Like everyone else, my life is full of moments of waiting – at the doctor’s or dentist’s, at a bus or train station, for a flight, for my loved ones! Ideal times for writing, right? Not for me. I find it very difficult to write creatively unless I know I have a good long chunk of time ahead when I know I will not be disturbed. This is partly because, I have to admit, it takes me so long to settle down to writing, but also because I need lots of time to lose myself in my story. And how can I let go and sink into the story when I have to watch the time or listen for a flight or train number or for my name to be called? But what a waste of good writing time!
I used to travel a lot for work and couldn’t bear not to use the hours of waiting in airports and hotels for writing. I tried to train myself to shut off and write but it just didn’t work. Eventually I discovered how to ‘write the moment of waiting’. Down I sit, whip out my notebook and pencil, and off I go.
I’m not concerned with producing a story. I am simply describing whatever is around me, what I see, hear, smell, taste, touch. Movements, chance snippets of conversations, strange sounds, curious interactions…
I write even if – especially if – there seems nothing particularly interesting to write about. It’s surprising what one notices once the obvious has been written down.
Sometimes I’ll see a story later in what I’ve written, other times, unexpectedly, a story starts by itself. Occasionally a detail will turn up months later in a story I’m writing. Usually though, these bits and pieces simply stay in my notebook, a record of a fleeting moment in time. The benefits? Time zaps by, and the sheer pleasure of observing in detail and writing is tremendously energizing.
What do you write about when you are waiting?
The wall I’m facing is egg yolk yellow. The long counter ends on the right side with a Perspex window. A tall, very elderly, very bony, man is bent over, looking through it.
What is this? he asks.
A woman’s voice comes from behind the window, first in French then, louder, in English. La première fois? First time?
What is this? he asks. His accent is heavy. Maybe Russian?
The sign for the washrooms has been stuck crooked on the wall. A name is called. No response. Good, I think, someone’s given up and gone home. All the better for me. But then a woman in a huge winter coat and stovepipe green and yellow striped hat gathers her big bag to her chest, leans forward and with great effort and a groan, rises from her seat.
Been here before? the bony man asks the woman through the window. What is this? He holds out his hands in a Hollywood shrug.
The buzzer goes.
Theresa, calls the technician, appearing in the doorway to the right of the window. Two women stand up. What’s your name? she asks them.
Theresa, says one.
Lydia, says the other.
No, says the technician, I ask for Theresa.
But I’m number 29, says Lydia.
I go by name, says the technician.
I am number 34. This is going to take a while, although I’ve never seen the blood clinic waiting area so empty. The sound of a toilet running is beginning to drive me crazy. I wonder whether I should go and see if I can reset the ballcock but then realize the hissing is coming from a huge, grey metal grill on the wall. A dusty grill. A very dusty grill.
A loud voice speaks, fills the room. We all look around. OK, says the voice. Now listen. There’s a folder on her desk.
Madame Lydia, calls the technician.
First time? the bony man asks. What is this?
A woman comes out through the door beside the window. You have to go to the fourth floor, she says to the bony man. She holds up four fingers. He does too, and they nod at each other. They both hold up four fingers and nod.
Over the intercom, a call for Cedric.
A man with a pale eye patch is taking photos of the waiting room. He starts with the view to his left and continues, each photo a few centimeters further to the right. He takes photo after photo. He closes his camera. And then he died, he says to the man next to him, a small man with long white hair, steel grey sideburns and very black eyebrows.
A bald man sits down in the chair directly in front of me. He has a deep vertical indent and scar at the base of his skull. I try to look away.
The technician calls a name. The man with the patch gets up, answering in Italian. They disappear through the door, chatting merrily. Those of us still waiting smile at each other.
Are you Italian? I ask the technician when my turn finally comes.
No. From Iran, she says. Now make a tight fist.