Chapter no 54 – No Longer Here

The Midnight Library

As soon as Nora entered Oak Leaf Residential Care Home, and before she’d even reached the reception, she saw a frail elderly man wearing glasses whom she recognised. He was having a slightly heated conversation with a nurse who looked exasperated. Like a sigh turned into a human.

‘I really would like to go in the garden,’ the old man said. ‘I’m sorry, but the garden is being used today.’

‘I just want to sit on the bench. And read the newspaper.’ ‘Maybe if you’d signed up for the gardening activity session—’

‘I don’t want a gardening session. I want to call Dhavak. is was all a mistake.’

Nora had heard her old neighbour talk about his son Dhavak before, when she had dropped off his medication. Apparently his son had been pushing for him to go to a care home, but Mr Banerjee had insisted on holding on to his house. ‘Is there no way I can just—’

He noticed, at this point, that he was being stared at. ‘Mr Banerjee?’

He stared at Nora, confused. ‘Hello? Who are you?’

‘I’m Nora. You know, Nora Seed.’ en, feeling too flustered to think, she added: ‘I’m your neighbour. On Bancro Avenue.’

He shook his head. ‘I think you’ve made a mistake, dear. I haven’t lived there for three years. And I am very sure you were not my neighbour.’

e nurse tilted her head at Mr Banerjee, as if he was a confused puppy. ‘Maybe you’ve forgotten.’

‘No,’ said Nora quickly, realising her mistake. ‘He was right. I was confused. I have memory issues sometimes. I never lived there. It was

somewhere else. And someone else. I’m sorry.’

ey resumed their conversation, as Nora thought about Mr Banerjee’s front garden full of irises and foxgloves.

‘Can I help you?’

She turned to look at the receptionist. A mild-mannered, red-haired man with glasses and blotched skin and a gentle Scottish accent.

She told him who she was and that she had phoned earlier. He was a little confused at first.

‘And you say you le a message?’

He hummed a quiet tune as he searched for her email.

‘Yes, but on the phone. I was trying for ages to get through and I couldn’t so I eventually le a message. I emailed as well.’

‘Ah, right, I see. Well, I’m sorry about that. Are you here to see a family member?’

‘No,’ Nora explained. ‘I am not family. I am just someone who used to know her. She’d know me, though. Her name is Mrs Elm.’ Nora tried to remember the full name. ‘Sorry. It’s Louise Elm. If you told her my name, Nora. Nora Seed. She used to be my . . . She was the school librarian, at Hazeldene. I just thought she might like some company.’

e man stopped looking at his computer and stared up at Nora with barely suppressed surprise. At first Nora thought that she had got it wrong. Or Dylan had got it wrong, that evening at La Cantina. Or maybe the Mrs Elm in that life had experienced a dierent fate in this life. ough Nora didn’t quite know how her own decision to work in an animal shelter would have led to a dierent outcome for Mrs Elm in this life. But that made no sense. As in neither life had she been in touch with the librarian since school.

‘What’s the matter?’ Nora asked the receptionist.

‘I’m ever so sorry to tell you this, but Louise Elm is no longer here.’ ‘Where is she?’

‘She . . . actually, she died three weeks ago.’

At first she thought it must be an admin error. ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Yes. I’m afraid I am very sure.’

‘Oh,’ said Nora. She didn’t really know what to say, or to feel. She looked down at her tote bag that had sat beside her in the car. A bag containing the chess set she had brought to play a game with her, and to keep her company.

‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I didn’t . . . You see, I haven’t seen her for years. Years and years. But I heard from someone who said that she was here . . .’

‘So sorry,’ the receptionist said.

‘No. No worries. I just wanted to thank her. For being so kind to me.’ ‘She died very peacefully,’ he said, ‘literally in her sleep.’

And Nora smiled and retreated politely away. ‘at’s good. ank you.

ank you for looking aer her. I’ll just go now. Bye . . .’

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