Songs for Two Lives Parts 5 & 6

As an apology for the double post of Uplifting, here is the next post of 'Songs for Two Lives.'

Part 5 The Magic Bus

I settled into my new life. My new manager told me I was lucky to have got the job as the budget had been limited the day after and that he wasn’t able to employ any more staff.

The job wasn’t difficult; I just had a database of all the properties that the council managed as well as another of the waiting list. My hardest part was matching properties with the right number of people in a family.

It was a bit like working out how many flowers you could fit into a flower pot and I was quite good at it. I had renewed my old driving licence and had use of a council car so would get the prospective tenants in the office, go through the details and match them with a choice of properties.

Usually they had an area they wanted to live in so I would then take them to the nearest property to their desired location and just give them the keys when they approved. Then and there they signed all of the paperwork. After that they were on their own.

There were girls in the office that I would take out for lunch sometimes but I never needed to start a relationship. I often found myself being critical of their outfits but kept my thoughts to myself.

It was my ability to relate to both the men and women that I saw that made me stand out. I started to get compliments about my work and one day was invited to meet one of the alderwomen.

We met for lunch and she told me that I was the sort of person she needed on a committee that dealt with the homeless. It tried to find accommodation for those who could not afford even the lowest rates we asked. So I joined her committee and spent a lot of evenings either in meetings talking about what should be done, or else out in the streets seeing that nothing had been done. It was a dead end as no-one would take the responsibility to actually try something.

In the end I went and had a chat with a few of the slum landlords to see if they could help. I told them that I would try to get some council assistance if they offered us the use of their worst buildings and a couple jumped at the chance.

I went back to the committee with the proposal that we take up the offer of the buildings and go for government money to restore them to some sort of liveability then placing some of our homeless into them. Everyone was relieved that something had been proposed so they all pulled together. If the plan worked they would get the credit; if it didn’t it was all down to me.

We hit a nerve with the government and the council and it wasn’t long before contractors were in these derelict places bringing them back to life. The slum landlord was beaming when it came to the first opening day and we managed to put together enough of the homeless that actually wanted a home to go and live in it, with council assistance on the rent.

It worked pretty well as more than half of those we housed also picked up their lives and found jobs. The next two buildings were a lot harder to fill because we were now drawing from a pool of homeless who didn’t trust ‘big brother’ or else were actually making good money being on the streets.

Our first house was a shining example, the second quickly got trashed and the third became a haven for junkies, much the same as it had been before the money had been spent on it. The committee, however, was buoyed by the successful one and no-one talked about the other two.

I found myself either being shunned for being too forward for my status, or else too much of a recluse to be a figurehead. I quietly left them to it and concentrated on my main job.

I did my job, I placed people in properties, I ate, slept and exercised but it wasn’t really living.

One day, I was eating my sandwich in the park and a young lad was sitting next to a tree and playing his guitar. He had his swag next to him and a cap for offerings so I could see he was living on the streets.

He sang and played and people gathered around, some putting money in his cap. I didn’t have any appointments that afternoon so stayed until the crowd went back to work. He stopped playing and looked at me and I got up and put a couple of notes in his cap.

He then said “Hello, I’m Sammy and you’re the geezer who helps people get council flats. You’re a bit of a legend on the streets.”

I laughed, “I’m no legend, just a guy doing a job” and sat on the ground next to him. We chatted for a while and I then asked if he had eaten anything lately.

He looked in his cap, “Maybe some fish and chips tonight.”

“How about some fish and chips now, my treat, and we can talk some more. It’s been a long time since I’ve spoken to someone with original ideas.”

He packed up his guitar and swag and we strolled to the chippy, walking back to the park with our bags. We sat on a knoll and looked over the park while we ate and talked and, by mid-afternoon, we had both realised that we were soul-mates.

I asked him if he had somewhere to doss and he shook his head.

I smiled, “Look, I’ve a decent flat with a spare room and a camp bed. You’re welcome to doss with me, no strings and no attachments.”

He returned the smile at that and I led him to my council car. At my flat he put his stuff in the spare room and then we walked to the pub for a light tea with a drink or two.

That is how it started, my time with Sammy. He was a delight to know, friendly to everyone and generous with his time once I had given him the space to grow without having to eke out an existence.

He was thoroughly gay and had many friends in the gay world. He introduced me around as his friend and always emphasised the ‘friend’ part when anyone thought ‘boyfriend’.

He introduced me to gay clubs where I was among so many weirdos my own hidden weirdness no longer bothered me. One night he saw a flier for a drag fashion contest and suggested that I entered it, my feminine looks and still flawless skin making it easy.

I had never told him about my time as Georgina but I did hanker for the feeling of softness and grace that I had experienced all those years before.

I did some shopping in actual shops and a bit on the internet and, on the night of the show, I spent much of the afternoon getting ready.

I walked out of my room as an older Georgina, standing tall on my three inch heels in a sequined dress and a blonde wig. I had not forgotten my skill at make-up and still could do the voice.

I called, “Sammy, dearest, I’m ready,” and when he came out of his room his jaw dropped. Needless to say, I won the contest hands down and Sammy surprised me afterwards by telling me I was gorgeous and giving me a full-blown kiss, much to the delight of his friends. We then proceeded to spend the prize-money with drinks all round.

After that I would sometimes dress again for him and we would go out to the pictures or pubs looking like a couple. I did get some more normal clothes to wear so that I didn’t stand out as a vamp in ordinary society.

My work knew nothing of this and I really didn’t care if they found out. We talked about everything and anything; laughed a lot; went on holidays together and generally did everything together except sleep.

I got him gigs where he could play to an audience and his music blossomed, he even wrote his own songs and got a good following locally. I was living happily with someone I cared about and we remained the best of friends until he died.

We had close to thirty years together, sharing a flat but never a bed. I did get him a better bed of his own, though. He sometimes stayed out for a few days ‘getting a bit of rough’ and that was his eventual downfall, coming down with HIV in his fifties. He didn’t last long and I was by his side as he died.

His last words to me were, “Thank you, good friend.”

Once again I was filling bags to take to the charity bin. I kept his guitar with his name on. I had been losing weight for some months and, when the doctors saw me with Sammy in the HIV ward, they suggested that I get checked over myself, thinking that I may have been his sexual partner. That’s when they discovered something else.

It took a few days for all the tests to come back but they called me at my office and made an appointment for me to see a specialist. He sat me down, told me that I was lucky and there were no signs of HIV or ant STD’s in my system, that being something I already knew. He then told me that he wanted me to go into hospital for an ‘exploratory operation’ because they suspected that I may have cancer.

I checked with my work and found that I had enough holidays and sick leave to take me to my sixtieth birthday. I discussed the situation with my manager of the time, having worked for three of them in my time in the office.

He spoke to the upper management and HR and it was decided that I could take all of the time I had accumulated and put in my retirement papers immediately. There wasn’t an office party for me as I cleared my desk and walked out, but a week later some of my clients had heard and put on a street party for me where I got tipsy.

A week later I was back in the hospital and being prepped for the operation. What worried me was that they had suggested I write a letter with instructions regarding my property and leave it with my lawyer ‘just in case’.

When I did wake up again I was bandaged and had tubes but it wasn’t long before those tubes came out and I was able to move about. The specialist came to see me and gave me the news.

I had cancer, some of which they had been able to remove and some which they couldn’t without leaving me a cripple. It had been in my liver but also my bowel and lower spine.

“Look, I’ll be blunt. What you have is inoperable,” he said, “You have about six months to a year, maybe two if you’re lucky.”

Two weeks later I was discharged, spent a couple of days contemplating my fate and then walked into the city to a notorious road junction. That’s where I walked out into the path of a very quiet electric bus.

Part 6 You Don’t Always Get What you Want

I had expected to open my eyes again at either the Pearly Gates or, perhaps, having a shovel thrust into my hands so I could stoke the fires of Hell. But no, once again I woke to find a nurse looking down at me and smiling before going off to find a doctor.

“Bugger” I thought “Foiled again!”

I took stock of my situation. Once again I realised that the lower half of me was heavily bandaged and that both legs had full casts on, as did my hips. I knew that I must have a few cracked or broken ribs by the way it was difficult to breathe. My left arm was also in a partial cast but, as far as I could tell, I was perfect above the neck.

The doctor came by, told me that I must look where I was going in future, took some readings and then sat beside my bed to give me today’s wonderful news.

It seemed that I had been lucky again because the bus I had walked in front of was one of a new fleet with ultra-modern pedestrian safety equipment. Sensors had picked up my being in its path and automatic braking had occurred.

He smiled as he said that the only people hurt by the sudden stop in the bus were those not wearing the supplied seat belts.

As far as I was concerned, the front of the bus was one gigantic air-bag that deployed so saving my life.

One thing that had not shown up in tests, though, was that the explosion of the air-bag would throw me into the intersection where I was hit by a passing truck which, unfortunately, had no such safety measures.

He reeled off my injuries – broken legs in several places, broken pelvis, broken ribs and one broken arm. He then told me that I may be lucky to be out of hospital before the cancer got me but he wouldn’t bet on it.

When he left me I decided that if I was going to die in this bed it would be all right. One thing I had not done was tidy up my affairs before I ‘inadvertently’ missed seeing the bus.

I lay and thought for a long time, well, there wasn’t much else I could do. All input and output was carried through tubes and I was in a private room. I thought that they would put me with some other geriatrics later on, maybe in a palliative care ward so that we could all die close to the lift down to the morgue.

I just thought about my life and realised that I had actually been pretty lucky most of the time. Georgina had been an absolute poppet and Sammy lit up my life for the longest time. I did have a lot to be thankful for.

When I was a little more able I asked the nurse if she could bring in a phone and my wallet. She helped me extract the card I wanted and then rang the number for me.

I called the law chambers and, when I got through, asked to speak to the man who was holding my ‘final note’. When he answered I asked if his office could organise some things for me, seeing that I was unlikely to see the outside world again.

He made notes as I gave him a list of things I wanted brought in to me, mainly my tablet and some personal items. I asked that if someone came to the hospital I would give them the key to my flat.

I then asked if they could clear the flat and put all of the clothing and appliances that were mine into storage, to be sent to auction or the dump after I am gone. I did say that the person doing the clearing needed to be open- minded as there were some things not normally found in a single man’s wardrobe.

If he prepared the paperwork I would sign to give his office power of attorney to pay and receive accounts while I was bed-bound. I would give them the means to look after my account when the tablet was in my hands.

When one of their juniors came for the key I realised I knew him from one of the gay clubs. He smiled when he saw me and wished me well. I felt a lot easier when I gave him the key to the flat and told him that there was a lot of clothing that he had met me in that needed to be culled from my stuff before it went to storage.

I told him to take it to the club and give it to the management to give to the drag queens, as I wouldn’t be wearing it again.

Before he left he took hold of my good hand and told me that he was proud to help me as I had helped a lot of people in the past and that he had loved Sammy like a brother.

By the time he came back with a small bag of the things I had asked for I had been moved into a small ward with other dying men. What was interesting was their chatter that belied their predicament.

When the lad came with my tablet and the paperwork to sign I powered up the machine and gave him the numbers and password of the two accounts I normally used.

He told me that there was a trust fund set up for my affairs which would take the bond money when it was paid and then he said that the female outfits and accessories had gone down very well at the club.

It was then I realised that some of the jewellery had been the stuff left by Georgina and could have been worth a bit. Oh well, water under the bridge, as they say.

With that sorted I could rest easy. My affairs would be finalised and my funeral would be organised, not that many would be coming.

I then got caught up with the general chat with the other guys and the days passed fairly easily. One day they were talking and one of the chaps said that his son had sent him a clipping about an experimental procedure that a private clinic was doing.

He was amazed that they would even consider it. They had perfected all sorts of replacement surgery, from fingers to arms or legs, hearts, livers, kidneys, the lot. This was an operation to swap brains.

I asked to read the article and was immediately struck by the concept. My body was shot but my brain was good, or so I thought. It wouldn’t be once the cancer had worked its way up my spine, though.

I powered up my tablet and sent an email to the clinic, asking them if it was possible to be added to the waiting list but saying that I may only be on it a few more months. They answered the next day, telling me that there was no waiting list as such.

The operations were so expensive to do they needed to have a person who could donate the money as well as someone with a brain to spare.

I sent back my big question “If I had the money, how much would they need and how long would I be waiting?”

The answer didn’t take long to come back. They wanted to know where I was and that someone would come and see me.

Two days later I had a visitor. He was young and fit and looked like he had just stepped off a surf-board to come and see me.

He pulled the curtains around us and turned on the radio before sitting very close to me and lowering his voice. He told me that he had requested my file and had come to the conclusion that I would be a perfect patient for his next operation.

He wanted me to know that the procedure had worked about fifty percent of the time in mice but the success rate after three attempts on humans was zero. He did say that he thought that they had worked out the reasons behind the failures.

He then tried to scare me off by explaining the overview of the procedure. I would need to be pre-prepped because the operation would start as soon as a viable body was supplied so I would be put into a coma as soon as I qualified and had the tests finalised.

That meant that I would be asleep and would have no say in my acceptance of the body they would match with my brain.

“It may be man, woman, short and fat or tall and skinny, black, white or anything in between,” he said, “The only thing you will know is that we will only start if all of the matches add up to a viable chance of success. You may wake even more of a vegetable you are now, that is, if you do wake.”

I told him that if I was going to die inside a year anyway going a few months early wouldn’t be a problem.

He sighed, “This is all very good but you can’t afford it and we’ll have to wait for a donation before we even start.”

I asked him how much he would want to start setting up and he quoted a figure and then sat back, thinking that I would now start crying. Instead I powered up the tablet and, for the first time in years, looked at the off-shore account we’d set up forty years ago.

Even expecting it to be good I was surprised by the amount in it and looking at the few inputs of interest recently showed it was doing very nicely.

“Okay, what’s your account number to take the money?”

He called his administrator to get the number, writing it down on a bit of paper and giving it to me.

I transferred the amount plus a bit more to ensure that I would be ready to go. We waited until his phone rang and he was told that the money had gone in.

He shook my good hand and said “Thank you for that. I hope you don’t live to regret the donation, no, make it that I hope you live to appreciate the donation because if it goes wrong we’ll be burying you.”

After that things moved very quickly. I was carefully transported in a private ambulance to the clinic where they made sure that I could be worked on.

Blood tests and a very fine scan MRI of my head showed that I still had an unimpaired brain and that the cancer was still some way away.

I asked them to set up a trust fund in my name that could be transferred to whoever I became, that was if I lived. I signed that if I didn’t live the amount should go towards future operations.

I then emptied the off-shore account and the bulk of my savings. I put it all in the trust fund.

I had started this journal while waiting to die in the other hospital. It was a way to pass the time in a bed with just one hand available, luckily my writing hand. I had asked for a notebook and biro and wrote the above during the long days.

It was sad to wake up and see an empty bed with the nurses putting new sheets on in the morning. We all used to lift our orange drink glasses with breakfast and toast the one who had left us. We all knew that tomorrow we could be the one being toasted.

I put the following words right there at the start because they encapsulated my current situation post-bus.

“Every story has a beginning and an end. I rather expect that today is the day my story ends. Who knows, I may avoid the fate that awaits me and I’m able to carry on with my life.”

“It’s all in the lap of the Gods, or so they say.”

My last act with my old body will be to wind up this narrative and get a nurse to put it somewhere safe. Hopefully I might be able to start a new chapter, sometime in the unknown future.

I’m hooked up to live-giving machines and prepped to be put into a comatose state, to await my new body, should one present itself. That happens in about ten minutes. Whatever happens, it will be a last farewell to Lucky.

Marianne Gregory © 2022

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