Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Song of the Nightjar

A man of letters with a priestly calling, a linguist, a wartime intelligence officer, a head of Oriental Studies of a prestigious Institution, a kindly man, a friend when in deed.
Visiting this friend, my tutor of years ago, my champion in a Church Authority dispute — a saviour who was never judgmental in his self-appointed task of rescuing me from the destructive forces cast against me — I was pleased to see he was awake and reasonably alert when spoken to.
The nursing home where he resides is one of the best — if not THE best — in the whole of South Cumbria. At least, that is my opinion from having visited quite a few in our local area.
Standing in its own wooded grounds by the seashore, the home is divided with the more vulnerable in a secure area. It was to this area reached by a long corridor, having walked through the impressive entrance of this beautiful country mansion, that I made my way.
I pulled up a chair, smiled, and gave him a greeting, “Hello, Geoffrey. Nice to see you. Don’t suppose you will remember me though. Years ago, you used to be my tutor.”
I took a photograph from my bag and put it on the table in front of him. I pointed to the figures.
“This is me — Gladys. This is you with me beside you. We were taking a service together at Dendron Church.”
He looked at the photograph. Wrinkling his brow, he said, “That’s me?”
Even while I explained our relationship his mind was wandering.
I thought I heard him say, “I’m a Nightjar.”
Oh dear, how should I answer that?
I didn’t. Partly because I thought I must have misheard him. I smiled and chatted some more about how he had been my tutor, how we had ministered together, and various ways he’d helped me.
But he repeated, “I’m a Nightjar.”
“A Nightjar?”
“A Nightjar. Do you know I’m a Nightjar?”
“No,” I said truthfully. What made him think he was a Nightjar?
“I can sing I’m a Nightjar.”
What a relief. Now I understood. “Really? I’ve never heard that song.”
“Would you like to hear me sing it?”
“Yes please.”
And so he lustily sang a song I had never heard of, nor have I been able to find on the Internet.
He ended with ‘Not going Nightjarring amore’ followed by the chorus.
The rest of the residents barely noticed. I guess it made a change from ‘White Cliffs of Dover’ coming at them from the audio system.
“It really is lovely to see you so cheerful,” I said most sincerely. For indeed, with his wife dying just a month or so earlier, and frustrations he must endure from lack of brainpower, it would be understandable to find him depressed. My own mother, who died twenty years ago, suffered severe depression along with her dementia — to the extent that she would have me constantly in tears because of my inability to bring her relief from her suffering. Of course, Geoffrey didn’t know me any more than my mother did.
He looked at me. “Cheerful? Of course I am. We have to keep cheerful, especially in company. Aren’t you always cheerful?”
“Not always, but I try to be in company.”
He gave me another rendition of the Nightjar song. I loved it. To be truthful I could not stop tears forming in my eyes.
The assistant brought over the mobile phone. Geoffrey gave his caller the pleasure of hearing “I am a Nightjar…” a couple of times over.
Eventually, I put my redundant photograph back in my bag and, after chatting a little more, I said goodbye. He took my hand and, much to my surprise, lifted it to his lips — something he had never done before, at least, not to me, or to anyone else in my presence.
I smiled and said, somewhat coyly, “Oh Geoffrey, I’ll never wash that hand again.”
Then I saw it — that familiar smile that made his countenance glow like that of a mischievous young man.
He half-laughed. “Oh, go on with you!”
And so I left the room, took a wrong turning, walked along several corridors until someone pointed me in the right direction.
But there had been no wrong turning in my visiting. It all went remarkably well. Sad indeed to find such a highly intelligent student of life reduced to sitting sleepily in a nursing home lounge devoid of his tools of learning, but how wonderful that he still retained much of the lighter side of his personality.

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