“Esther! It’s time we were leaving.”
The gentle insistent voice woke the old woman from sleeping. She saw a face that seemed familiar, eyes blue as the summer sky, dark curls nestling close to his head.
“Do I know you?” she asked,searching his face with a probing look.
“Oh, Yes, Esther,” his voice was warm, infused with a tenderness shared by those who loved each other deeply. “We have been friends for a very long time, you and I.”
He handed her a woollen dressing gown, deep red and soft, helping her to find the armholes. She was a small woman, fragile with age. She slipped pale feet into a pair of slippers beside the bed.
“Where are we going?” she asked, accepting his arm to help her up. Again she looked at his face, searching for something familiar, perhaps in the way he held his head.
“We’re going home, Esther.”
Esther felt a prickle of excitement. She knew this wasn’t home, although kind nurses had often assured her that it was. Home was somewhere else, a bus ride away, in a long street of terraces houses stretching up a hill. The sun shining on a small front garden with a lilac bush crouching in the corner next to a fence.
“Lombard Street,” the name surfaced and she spoke it out proudly, seeking approval from her companion.
“No, Esther, not Lombard Street.” He smiled at the memory of the street’s bustling life. “Lombard Street is long gone. In one of the wars. A bomb.” Sadness clouded his eyes for a moment.
“Oh yes, I remember now.” Her voice was a little clearer, a little stronger.
He nodded, pleased in some way. He opened the door and guided her into the hospital corridor.
They walked slowly, looking in at the open wards. There was a quiet buzz from a television with pictures flickering across the screen. Esther recognised a face among the patients, or thought she did, and waved. No one waved back.
They walked past the visitor’s sitting room. The door was open revealing a family. Two people sat close together, their knees touching, hands rubbing each other’s thumbs. Two children stood by the window, small fingertips tracing the erratic journeys of raindrops down the glass.
Esther let go of the man’s arm, drawn to the woman in the chair. She lightly touched her arm though it hardly registered.
“My poor dear,” Esther whispered, “I am sure that everything will be just fine. You just keep looking to Jesus. He will look after you and your little family.”
She returned to the man’s side and replaced her hand on his arm.
“I think I might know that lady. Hospitals can be such cold places. Everybody needs a word of comfort at times.”
“Yes, they do.” With that he left Esther leaning against the door and walked over to the couple. Crouching down beside them, he rested his hands on each of their shoulders. Esther was too far away to hear his words, but she noticed the hint of a smile that brushed over their faces.
He returned to Esther and the two of them continued to watch for a while. Realisation began to seep slowly into her mind. Esther did know the woman. How could she not know her daughter Jeanie? It was Jeanie, and her husband Mark. Thomas and Angeline, her grand children were standing by the window.
She opened her mouth to speak. Her companion’s hand was on her shoulder and she turned to him.
“They can’t see you, Esther. They don’t know yet. I thought you might want to say goodbye. It’s been such a long time since you have known who they were. But it’s time we were leaving.”
The painful struggle of being locked in the world of her past, stabbed Esther sharply, then eased away. Dementia had drowned her last years, confusing her, snatching away the present and painting everyone with the face of a stranger.
Esther looked at her companion, joy beginning to permeate her whole being.
“I do know you!” Tears sprung out from the corners of her eyes, which he wiped away with his gentle touch. “How could I have forgotten you, my Jesus?”
"I know. I’ve not forgotten you. Just as I promised I have come to take you home.”
“Home,” she echoed.