~ 3 ~

Richardson sat motionlessly on the edge of his bed, his hands folded in his lap, and stared at the bare wall before him. He’d been studying its off-white surface so long he no longer noticed its cracks and blemishes, just as he no longer noticed his own physical imperfections when he looked in the mirror.

It wasn’t that the physical imperfections weren’t there. Even for a man in his late fifties, Richardson’s skin was weathered beyond his years, the roughness of his stubble giving the impression of a beard that wasn’t there. When standing, his posture inevitably fell to a stoop; the curse of a large man made subservient to smaller men.

He didn’t have to stay in his room. He could have left long ago, departing Templar House when he’d woken several hours before daybreak. He was free to come and go as he pleased now. He was able to do what he wanted. The discipline and routine instilled in him were regulations he no longer needed to follow.

Yet Richardson had no desire to leave his room. After rising from his bed, he’d folded its sheets and dressed. His clothes, though a good fit for his frame, still felt alien to him. Yesterday’s garments had already been gathered and deposited in a basket in the corner, along with everything else still waiting to be laundered.

Deep down he knew it was no way for a man nearing sixty to behave. In his younger years he would have despised such humble servitude. Yet, deep down, he also knew it was the recklessness of his younger years that had led to his current circumstances.

Richardson tried not to blame himself anymore. He tried not to blame anyone else either. For a long time he’d blamed the world and everyone in it for his downfall, but blame had brought him nothing. He’d made peace with the wider world now. In doing so, he’d even established an uneasy peace with himself.

This acceptance may have quelled his previous resentments, but he couldn’t in all honesty say it had brought him contentment. He still found himself feeling fearful when he encountered a familiar situation that turned out not to be as he’d expected. He still found himself feeling lonely when a stranger’s unexpected act of kindness reminded him of his isolation. He could accept this too. In many ways, he realised that searching for one’s own contentment was as selfish a pursuit as chasing after wealth and riches.

Richardson had long since stopped searching. All he was due would come to him whether he went looking for it or not. That which didn’t cross his path was someone else’s grail to uncover.

He’d thought of little this morning. When he’d been forbidden from leaving his room, Richardson’s imagination had been his escape, and countless hours were passed picturing how it might feel to be outdoors. He’d summoned the sunshine’s warmth upon his face and the wind’s chill against his nape. He’d walked barefoot in streams, feeling the water splash at his ankles and the small smooth stones shifting beneath his feet. He’d conjured the scent of diesel fumes in the city and the odour of freshly-laid manure in the country.

Richardson no longer needed to imagine any of these things. Each and every sensation was available to him should he wish to experience it. The easy accessibility left nothing for his daydreams, and he soon found himself with nothing to think about at all.

Or rather, his mind was left with a single thought to turn over. It kept him from sleeping at night, and during daylight made him long for the day’s end. It taunted him in dreams and it greeted him with cold sobriety when he woke. Today, it was all he could think about.

Trying to put the thought out of his mind, Richardson focused on his breathing instead. It was a trick he’d been taught to help manage stress, and it was a trick he’d remembered since it usually worked.

Slowly in.

Slowly out.

Inhale and release.

Inhale and release.

When the knock on the door finally came, he didn’t move from where he sat. Focussed on nothing but his silent breathing, Richardson waited for it to come again.

Hearing the second knock, he looked towards the door, yet still made no attempt to answer. In the quiet of the room, he’d become acutely aware of his own heartbeat and the split second of darkness accompanying every blink of his eyes. He wondered if he would forget to blink altogether were he to stop thinking about it.

Across the room, the door-handle moved slowly downwards before the door itself inched open. Mr Wilson looked into the room cautiously before stepping inside.

‘Mr Richardson?’

Mr Wilson sounded worried. Richardson looked up at him. There was no reason for Mr Wilson to be worried. Richardson was okay. He would be okay. And that was okay.

‘Mr Richardson,’ Mr Wilson repeated. ‘Are you ready?’

Richardson blinked, letting the room disappear to momentary darkness.

‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘I’m ready.’

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