Bingo with Gammy
“Man Alive number 5,” read Robert.
There was this sluggish scent of death that seemed to hang over Elstree bingo hall for the elderly; this scent would quite naturally mix with the stifling aura of over sprayed perfume the ensemble of chattering old ladies wore. At the front, the orchestra of ladies seemed to have picked up quite the crescendo, narrating to each other whose son had just become a partner at a big law firm and whose son had just had their 3rd baby. In direct contrast, the old men who appeared to be detached from their gossiping wives , could be seen , nay, heard quite audibly masticating away at the free selection of cheese and onion sandwiches and prawn cocktail crisps like snares accompanying the orchestra .
“Number 10 Gordons den,” deemed Rob.
I never liked games: neither Bingo nor Jenga, guess who or monopoly. I always thought of “Games”, in primary school, to be tailor made for those mentally challenged children as if pulling the last brick of a Jenga tower were a compensation for their lack of abilities to use commas and apostrophes. So, on Friday afternoon, after school, when I found out I had to play bingo with Gammy, I wasn’t enormously enthralled. Friday, of course, being the day before the weekend – as the palpable scent where students, teachers, janitors colluding with the lie that the weekend was going to be good, better, best, was most potent, where I could be slopping away at my dominoes whilst taking a bubble bath, like in one of those Julia Roberts movies, I’d be sat in a sticky old age home.
“Thee and me 33,” Roberts raspy Yorkshire accent boomed through the speakers, colliding of the forgotten walls of the hall.
I twiddle my thumbs: my eyes slicing through grey hair bobbles across the hall like cumulonimbus clouds; from pensioner to pensioner: Karen sits in her armchair while grunting Gareth stares intently at his bingo card, John attempts with saffron fingernails to salvage the last sliver of hazelnut chocolate from the Ferrero Rocher packaging causing the gold tin foil to fall like recyclable rose petals onto a bewildered cheese and onion sandwich below. And Gammy... Gammy was sitting to my right, lost in thought, a smile trickles as a delicate yet somehow weak, drying up canal running just about meandering through the wrinkles of her face: a smile her face seemed to have forgotten until it met my eyes.
“71 J- Lo’s bum,” proclaimed Robert with this sexual allure like that of a prostitute.
Gareth like a wolf grumbled back in anticipation, whistling through gaps in his teeth that his dentures could not cover. Gammy does not, she as stares with hollow hazel eyes loosely holding her special lilac bingo dotter that I got her for Christmas a few years which back still hasn't run dry, an unprecedented run of rotten bingo luck ? Or maybe like Robert's numbered cries, her memory is slowly dwindling away?
I point out in an enthusiastic whisper, though fuelled with this guilt ridden charade of happy to be here visits, the 71 on her untouched bingo card as I see her eyes flicker from the window to my lips, noticing their movement through her bug-eyed-glasses. A kind of weaker grin recapitulating.
“Tommy did I ever tell you how yours grandfather and I used to visit the bingo hall every Friday night?” She narrates while she stamps gently the single box. “You remind me of him … You have his eyes you know…”
I stared at her, lost for words, not in sympathy nor pity but guilt.
My eyes seem to stall, searching for words, in a vain attempt, capturing Gammy’s moss green jumper hand knitted in the 50s tucked into her off- white skirt which concealed a solitary napkin- a precaution in the event of a spillage, whilst her watch remained uncorrected since the clocks went forward four months ago as she wears grandad’s old tartan slippers.
“how did the hall look? did you win anything? what was he wearing? what were you wearing?” I probed attempting to make conversation.
“I don’t remember,” she muttered
“I’m losing my memory, Tommy ..after a while I may not remember who your grandfather was,” she paused. “Tommy, you will tell me this story again, won’t you?”
I nodded my head in silence stifled by the arising emotion I was beginning to feel.
“Love, why don’t you get me an ice cream from the cart over there?”
I oblige using this moment as an alibi for not being able to endure the heat of guilt that was beginning to burn inside of me as our conversation intensified. I hid my shame.
“Heaven’s gate 78,” declared Robert.
I sat down yielding two tubs of Ben and Jerries blueberry.
“Tommy,” said Gammy, “did I ever tell you about the first time I met your grandfather…
It was right here in this very bingo hall.”
I shook my head in silence, again. My eyes pricked.
“Grandmas gone to heaven 87 “read Robert.
“Bingo!” howled Gareth, a werewolf on a full moon night.