What seems to be the trouble , he asks .
I cough and splutter all over the place .
He gets the message .
Sits down to write the certificate .
There , he says , handing the form to me . This should do the trick .
I peruse it quickly .
There’s something missing, I say, why I had time off .
That’s right . If you had Alzheimers or a social disease would you want
people to know ?
Certainly not .
My point exactly .
But I thought you had to put something down .
No , he says . And if they ask , tell them to take a running jump . Better still , tell them to phone me and I’ll tell them to take a running jump . Only in stronger terms .
He stands up . Shakes my hand .
The next day at work I hand in the certificate .
He’s right .
They see the blank space but no one says a word .
I push it a bit further .
On the official form , the one you fill out yourself , where it says Illness I put down ‘See Certificate’ .
It feels good . It really does .
I’ve found a new way to treat with the world .
Please Wait to be Called,
The sign said
So I did.
I waited and waited
At the head of the queue
outside the pearly gates
And when, growing impatient,
I stepped forward,
St. Peter held up his hand:
“There seems to be some problem,”
“You’ll have to wait a little longer,”
I stamped my feet a little
When a light flashed overhead
& a door opened behind
& I was whooshed back
To the operating theatre where the surgeons
Had revived me
One step from paradise.
“What are you staring at?”
“We are watching you unravelling.”
“There’s a word for that, a German word like watching people in road accidents”.
“Please don’t get distracted. Continue unravelling.”
“What if I don’t want to?”
“We’ve been watching you. You won’t be able to prevent it.”
They were right. I was like one of those wall-mounted paper towel dispensers.
Once the roll starts unravelling there’s no stopping it and I wasn’t done yet. There was still a metre or more of me to go.
Someone once said to me, Expect the Unexpected.
It seemed daring at the time so I took it on board.
The only problem was because I expected the Unexpected all the time I wasn’t really surprised when it happened.
It was expected, right?
Life was losing its surprise factor.
I felt heavy as a watermelon.
My counsellor suggested — wait for it — Expect only the Expected.
So I do,
When the Unexpected happens I light up like a lantern
twinkle like a star.
It wasn’t expected, right?
I’ve got a poem for you, a very short one, he promised with a garrulous grin, and then, in a long-winded introduction in which all the masters of brevity were cited, he proceeded to demolish the very notion of shortness. The poem took ten seconds, the intro five minutes.
I am reading a book of very strange stories.
One of them is called ‘Falling Awake’.
It is only six sentences long.
Here it is in its entirety:
I have no trouble falling asleep.
I have a lot of trouble falling awake.
Sometimes I sleep ten to twelve hours a day before snailing towards the light.
One day I will fall asleep and not fall awake or fall awake and not fall asleep.
Neither prospect daunts me.
I like adventures; no matter how short.
I remember Uncle Bert.
He had had a stroke.
His mouth was always open
Though he never spoke.
He sat on his armchair
Alongside Aunty Pat
Who did the speaking for him.
She was good at that.
He once looked a film star
A Gable or a Flynn.
And often charmed the ladies
with a rakish grin.
But then one day he emptied
and forever after that
Loyal as a labrador
he followed Aunty Pat.
No one saw it coming. Least of all me. I was happily ensconced in a book when it EXPLODED. Such was its force that it blew the toupee off the man in front of me and propelled the stationary bus in which we were sitting two metres forward. The sneezer himself, a dread locked man in a canary yellow suit, whooshed around the aisle of the bus startling passengers until suitably deflated he flopped beside me flatulent as a whoopee cushion.
There was this kid who stood at the back of the class
When I came to read my poems
And whenever I got boring he’d rotate
His arms like the blades of a helicopter
& the more I banged on the faster
His arms would whir
Until it looked like he’d take off
His teacher and the other kids paid him
In the pause between poems he’d say,
You done yet?
And I’d say,
And he’d say, Good and slow down.
And when I stopped, he’d stop.
The eagle had landed.
Whenever I do a reading I see
That kid at the back
His arms set to rotate.
It keeps me honest.