There weren’t many visitors to our ward and the Major was by far the most frequently visited patient. A small but steady stream of elderly women arrived to see him each week, bearing gifts, home baked or knitted, which he accepted with great charm. He was a handsome man and though he could no longer walk independently he still looked strong and healthy. Some of the women had worked for him at his school, others were mothers of ex-pupils who would always be grateful for the authority, kindness and dedication he had shown in caring for their boys all those long years ago.
He was able to maintain a fairly good facade having spent many years pleasing parents, enquiring politely about their exceptional sons, adeptly disguising the fact that he had no idea which boy’s mother they were. He treated each woman as if she were the finest, enfolding their small hands firmly in his strong and capable paw while they said their goodbyes, a flinty spark in his eye, a tear in theirs.
His passion for teaching was also still very much alive and after each visitor left he would sit in the corner shouting across the room in a commanding voice: “Repeat after me: Irascor, Irasci, jubeo, jubere, judico, judicare………..” The men around him, already confused and anxious, were plunged back into the misery of long forgotten school days and repeated in tremulous voices “Irascor, Irasci, jubeo, jubere, judico, judicare.”
Occasionally he would pick one of them out, frowning and pointing at him sternly, “you boy, out here now.” Sometimes they would try to get up, but none of them were able, so they sat fidgeting in their armchairs looking at one another helplessly or scanning the room for escape routes.
Whenever we had time we would go over and rescue them, take him away to some other bit of the day room, point him at the window for a while.
© Catriona Windle 2014