His name is Godfrey; it says so on his name tag. It’s a bit of a weird name, God-frey, as though the lord is cheap somehow. He hasn’t been working here long but already I can tell he’s not like the rest, all the other receptionists being women. He has this odd habit too of staring at patients, especially men as they wait in the stuffy, overcrowded waiting room before passing through the far wooden door to their respective GP. He hasn’t really looked at me, perhaps because I’m too young, but there’s definitely something wrong with him. We enter, Mum and I, even though I’m fine. It’s the summer holidays and for some unknown reason Mum won’t leave me home alone, so I have to come to the Doctors with her. It’s a personal matter, she tells me, but I’m still not sure what that means.
Surprisingly, the Doctor’s surgery is fairly empty and as we walk over to the counter I see Godfrey sitting there at his computer. His skin looks almost shiny today, polished to a peach sheen and his lips are poppy red as though he’s wearing lipstick. I turn away, afraid in case he catches me looking. Terry and Jake are huddled in the far corner, each with a parent. They indicate for me to join them.
“Mum, can I –”
“In a minute, love. I’m trying to get my appointment sorted out.”
Godfrey looks up from his computer and fixes me with his cold stare.
“Aren’t you a little fella?” he says, and laughs like a girl.
Mum shoots me a look as if to say this is all your fault.
It takes me a couple of seconds to register Godfrey’s overly-camp voice – I’m surprised he didn’t do the old limp-wrist thing.
“What seems to be the trouble partner?” he asks me. He emphasises this last word and I catch a few of the patients glancing over.
“Mum, everyone’s looking,” I say.
“Just keep quiet,” she hisses, and pretends to get something out of her handbag.
“Mmmm,” Godfrey persists. “Are we all better now? No more calling out.”
His eyelashes are ridiculously long and black, fanned out to perfection. They look pretty, too pretty for a man. I notice that his fingernails are shiny catching the gleam from the overhead lighting. He’s definitely wearing make-up because his face is several shades darker than his neck as though he’s smeared it with clay. My stomach churns as he winks at me. I tug at Mum’s sleeve, ignoring the glistening face of new recruit Godfrey.
“Can I sit down, pretty please?”
Mum rolls her eyes and nods.
“I’ll be over in a sec.”
I walk away from the counter feeling Godfrey’s eyes burning on the back of me. I sit down beside Terry and Jake. They nudge each other then turn to me.
“What was all that about? Between you and Gayfrey.”
“Sod off,” I say. “He’s called Godfrey.”
“Duh,” Jake says. “We know that.”
“Yeah and we also know he’s gay,” adds Terry. He does the limp wrist thing and pouts.
“Stop it,” I say. “He’s looking over.”
Terry stops and inspects his shoes instead. Jake’s mum is called in. We watch her go.
“So what are you up to this summer?” I say.
“Well we know what you’re up to,” Jake says.
“Woah, we won’t have any of that language in here,” Terry’s dad says, replacing the How to Quit Smoking pamphlet on the table.
“Sorry, Sir,” I say. “It won’t happen again.”
Then his name flashes up on the thin screen above.
“Right. You lot stay here. I won’t be long. And no more swearing.”
He shoots me a serious look before moving off. Mum is still stood at the front desk. She leans forward and points at the computer screen, while Gayfrey – I mean Godfrey – shakes his head.
“Have you seen them,” Jake asks pointing to the edge of the counter. A gaudy diamond patterned vase stands near to the self check-in, full of flowers.
“What are they?”
Terry stifles a laugh before saying, “Don’t you know what pansies are?”
“Are they pansies?”
“Course they are. Anyone’ll tell you that.”
The pansies are lovely and bright; pinks, purples, oranges and yellows which seem awkward in the ugly-looking vase.
“Don’t think much of the vase,” I say. “Do you know whose it is?”
Terry and Jake shrug.
“There was never a vase before Gayfrey turned up. It’s probably his.”
“Are the flowers his?”
I didn’t ask them how they know this. They both sound confident.
“Richie,” Mum calls. “I’ve got to go and see the nurse. Now you be good and I’ll be back soon.”
Now we are parent-free and strangely the only ones left in the waiting room. I am about to ask where everyone has gone when Terry and Jake begin to laugh.
“Who employed him?”
“Probably another pansy –”
Again, they erupt with laughter.
“Gayfrey the pansy. Gayfrey the pansy.”
“What are you boys going on about?” Godfrey asks, his eyes fixed squarely in our direction. “I have to warn you that you should be quiet whilst in the waiting room.”
“Why?” Jake says. “There’s no-one else in here.”
“Might I remind you what your mother said. About being good.”
They laugh, this time though it turns into a screeching cackle, a trace of malevolence starting to set in. I watch Godfrey’s face fall, his mouth turning sour as though having sucked a lemon.
“You heard us, Gayfrey.”
Terry and Jake are beaming, grinning stupidly as they watch Godfrey trying to hide his face behind his computer.
“You’re a pansy, Gayfrey. A pansy.”
I watch as Godfrey stands up, walks over to the wooden door and disappears.
“He’s going to fetch our parents,” I say. “And then we’ll be in trouble.”
“No we won’t. He’ll have to wait until the Doctor’s finished. That could take ages.”
Then they start to mess about, playfully punching each other in the arm.
“Screw you,” Jake says and begins to skip around the waiting room.
“Look at me, Terry. I’m Gayfrey. La-la-la-la-la. Ooh, this is me picking pansies.” He leans in and sniffs the flowers.
“Beautiful,” he grins.
Terry skips over to him.
“I wanna smell the pansies,” he says in a mock camp voice. But as he reaches the counter he misses his footing and strikes the surface hard with his arm. The vase topples over and crashes to the floor, sending a shower of brightly-coloured shards on to the carpet.
“Shit,” I say and get up. “Quick, where’s the bin?”
“Cool it, Richie. Gayfrey won’t be back for a while.”
“I’m not bothered about Gayfrey. What if someone else comes out like a doctor?”
Terry and Jake stop laughing.
Suddenly the wooden door opens and Godfrey gasps, clamping a hand over his mouth.
He breaks off.
“We’re really sorry,” I say.
Godfrey looks over and sees me standing in the corner while Terry and Jake are right next to the broken vase.
“You two,” he growls, placing his hands on his hips. “I should have known.”
And then before any of us can do anything, a doctor walks in and looks at the mess on the floor.
“What’s going on in here? What’s all this noise –”
“Er sorry, Dr Cartwright. I was just playing a game with the kids and I accidentally knocked over the vase. I’m really sorry, Sir. I’ll clean the mess up and I’ll replace the vase.”
Dr Cartwright studies each of our faces in turn.
“No you won’t,” he says. “Godfrey, I told you something like this was bound to happen. It’s too dangerous-”
“Sir, I’m really very sorry.”
“Just clean the mess up and get back behind the counter. You boys sit down and be quiet. This is supposed to be a waiting room.”
We nod and mumble our apologies. As soon as Dr Cartwright leaves, Godfrey looks at us.
“Thank you,” I say.
“Yeah,” Terry adds. “Thanks Gay-, Godfrey.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Jake says before sitting back down.
We spend the rest of our wait watching Godfrey – the strongest pansy I know – cleaning up the mess.