Authors: Suchitra Chatterjee
Tags: #Zombie Apocalypse
I am no goody two shoes angel; I don’t see me as having much in common with anyone in the home, but I don’t believe in being rude about someone just for the sake of it.
I think my early dislike of Seb stemmed from that particular story though watching him I did find him a bit of a contradiction. He was rude to his fellow residents, yes, and he often used words I didn’t like at times, but if Stevie asked him to fix his earphones, he would do it, he set the SKY up to record everyone’s favourite programs, and he often helped fix small problems with other resident’s wheelchairs if needed. Like I said, Seb was a real contradiction, along with being unpredictable.
Paul loved to read, and watch the documentary channels on SKY. His passion was anything to do with the universe, from quantum physics to space travel.
“She had to go into town with Gregory,” I said, making sure he could see my lips moving. My hands moved to form the words as I spoke. I handed him a wet flannel, then took his bowl of sick off him to empty it down the toilet. I rinsed it out with the shower head. Thorncroft is nice that each room for its residents has its small on-suite bathroom, toilet, sink and shower. It gives you a sense of having your own space though you have to eat your food in a communal area.
I gave Paul his sick bowl back along with a fresh clean flannel and the bottle of cold water. His face was grey and pasty. The treatment he had been having had taken a lot out of him. He should have been in a hospice really, but his family had persuaded Thorncroft to keep him for another month before the inevitable happened, and he became too ill to stay where he was. They wanted him to have continuity for as long as possible. Like Phoenix, Paul didn’t handle change well. He had been in Thorncroft since he was 18 and he was settled. He was also dying.
“Can you put my TV on?” he asked me. Like Phoenix, Paul watched a lot of TV.
“The satellite dish is on the blink,” I said automatically.
He grimaced, then asked me to put a DVD on for him, which I did. I didn’t choose a Zombie film. I then helped him get comfortable, and went and got him some ice for his bottled water. His room was dark, how he liked it and on Adag’s instructions, I took some tablets into him and watched as he took them.
I closed his door softly behind me leaving him staring at the flickering captioned images on his screen opposite his bed, for the moment oblivious to what was going on beyond his own room.
Adag was busy in the kitchen, making snacks for the others. Mitch had gone back to his garage and I saw everyone was still engrossed in the Wizard of Oz.
I didn’t know what Seb and Phoenix were doing, but I didn’t really want their company right at that moment. I slipped out of the building and made my way to the bench under the tree. I sat down, pressed my palms on the grainy wood, and turned my face upward toward the innocent blue sky. How lovely it looked I thought, how ordinary, a late afternoon on a Sunday in the quiet grounds of a residential home.
My life was made up of endless routines in a world that was structured around my disabilities. My leg throbbed so as to make me aware of my physical limitations and I pushed at the leg brace so it was in a more comfortable position.
I could live independently in my secret opinion, but Social Services obviously thought otherwise, and because I felt safe under their care however disparate and indifferent it might have been at times, I had gone along with it and not fought them. I had played a part in my own gilded incarceration whereas Seb had been forced kicking and screaming into a world that inhibited and enraged him.
We were different ends of the spectrum I thought, both a product of an environment that didn’t truly value our individuality. We were inspirations when we did something that was perceived to be extraordinary, but if we didn’t inspire admiration, then we inspired tolerance of something that had to be endured.
It wasn’t so bad I supposed for those with learning disabilities where their world was set out in a certain way as to what they could or couldn’t do. I thought of Jasmine, Stevie and Cassidy, the common thread they shared was they had learning disabilities, but even they weren’t the same, even I could see that.
Thorncroft at least took a holistic approach bringing together different disabilities and it worked, primarily because it was not a big home and also because it was private and had money to make sure it worked reasonably well. I remembered my last placement, and shuddered, now that was a place that did not work and no one noticed because after all, the majority of the residents had issues that Social Services were simply not equipped to deal with due to lack of funding.
I heard a twig snap and turned my head.
It was Mitch. He smiled at me and pointed to the bench. I nodded my head and he sat down. He was holding a box of cigarettes and a lighter in one of his hands.
“Don’t tell Adag,” he said as he cupped a hand around the cigarette in order to light it. I wondered if he knew that the Assistant Manager was always sneaking out of her office for a quick puff on a cigarette behind the water butt just outside the kitchen door.
We sat quietly, side by side for a few minutes, and it was Mitch who broke the silence first.
“I don’t think it’s good,” he said.
I didn’t pretend not to understand him, “What do you think has happened?” I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders, “Could be anything, but its big whatever it is, I might be an old fart, but even I know whole communication systems don’t go down all at once,” he looked directly at me, “Someone obviously pulled a switch, a bloody big switch.”
I frowned, “You think it was done on purpose?” I said.
It was his turn to nod his head, “For whatever reason, I don’t think Gregory and Shannon should have gone into town.”
“Why didn’t you say so?” I said.
“Because they would have gone anyway,” Mitch replied and I couldn’t argue with that.
“Do you think we are safe here?” I don’t know why I asked that question, but I did.
Mitch shrugged his shoulders, “It as good a place as any, set back from town, in a dip, a road going one way and nature going the other, hills are good protection, especially ones that man hasn’t messed with,” his eyes moved to the land behind Thorncroft, rich and green and free of man’s taint, “We’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?” Mitch finished smoking his cigarette and then stood up, “I’m going to get the coach ready,” he said, “Just in case.”
I watched as he walked away, he didn’t look back and I found myself getting up and heading back to the dining room where Adag was giving out snacks along with glasses of fresh orange juice, which she insisted everyone drink.
“I’ve had orange juice already,” Jasmine objected, but Adag made her take the glass and drink the contents. The girl grumpily drank it and made a face.
“It tastes funny,” she said.
“It smells funny too,” Eden began as she sniffed her drink
“It’s concentrated that’s why,” Adag said briskly, “Cassidy would you like a big glass of juice?”
Cassidy’s eyes lit up and he eagerly accepted the large pint glass of thick yellow liquid along with two chocolate biscuits. He gulped down the liquid and munched on the biscuits. This was a treat indeed and he was delighted.
“Why don’t you go and have a lie down?” Adag said to the big teenager, “You can put a DVD on in your room if you want.”
Cassidy couldn’t believe his luck, he wasn’t normally allowed into his room until bedtime, being kept active and busy all day so that he didn’t just lie around and eat. He happily trotted off and Adag turned to Jasmine and Eden, she smiled at them and said, “Just this once you can have a sleepover with each other!”
The two girls squealed in delight. They were always begging Adag to let them have sleep overs in each other’s room, but Adag very rarely allowed it as they had a tendency to be noisy and end up scrapping best friends or not. The girls rushed off before Adag could change her mind.
Stevie refused the biscuits and orange juice. No amount of persuasion could make him touch the glass of thick pulpy juice. He glowered at Adag, still upset with her over what he saw as her keeping him from his family.
Adag was not normally so persistent about people eating and drinking unless it was a main meal. I noticed there were no beakers of orange juice set out for Seb, Phoenix or me.
“Stevie,” I said, “Shall we put one of your weight lifting DVD on the TV?”
Stevie’s almond shaped eyes swiveled to my face, I gave him a friendly smile, and added, “You can watch it on the big screen in here.”
His eyes instinctively moved to the large communal TV screen that had not long ago been showing the Wizard of Oz.
He licked his lips and I added truthfully, “I think it’s amazing you are training for the Paralympics.”
He puffed up with pride at my words, his angst with Adag momentarily forgotten, “I’m going to Tokyo,” he boasted which wasn’t a lie per se, he was in the running to represent GB in 2020 Paralympic Games.
Adag shot me a grateful look as he hurried off to get a DVD and as soon as he was out of earshot I asked her, “What’s in the orange juice?”
She didn’t lie to me, “Something to help them sleep,” she said simply, “Until we know what is going on, they will sleep until the morning, it won’t harm them.”
I actually understood her reasoning and Stevie soon returned, carrying one of his DVD’s and two of his rubber-coated exercise dumbbells that he liked to show off with. He had impressive muscles; he worked out every day in the patio area weather permitting. He was I suspected as strong as Cassidy was when the teenager was on the rampage, but Stevie was a lot more mellow than Cassidy, he very rarely lost his temper even when he was upset. Today was an unusual occurrence.
I put on the DVD and I offered him the juice and chocolate biscuits, which he willingly took off me. He sat on the sofa, taking a large mouthful of the liquid, his eyes glued to the TV. I was glad that he had big pillows behind him because when he fell asleep I could just cover him up with a duvet and leave him where he was.
Adag gave Paul a milder tranquilizer than the others, mixed in with his milky coffee that he liked in the late afternoon. She then went back to her office, telling me she was going to finish off her paperwork. There is nothing like routine to keep you calm and focused.
I made myself a cup of tea in the kitchen, drank it and then headed in the direction of my room. The door to Adag’s office was partly open and I saw her at her desk, her back to me. She had the office landline phone pressed to her ear and I heard her muttering, “Please pick up Pia, please…” it was obvious Pia didn't pick up because Adag slammed the phone down into its cradle with the words, “Bloody answerphone!”
Not wanting her to realise I was listening, I quickly moved away. As I limped by Phoenix’s door it swung open and Seb slid partly out of it in his wheelchair.
“Lucy,” he said and I turned. He jerked his head for me to enter Phoenix’s room. Instinctively I wanted to ignore him, to take refuge in my room, to my surprise he used Adapted Makaton, saying, “You have to see this.”
Phoenix was working at his computer; his uneaten lunch was still on his bed. He didn’t turn when Seb and I stood behind him, looking his shoulder.
The message in red was gone and a green screen with small white boxes was pulsating steadily as Seb’s fingers flew over the keys.
“Is the web back up?” I asked hopefully.
“No,” Seb said, “At least not the web as we know it,” I am no computer buff; I know how to operate one and surf the web.
“Phoenix’s hacked into the COBRA Defense system,” I looked at Seb with a look of bewilderment and Seb sighed, “It’s the government’s crisis centre in London, way underground, and its active.”
“So?” I said.
“COBRA is only active if something is happening, so whatever has happened they know about it, or their system would be dormant.”
I tried to get my head around what Seb was saying, “So what has happened?”
“I’m not in yet, another couple of layers to crack,” Phoenix’s voice was flat monotone, his fingers were flying over the keys so fast I couldn’t see what he was doing and it looked like nothing was happening on his screen as it was still green and white.
“We could into deep trouble for this,” I said feebly and Seb snorted.
“Somehow I don’t think that is going to happen anytime soon.”
We waited silently as Phoenix worked his Asperger’s magic and twenty minutes later the three of us were staring at a white screen, which was now split into 48 small red boxes that flickered gently in the darkness of Phoenix’s room. The red boxes whilst being individual in themselves made up a pattern that looked like a planet with a line running through it.