Sanjiva Wijesinha -writer and physician

Short stories, Travel and Health Information

The Departure Lounge

A “short short” story by Sanjiva Wijesinha

“Your flight is now ready for boarding. Please make your way to the departure lounge”: Announcement often heard at airports

I dropped in on one of my old patients last Saturday to leave a prescription that he needed. (Actually, I should not be describing Bert simply as ‘one of my old patients’. He is in fact a retired army officer and is one of my favourite patients – although in our usual meetings at the clinic I call him ‘Colonel’ and he calls me ‘Doc’.)

I discovered that I was not his only visitor that morning. As I climbed up the stairs I could hear several voices in animated conversation. There were five other men in the room, all of whom I had met at various times at Bert’s place. They are all veterans — former army officers of about the same vintage as Bert.

“Ah, doc,” exclaimed Bert, getting up from his chair to welcome me, “thanks for taking the trouble to bring the script over. Come and join us. Welcome to our ‘Departure Lounge’.”

At my quizzical look, he went on to explain. All the men there were his old mates — one had even been a primary school classmate — and all were in their early 80s.

“Every Saturday morning we get together at my place to chat, to reminisce, to talk about old times,” he explained “We are all now in the evening of our lives and are filling in the time available to us till we are summoned for our inevitable flights to the next world. So we call this meeting place the Departure Lounge.”

I must say it was certainly good company in which to spend the morning. These were men who had been born in the first quarter of the last century, men who had been schoolboys in colonial times and then served during World War II with Australian forces in England, North Africa or Europe. All of them had lived and worked overseas for part of their careers — with the Australian Defence Force or other agencies — and were now back enjoying their retirement in Melbourne.

Bert handed me a beer and I sat down to listen to the conversation. And what a fascinating morning it was. The conversation ranged from “And can you remember the time Major General Morshead told bloody Auchinleck …” to “Mate, what this young bloke Scotty should do now is …”

It was nice to hear the Prime Minister of Australia spoken of as “young”— but these were men who had been contemporaries of Gorton and Monash. In their time they had known politicians like Robert Menzies and John Howard, and felt themselves entitled by virtue of age and seniority to talk of today’s politicians as “young”. Bert’s mates were men who had moved with kings — or at least the military equivalents of kings — and during their time in uniform had been at the ringside of momentous events in history. Listening to their discussion was not only interesting but also — for a “young boke” like me — educational.

Their conversation reminded me of a line from Neville Shute’s book In The Wet: “Australia — it’s a quiet place, this — a place free from great excitements and emotions. It was a wonderful experience to go to England and get mixed up in great affairs. But when you’ve had the great affairs, this is a better place to be.”

It is a great privilege to grow old in the company of friends — like-minded individuals who have spent their childhood and youth in the same environment as yourself and shared similar life experiences. And they need not be friends who agree with you about everything (the conversations that morning evoked argument about such varied subjects as the havoc Corona has played with the 2020 footy season to the length of Donald Trump’s ties) but they should be friends with whom you can share a beer and a chat — and the privilege of expressing contradictory opinions in congenial company.

I felt privileged to sit in and share that morning with Bert and his friends, and I look forward to accepting their invitation to drop in again to see them in their Departure Lounge.

I hope their flights are delayed for a long, long time.

Information

This entry was posted on July 5, 2020 by in Health Matters, Short stories and tagged , .
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