The fifty hits the floor awkwardly, but its briefly accelerating metal form transfixes her. I’m crouched next to her, my face a breath away from her face, the clumsy square edges of the coin clanking below. Whilst I watch her, her own gaze tracks the coin to the skirting at the far wall where it spits back from the board and collapses. A little smile kicks into life on her face, which I reciprocate, because it is a smile intended for her father, to acknowledge this small, ephemeral gift of glistening silver. I walk over and retrieve the coin. I grip it tight and strike it hard against a soft belly of thumb. This indisciplined jolt jerks the coin violently, misfiring into the fleshy nook of my palm. I pick it out, steady finger and thumb once more and then again rip one against the other. It spins, fast, but it fails almost as quickly. And this time she is the one to gather it; her unclipped fingernails prising it from the speckled linoleum floor. A smile again, the tiniest stutter of a chortle. I pull my phone from my pocket, forgetting which pocket at first, finding it at the second attempt. No message. The time is 10.12pm. Battery is low. The fifty in her hand.
The tannoy must switch off after 10, since it hasn’t sounded for a while now. Peace, but also a fear that we have been cut off and forgotten. The tannoy was company; a link to other people, other functioning interconnected parts of this building. Even though I know only two or three minutes more could have passed I reach for the phone again, merely to confirm it. 10.14pm. I reassure myself that in six minutes’ time someone will have come for us. Just six minutes more to wait in this room. This room which has held us for the last sixty minutes. A room to wait in; for waiting; a room to which we have been sent and sentenced; a room with four walls, which compress a little bit more of my hope and strength with each passing minute. I resist the urge to look at the phone again. She is still gripping the fifty, passing it from hand to hand to rediscover its form in each. Through the glass, a light goes out across the courtyard, a bright magnolia window dips to black and the night becomes one rectangle more desolate.
There are five more coins in my pocket. I pull the weighty ones free first: two pound coins. Heavy, I punch them mid-air through a turnstile of fingers, one immediately after the other. They hit the linoleum at speed, and the first one has only just obeyed gravity’s call at the moment its pirouetting twin takes to the floor. Her beautiful hand comes to calm and claim both, her little breaths again, and a smile which lights all other aspects of her face. And I smile too, because once more we seem to have exchanged gifts. But then comes the cough, and the immediate wince and scream, and it’s as though all the circuitry fails at once, just as the bulbs had shown such brightness. Her face now the most twisted grimacing knot, her head thrown back, her body arched, her arms locked. It comes again and again, battering, repeating yet not quite completing, stealing her moment of happiness. She cries and I cry and the two heavy coins fall from her grasp to the floor, a descent for the first time that evening without ceremony. I lift her and she falls into that place where only your own child docks perfectly; her body into my shoulder, her legs wrapping slightly around my torso, her face pushed into my neck, her cheek embracing my own and her body heaves in pain. And I pace, and curse the phone and the room.
And time passes.
I find the concave button, push it and illuminate the phone display once more. 10.22pm. I place the phone back in my pocket, where it falls onto a bed of silver. Not even enough for a taxi home. But soon will come my wife, soon will come the doctor, soon will come rest. These are just minutes, minutes lengthened at the end of a day like shadows yielding to a setting sun. Tiredness extends these small fears in exactly the same way. I hear footsteps along the corridor. Through the glass, across the courtyard, two bright magnolia lights still show, oblong companions that mirror in miniature in my daughter’s eyes. Tiredness. She yawns and buries her face once more into my neck and presses her wet cheek against mine.