance with your unconscious child was quite an ordeal and took time to get over, he knew.
“Ok, when I’ve finished here I’ll get you a cup of tea and bring it to you.”
She smiled as her eyes filled up.
“He’s ok now, he’s going to be fine,” said Mo looking her straight in the eye.
A fat tear rolled lazily down her cheek.
“Is your husband coming in?”
She nodded, “he’s bringing us some stuff, I’m still in yesterday’s work clothes.”
Back at the nurse’s station there was a buzz of excitement.
“Another one for you Mo,” called one of the nurses, “what is it this time?”
Mo unwrapped the parcel the nurse had just signed for and found to everyone’s delight twenty four Crispy Crème doughnuts and a card that read ’I know you like these. Thanks for everything – Chloe xxx’
Chloe was a ten year old who had gone home the weekend before. It wasn’t unusual for Mo to be on the receiving end of gifts and cards from grateful parents.
“Put the kettle on and I’ll share them around. Could one of you ask any of my parents if they want one? Whisper mind you, some of the kids are on nil by mouth.”
Mo loved his job, where else could you eat doughnuts before 10am and feel so good about it?