New Wings

The driver of Open Hearts seniors daycare centre waited outside the manager’s office. Smuel was always a few minutes early for appointments, that way he controlled time rather than the opposite. He watched sparrows hopping around the garden.

Zoe appeared. “Hello,” she said. “Are you waiting for Mr Amin too? He said to come at twelve, just before serving lunch.”

“Uh-huh. Twelve. I guess he’s seeing us both together.”

Zoe said, “Uh-oh. Do you think it’s about cutbacks? I’ve heard The Authority’s busted its budget and needs to slim down.” She wondered whether they were more likely to fire her and bring in pre-prepared food daily, or fire Smuel and use public transport to ferry clients. Or maybe they’d keep them both but reduce hours and pay. She would have to take a second job, as her Tom was injured and not working at present. And what about Smuel? It would be sad to see less of him. She loved their weekly shopping trips together for ingredients and supplies.

Mr Amin appeared, hurrying along. “Am I late? So sorry. No look, it is exactly twelve. I’m on time! You’re early! Ah, if only I ran a factory or a military, what a fine unit it would be. Well thank you for coming, I know you’re both busy. I wanted your thoughts on something. Please follow me.”

Mr Amin was excited, and even more impish than usual. He led them to a dirty white door beside the garbage area. Some pigeons fluttered away. “Do you know what this is?” he asked, looking at them in turn and grinning. They assumed it was a store room or mechanical room. “It is our second wing.”

“What do you mean?” said Smuel. “Second wing? Like the wing of a house?”

“Yes, yes, come and see.” He unlocked the door and led them in. Darkness spread around them, and the only light was from the doorway behind.

“What is this place?” said Zoe. “Is it a store room?” She stepped forward.

Mr Amin called, “Oh, watch out! There are steps there. That’s it, be careful.”

Smuel said, “Do you have a flashlight Mr Amin? Shall I run and get one? Okay, I’ll be back in a minute.” He came back with three torches. “Here, one each. You can never buy singles of anything now. These were three for the price of one at the hardware.”

“Let me show you around,” said Mr Amin. He led them down the hallway into a series of big rooms, small rooms, bathrooms, and store rooms, all of which were well constructed but unfinished.

“This place is huge,” said Smuel. “Why have we never used it? Is there a legal issue?”

“We are both lucky and unlucky,” said Mr Amin. “Our Centre was built originally as an eight thousand square foot mansion, but the owners had financial troubles and sold it before moving in. Swans began nesting in the ornamental lake which complicated things with the wildlife people. When Open Hearts bought it at auction we didn’t know that there was an additional eight thousand square feet of basement extensions. The previous owners had built them secretly to get around building regulations and then sealed them up, so they couldn’t be mentioned in sale particulars. Even The Authority doesn’t know about them. So that’s what makes us lucky and unlucky. We have this space but can’t do anything with it.”

“Why not?” said Smuel. “It exists already. It’s a fait accompli. Why can’t we use it?”

“Well, it’s more space than we need. If The Authority hears about it they may reduce funding, or change zoning, or make us move out.” Smuel said that they couldn’t do that. Mr Amin said that they were The Authority and could do anything they pleased. He added, “Actually we would need to spend $250,000 to make it usable. That’s not the issue though. You remember Mr. Daniel – the millionaire entrepreneur who visited last month? He is willing to donate these funds.”

Smuel and Zoe were bemused. This whole huge space beneath the Centre just sitting there. It was crazy not to use it. They said so to Mr Amin. He said, “It’s not that simple. Even if we did get The Authority’s permission, and funding from the millionaire, we’d have to think of the clients’ welfare. At present we have twenty to thirty people here daily. We know and love them individually. Making it bigger would dilute the group, and make it less personal. They may come here and still feel lonely. That’s not why we are here.”

Zoe said, “What about making this part residential? You know, rather than a day centre?”

Mr Amin thought about this and said, “Hmmm… yes, we could make it a nest rather than a garden. But right now our old birds fly here daily, it exercises their wings. It keeps them moving. If they lived here, then they wouldn’t have anywhere else to go.”

As they continued looking around the basement, they disturbed a nest of swifts that swirled around the rooms in darkness and then shot out of the door.

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