THE lift doors opened and out came Miriam straight into my room opposite. She carried two smart paper bags – one with my latest laundry, the other to carry away my forbidden stash of nicotine cartouches.

I had called her for help barely two hours earlier and she had simply said, ‘What time?’

And here she was; T-shirted and cool in three-quarter length trousers ready and happy to do my bidding because that’s what friends do.

I had been given similar warning that I was to move to Montauban’s large general hospital for four/five days of invasive tests I’m utterly dreading.

Without going in to the seemingly ever-increasing horror of it all, I had, after a discussion with my son, seen the logic of understanding the truth of what I’m facing and going from there in the fastest time possible.

He and his bilingual wife, had, with my permission, a lengthy call with the doctor and the die was cast but it was ultimately up to me as would be every stage thereafter.

I may be a coward but, sadly, a compos mentis one – not an easy combination I’m finding.

It took less than an hour from my giving the doctor the go-ahead to instigate tests to find the primary bastard, when I was told I was moving the following morning. Far, far too fast for me and I felt the bile rising and my breathing quickening and panicking.

Everything would be packed and taken with me.

Bugger, I immediately thought of my ‘spare’ sponge bag overflowing with the forbidden used nicotine containers from my electronic cigs. They had to be ditched but couldn’t be simply off-loaded in the room waste bin.

And the unopened ones had to be carefully concealed until I’d scanned the lay of the land of my new quarters.

God knows how I was going to nurse my wrecked phone and explain its importance all over again to unsympathetic healers of the body not the spirit.

Again, the bile rose as I thought of being unable to connect beyond my French bed, left with even more thoughts running marathons around my head. No, no, no, no, no.

Yet, at this time, I wanted no connection to friends – no explanation, no threat of tears destroying my fragile composure. The continuing pats and strokes from the aides were disturbing enough.

Instead I sent the despised round robin – cold, brief and to the point of what was more than suspected and said we’d talk when I could. That was all – kind words and sympathy might make it real and I couldn’t have that intruding on my nightmare.

No, I needed practical, pragmatic Miriam – she of sound action and scepticism where all medical matters were concerned. Someone who held out neither false promises, hopes and what ifs but concentrated on the here and now and what was needed she could provide.

And so, I sat as her capable hands divided my perfectly washed and pressed (by her) hospital wardrobe into small bag for the hopefully short days of tests and case to house the rest.

Even my underwear was piled in order, not scrunched into corners in my fashion. Pride in her work was evident in every sorted pile and I took my own calming pleasure from watching her, almost mesmerised by the lucidity of her movements.

The nicotine cases she’d so cleverly smuggled in were found and tipped into small plastic bags for home disposal; fresh ones removed from packs to take up the smallest space; sweet papers, old tissues, half empty cream tubes removed and pegs put on them to squeeze their last remnants. Empty medicine packets I’d left to one side on removing the contents, were crushed into cubes and disposed; plastic bags pleated over and over again for re-use.

In the end, as perfect as a concierge’s display, my two bags lay ready for collection. An empty large paper carrier bag awaited my toiletries and night clothes. All I had to add was the triple adapter and clutch tight to my computer and phone.

A box had been provided for the phone to fit it snugly, nestled in strong tissues. I just had to pray that the battery which drains within minutes would kick-start.

For her remaining time, she discussed the puny size of this year’s crops of sunflowers stunted by lack of water; the suffocating 90 degree heat we’re seeing in the shade; skimmed lightly over the future arrival of my son Pierce if the borders were closed.

She talked of the hours making her conserves and her 60 pots of ratatouille; and reconfirmed her vow not to travel beyond 40kms until the virus had been totally eliminated world-wide.

Her actions and words poured over me – soothing, comforting, timeless and took me for a while far from my troubles and fears.

I doubt that was deliberate on her part. Once again, she was simply Miriam accepting of the task in front of her, not rushing ahead to meet ones that may or may not come.

And once again after she left, I uttered a heartfelt thanks for her friendship and presence.

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