Chapter Fourteen: Thoughts and Feelings
A woman is placed on a gurney. Her screams are unbearable, almost too much for the assistants to take - and they’ve heard the worst of them. They knew that labour was a grisly affair but there was something terribly woeful about this one. This had happened before, and the results had been far from favourable…
They quicken their pace, crashing through plastic sheeted doors as they rush towards the emergency ward. The woman’s husband is trying his best to hold onto both her hands, but it’s not an easy task. She is thrashing and trying to grab a hold of him at the same time. Throughout the whole ordeal, with a steady voice, he offers sweet words of comfort. His tears do not go unnoticed by the helpers. They stream down his cheeks and run into his beard, but all the while he keeps up his assurances.
The obstetrician arrives. Like a breath of fresh air the relief can be felt amongst the care workers and attendants. But the woman is still crying, she does not want to let go. She screams out:
“My baby! My baby! Please save my baby…”
The woman lets out a wail so piercing her husband’s tears begin to run like sweat. Amidst the noise and commotion the obstetrician remains composed. To everyone around him he looks like a man with a job to do, which is quite right, he has to remain focused. Only that, this doctor has not one, but two jobs to carry out…
The obstetrician begins to make provisions for the baby’s arrival. Everyone around him - the midwife, the nurse, the husband - is looking at the woman in distress, they make great efforts to try and reassure her. Nobody is seeing what the doctor is doing. He appears to be doing his job, and on one hand - he doing just that - but with the other he’s claiming his prize...
They ask the woman to push again and again. She does as she’s told. She pushes one more time. The baby’s head appears. The woman is urged to push again…The baby flows outwards with such tremendous force as if freed from a snag.
The relief is felt by everyone.
The workers move into action. One reaches for the trolley, where the appliances are kept, the other rushes to place the baby onto its mother’s chest, while the doctor, at the centre, carefully places something in his pocket…All this fussing took only a matter of seconds, but that was how long the baby girl had to live. She only breathed in once, and it was her last.
Baby Husna lay dead on her mother’s chest.
It was one of many semi-stillbirths taking place in one of the largest paediatric units in Europe. In a hospital that overshadowed half the skyline of London’s East End.
There are not many people who would describe Dr. Henrietta Metcalfe as the oblivious sort, or so she prided herself on this matter.
In fact, she would say she was very aware of how the world worked, and her place in it. And owing to her apt perceptiveness, she was not only exceedingly clever but extremely self-assured.
But that all soon changed.
Lately, Henrietta had begun to doubt many things about herself. She was feeling a little out of sorts, for some unknown reason. As though she’d been cheated out of something, as it were. Much like a short-lived blowout, for want of a better phrase. And this sudden courtship with despair was all very new to Dr Henrietta Metcalfe. As such, this slinky, savvy, raven-haired medic from Bedfordshire did not care for it - one jot!
And the reason for this sudden change in sentiment?
Well, as it so happens, Henrietta had decided to embark on a relationship with someone she had liked for some time. But instead of experiencing the sweet, harmonious flutter of butterflies, she found they lay grounded at the bottom of her stomach, as though they were made of lead. She could not force them to fly, no more than she could continue to fool herself. Henrietta was no longer in control of the situation she had so willingly got herself embroiled in...
Around 7pm that evening she had planned to meet with two of her female co-workers for dinner. However, due to a text message she had just received, this carefully planned arrangement would not materialize…
The message simply read:
And that was all.
Her face warmed as a flood of blood rushed to her head.
It was him.
Her heart was pounding so hard it drowned out the noise coming from the TV set. Henrietta took a moment to compose herself before texting back:
“Hi. How are you?”
It would be half an hour later before she’d get a response back. In that time she had; cancelled her dinner arrangement, vacuumed her living room - twice, scattered her wardrobe and brushed her hair…not necessarily in that order.
She was now sat back in front of the TV. She wasn’t watching it though, her thoughts were fully rooted on ‘him’
He still hadn’t replied to her text message. The all-too-familiar sinking feeling began to surface. Her body felt as taunt as an over-tuned guitar. All this waiting around was wreaking havoc on her nerves; she couldn’t wait any longer. Henrietta grabbed her phone and tapped hastily on the keys.
“How was work today?” she initiated. She made to follow it up with another question but paused.
‘Mmmm’ she had to think. ‘Got to say something interesting…informative…but leading…What should I say?’
“Did you get the email I sent this afternoon?” she texted back. “The one about Vinopolis holding a wine-tasting event? It’s on tomorrow evening.”
As soon as she sent it she winced.
‘For frick’s sake! What a mind-numbingly, inanely, stupid thing to say!’ She berated herself. She was most certain he would think she was some kind of party animal:
The one who lacks reserve…
The one who wants to be the centre of attention…
The one always in the midst of office gossip…
‘Shoot!’ She fumed. This wasn’t the kind of impression she wanted to project.
Her phone buzzed back.
“Yes I did. I’ll call you in 10 minutes.”
And that was all. Much to Henrietta’s shame, the answer was enough to take her from a state of gloom - to a place of glee!
Yes! She was well aware she was behaving like a giddy schoolgirl with a crush, but she couldn’t help it! She was absolutely beside herself; totally consumed, utterly besotted, with Dr. Richard Lawson: The most sort after medic on the ward.
While she was eagerly awaiting his call she was unaware her mouth was rapidly filling with saliva.
The phone rang. She swallowed.
“Etta.” That was the name he preferred to call her by.
“Hello Richard,” she breathed.
“Yes. I did get that email,” he said with little enthusiasm. “By the way, did you receive the BMJ case study report I sent?” He paused before adding. “I emailed it to everyone this afternoon.”
Henrietta wondered if it was just her, or if everyone was partial to the heart-stopping, raw magnetism in Richard’s voice. A voice steeped in education, refinement and leadership. It totally floored her whenever she heard it.
Surely she couldn’t be the only one being affected by this?
“Yes...I did get it...errrr. Thank you,” she said quickly. “Although, I haven’t had the chance to read it in full but I will do -” she was about to say, ‘later tonight’ but she was hoping to be doing something else later…Preferably with him…
“Actually,” Richard drawled a response, “I came across some interesting findings.”
The doctor then proceeded to list them to her.
Henrietta tried to pay attention but she was only half listening. The other half was thinking about how this affair actually began. Of course nobody knew her and Dr. Lawson were getting together once in a while...
“I think its best that nobody knows…about our…errr meetings…” he said at the time. “Do you agree?” It wasn’t a question. He continued. “You know there’s no need to make this...” he waved his hand around, “…office fodder…”
“Yes. Of course,” Henrietta had agreed.
To be fair, she couldn’t talk to anyone about it even if she wanted to because, there really wasn’t anything to talk about.
‘What was this?’ she asked herself many times over the ensuing weeks.
‘What we’re they doing exactly?’
They weren’t dating as dating consisted of outings, laughter, shared confidences, dinners…
She recalled one evening with Richard. They had both finished working the late shift. They spotted each other as they were leaving the premises. Somewhere down the line a late aperitif was suggested.
They later found themselves in a partially lit restaurant. There was soft music playing in the background and scented candles on every table. The place was elegantly arranged - perfect for Henrietta.
After the first round of drinks, she suggested they get something to eat. It was actually six hours ago since she’d last taken anything in. She had been very busy that day.
“Ok,” he replied steadily.
After the food had arrived, Henrietta noticed that an air of awkwardness had set in, one, which no amount of banter, on her part, could dissipate.
Then Richard spoke.
“By any chance, have you ever been to the ‘Alain Ducasse’ at the Dorchester?” he asked.
“No. I don’t think I have,” she replied.
“I presume you haven’t been to Aspley’s either?”
“No. I couldn’t say that I have.”
“What about ‘Le Gavroche’ in Mayfair?”
“Ermm. No. Afraid not.”
Then he answered. “Well, on the rare occasion I find myself with someone I would like to impress, those are the kind of places I tend to dine in.”
There was silence.
Maybe Richard wasn’t sure Henrietta had quite understood him, so he continued in his soft voice. “That would be my idea of a date….” Great emphasis was placed on the word ‘my’
In his offhand way, Richard had told her that whatever she thought they were doing now, it wasn’t what he was thinking. This was no date. And they certainly wasn’t dating!
He wasn’t smiling when he spoke to her but for some reason Henrietta couldn’t shake the feeling that he was.
She slowly looked down at the elegantly plated food which had just arrived, then peered around the restaurant. She could see that Richard was still watching her.
‘This was not a man wanting to be in a loving relationship’ Henrietta suddenly realized, receiving the news like a hearty kick in the stomach.
Alarm bells started going off in her head.
‘What was she doing here? In short - what was she playing at?’
Needless to say, the two of them ate the rest of their meal in rigid silence. Then the pair left soon after - without dessert.
Before long, Henrietta found she had nothing more to look forward to, with regards to their meetings, than the promise of casual sex. Which, much to her chagrin, was not as frequent as she would have liked.
Was there another woman? Damn the man for his control!
Then one day she made the mistake of calling him with the intention of setting up one of their little engagements. To her dismay, he outright refused to see her and gave no reasons for his actions.
Then later the questions came…
“Do people say you’re controlling?” He once asked.
On another occasion he said that he didn’t like pushy women. He then proceeded to give his unique observations on some of the female MDs on the ward. Yet, at the same time, he also made it known that he didn’t like women who were; docile, giddy, unresponsive, chatty, gregarious, loose…
The list went on.
Henrietta was confused. She had indeed made a mental note to check herself against these failings. But she soon gave up, or gave in - she didn’t know which!
One thing she did know for certain, Richard took great delight in inflicting emotional pain. But for Henrietta the feeling was a bit like bursting a pimple; the discomfort was short-lived but each onslaught brought out his nicer side.
Nevertheless, in spite of these brief inconsistencies, Richard was indeed a fine catch. She was lucky to be with him, or others would think if they knew….
At the moment she would admit things were far from perfect but in time she would make them right. He just needed to get to know her better that was all.
She was a smart girl. She was no one’s fool and no one’s prisoner. She was as free as a bird. She had wings, she could fly! She could always get herself out of - ‘whatever it is they were doing’ - if things got a little too much for her.
But for the moment she was going to stay put.
‘He just needs to get to know me better, that’s all…’
“Are you free tonight?” Henrietta blurted, just as Richard had finished speaking.
Maybe he sensed the need in her voice, or didn’t care for her forwardness. Whatever the reason he paused before replying. “Ermmm…not tonight Etta,” he answered. “I think I’ll have an early one.”
The rebuff was viscerally felt. She knew very well he had contacted her for the very reason of hooking up.
“You don’t mind do you?” He asked.
“No - that’s okay,” she lied. “No worries at all.”
“Okay, well. I better shoot off then,” he said with all the cheer in the world. “Have a good evening, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Goodnight.” She spoke softly into the phone.
He hung up.
She half-collapsed onto the sofa behind her.
“Birds have wings,” she scoffed, “but for frick sakes Henrietta where the heck are yours?”