Sean was delighted to finally leave the hospital. It had taken some planning of course. Adjustments had to be made to his house and a home help was organized to help him keep the house clean. He quickly accepted that from now on, he would only be living in the bottom half of his house. Upstairs would henceforth, be only a place of his memories.
His life was still far from the ideal of course. At least he had a downstairs toilet, as small as it was but no shower. It would be difficult to keep himself presentable. Then for a few weeks, there was the boredom. He had nothing to get up for in the morning and worried that the Gardai would be unable to find a position for him. He couldn’t see any chance of anybody else giving him a job and he needed some purpose to fill his day.
Occasionally when it looked like it would remain dry, he would venture out into the outside world. It was a struggle to push his wheelchair around the neighborhood and it wasn’t long before he knew where all the ramps to get on and off the footpaths were and were not, something that he had never thought about before. His hands would be sore on his return though so he only went out once a day at most.
Sometimes the kids would point and ask their parents questions when they saw him. That used to happen when he was in uniform too but this felt different and his heart now felt crushed every time.
The questions now were –
What happened to him?
Was he born that way?
The parents would hurriedly tell them to be quiet but the damage was done. Sean knew that this was something he would just have to get used to.
But there were positive reactions too. Some of his neighbors made an effort to get out of their cars and houses to come and tell him how happy they were to see him make a recovery. It warmed his heart, much more than he would have ever thought possible to know that members of his wider community were rooting for him.
After a few weeks, he grew anxious to see a bit more of the world than his immediate locality. There was only one way to do this and that was to get back into a car and drive. His insurance company had given him a substantial payout after his accident, some of which he used to purchase an adapted car. For weeks it had sat idly in his driveway.
Sean had ignored it until then. Now it was goading him that it wanted to be used and he could take it no more. One Monday morning he summoned up all his courage and strength to get into it. A physiotherapist had previously shown him the method to use. Park his wheelchair beside the door; then launch himself using his hands before folding up the wheelchair and lifting into a secure spot in the car behind his seat.
It all seemed so easy in theory but Sean was worried about the embarrassment if someone saw him fail attempting the maneuvers. But he proceeded nonetheless. He gave it everything. It proved to be as physically demanding as he thought it would be but he did it. Hopefully, it would get easier with practice he thought to himself. Then he closed the car door and went for a drive.
He was nervous the whole time, worried that a car would veer into him again. But he knew that if he wanted a future, this was something he had to do. He drove for over an hour wanting to see if much had changed; through the city center and passed his Garda station to which he hoped to return. Part of him wanted to go in and say hello to everyone but he thought it best to leave it for now. The street was busy and he wondered how he would manage when he did go back to work.
But he also drove past some of the main hotspots of crime in the city. The socially deprived inner-city flat complexes and the secret brothels that lay just behind some of Dublin’s busiest streets. The memories flooded back, some of them good and some that he’d rather forget. He felt a pang of regret for some of the things he had done especially since he had been treated so well since the accident. All he could do is to try and be better in the future.
Just as well nobody spotted him, he thought to himself as he began his journey back to his house. When he reached it, he felt an immense sense of accomplishment. But he was emotionally drained. A million different thoughts ran through his head about his past and what the future had in store for him. Exhausted, he went straight to bed.
A few weeks later, he got the call that he was hoping for. It was the Chief Superintendent and the news was good. Sean was to start back at work the following Monday. With a sense of elation, he told the Superintendent that he’d be there. Finally, Sean felt that everything might just work out for him. That the crash might just be a footnote in his life.
The days passed quickly for Sean and it was Monday morning before he knew it. The elation had now turned to nervousness. Sean knew that it was an important day, he felt that he had to prove that he could still be useful to the force. Living on the Disability Allowance for the rest of his life would be a miserable existence.
Fortunately, he had spent the last few days practicing his new routine and was now much more proficient at getting over bumps in his wheelchair and getting in and out of the car. So off he went. The traffic was horrible but he had left early to make sure he had enough time. It was a nice, bright day. He could feel his heart beating as the station came into view.
Fortunately, the wheelchair space at the front of the station was free and he quickly parked up. Just as well because he wasn’t sure what to do if it was taken. He just counted his blessings and got out of the car as quickly as possible. He was conscious that he was wearing his Garda uniform and didn’t want any awkward stares so he quickly went up the side ramp. The front door was heavy and he only just managed to open it and go inside.
It led him straight into the main reception area. It was busy with five people already seated in the waiting area. Sean felt awkward and tried to avoid eye contact. Fortunately, there was a Garda at the reception who immediately opened a side door into their offices and told him to come in and that the Superintendent would be with him shortly.
It was still exactly as he remembered it, rows of desks with vintage computers and scattered paper was strewn everywhere. There were not many people in yet, it was still quite early. It was quite some time before the Superintendent finally appeared but when he did, it was with a warm smile and firm handshake. The office was busier by then and starting to burst into life.
The Superintendent told him that it would be best to speak in his office so Sean followed him there down a narrow corridor. It was a small room, especially considering his position but Sean managed to squeeze in past a table.
For the next thirty minutes, they chatted about Sean’s new role at the Station. There was good and bad news. The good news was that they had an office ready waiting for him. There was a disabled toilet close by and the Gardai were prepared to do whatever it took to make sure he was a success. Much to Sean’s relief there was a parking spot reserved for him around the back of the station. He was given a key so he could swipe through the barrier. He could wear civilian clothes, which was good because he had found the uniform quite stiff and cumbersome to put on that morning. Anyway, he never had to wear it in his old role anyway. But there was bad news too, although Sean had expected it. He would, for the time being, have no investigative role, it would be more of a processing role, updating records on the Garda databases.
The reason Sean had become a Garda was that he didn’t want an office job where he would be stuck in front of a computer screen. He wanted something that bit different and more exciting but times had changed and he told him that he was happy with what they had arranged.
Then the Superintendent showed him to his new desk. It was in a small, cramped room at the very back of the station with just enough room to maneuver the wheelchair, but it was adequate and Sean was certain he could make it work. His first batch of paperwork to process had been left beside the computer. The Superintendent told him he would check in with him in a few days but Sean told him he would be fine. There was nothing left to do now but get on with it.