I turn left. I am greeted by the low hum of a wall light close to expiring behind its plastic exterior. There is a distinctive musty smell which penetrates my nostrils as we steadily descend the cold and colossal corridor. It is dark and damp. I think it may be mildew which I notice in patchy intervals, but I cannot entirely place it: it is entirely foreign to the fresh paint and uneconomical extravagance of the upholstery of the atrium we have just left.
As we progress further and the amount of light increases, I become aware that the walls which enclose us like sentinels are also peppered with mould and wear water stains as adornments. They will stand for generations to come and yet, will never know the sunlight. We move forward, without talking; it is stilted and awkward, I almost feel enervate.
I think back to the leather upholstery of the Range Rover and how it felt cool to the touch; suitably cooling on such a scorching hot day, although it had not been able to calm me or, in fact, offer any comfort at all. My hands had still felt clammy and my shirt was starting to dampen down my spine. The tinted windows had not allowed anyone to see in and yet it had not prevented me from noticing the stark contrast as we had driven out of the city and into the suburbs. I had noticed the children most prolifically: unkempt and wild. Their dirty faces a parody of city life. They stalked one another in their games of chase, wearing looks a mixture of determination, anger and will power.
And yet what had drawn my attention over everything else, so alien and foreign, had been that one white shirt hanging - amid a multitude of other items - in a backyard, the mirror of so many others.
A terror-fuelled shriek pierces the silence and dies as quickly as it came. We do not look at each other. We continue on towards our destination. We know that this does not concern us. And yet, the noise triggers a memory – one I had thought had been long since repressed, silenced by my shrink. It is a sound reminiscent of the one my mother wailed out one winter morning. It is the noise which had always preceded the image of my father’s limp and lifeless body, suspended by a rope attached to the rafters in our barn; a chair lying on its side.
I feel the stain of melancholy seeping through me as we approach the door. Sweating more profusely now I loosen my tie a touch and hope that it is not noticeable by both those around me and those who will watch. A man wearing a white coat, glasses and a clipboard exits the room, everything about him looking clinical. I think that he is the exact antithesis of this corridor, this place. He nods towards me knowingly, confirming that all is ready, before striding purposefully past us.
I think back to the church and my father lying in the open coffin. Neither the civilian clothes nor the smiling demeanour suited him. He was not the dad who once waved good bye from the bridge of a ship, bound for Vietnam; who had driven tanks through mine laden terrain and afterwards wore medals for official photographs.
We pause at the door which is swiftly swung open by a muscular and robust African-American who smiles at us faintly. Understanding flows between us and I acknowledge this as a signal to enter. There is no time to compose myself. There is no time to decide how I am to play out this scene. There is no time to even shift my weight. We enter.
The interior is brighter than the corridor and I have to squint a couple of times to adjust to the fluorescent tubes which glow oppressively from the ceiling. I adjust to the strange scene: on a counter to the left of me sits a heavy, metal bucket; beside it is a brimming toolbox; a pipe wrench -its handles coated in a blood red plastic, yet the thing which catches my attention the most is that small pair of tweezers.
I hear a sharp intake of breath and turn to face my objective. A chair sits minuscule amid the enormity of the room; its occupant shifts uneasily despite the bonds which brace him. And, as I do, I am hit by the realisation that my work is to be with, not a man, but a woman. Her shorn, short hair I misinterpreted to signal a masculine status.
But it is not my occupation to comment. Silence surrounds us again with his dark black cape; his companion, Death, stands to his left shoulder - sickening and vulgar – holding his scythe readily. An image only pierced by a hiatus of our breathing.
It is almost sad that these experiences I loathe, I detest with all my heart, are becoming easier to digest like the acquired taste of beer. It’s all part of the system.
I move over to the counter while the other men hover behind. I pick up a short and savage saw. I notice that she does not tremble as I come towards her. It would be easier if she did.
I ponder on the symbolism of the situation: I wonder if it really is the Free World’s struggle against the fanatical East. We have not even given a trial, however trivial. The case is closed: done.
Nervous adrenalin coupled with body odour invades my senses. I see the hands flex to tighten around the sides of the modified, hospital trolley. I exhale.
I signal for the man standing behind her to make her ready. Deftly, he fills the mouth with a white handkerchief and covers it in jet-black gaffer tape.
Now it is down to me. It is time for me to do my job. To earn the bucks, as they say.