Outside the bus, beneath a sudden curtain of rain, a queue of people stand quietly waiting for the replacement to arrive. They are so patient and still, when I look at their feet I expect to see little plastic bases. It feels like we’ve been miniaturised and driven into a model village.
‘She’s just inside,’ the driver says, a man whose round enamelled badge is only marginally less bright than his face. He hops on board ahead of me.
Mrs Jackson is sitting on a forward seat, bulging with layers, her knitted white hat pulled low on her forehead, her mittened hands folded in her lap.
‘I’m wearing so much I didn’t hurt myself at all,’ she says. The bus driver laughs and gives her an encouraging chuck on the shoulder.
‘You’re a wonder,’ he shouts, leaning in.
Mrs Jackson’s daughter, an elderly woman herself, soberly composed in a grey woollen coat and black shoes, steps up to me and tells me what happened.
‘We’d been waiting for the bus for quite a while when Mum suddenly collapsed. She just gave out a little sigh and went down, but I think she’s all right. She’s wearing so much today it must have been like falling onto a bed. We helped her up and then when the bus came this kind gentleman got everyone off and sat her down to wait for you.’
I crouch down next to Mrs Jackson.
‘How are you feeling?’
She stares at me.
The daughter taps me on the shoulder. When I look up at her, she raises her eyebrows, smiles, and discretely tugs her ear lobe.
‘Oh. Yep,’ I say.
We unwrap Mrs Jackson on the ambulance. Beneath a full-length scarlet waterproof she has a purple fleece. Beneath the purple fleece she has a bear fur gilet. Beneath the bear fur gilet she has on an aquamarine paisley silk blouse, with a floral patterned thermal one piece and a banana yellow alpaca scarf.
‘I feel the cold,’ she says.
‘I can’t believe you're ninety eight,’ I tell her, struggling to find space to put on the ECG dots. ‘You’re a phenomenon.’
‘Oh. That’s good. I think.’
All her observations are so perfect you might doubt the equipment.
‘You’re healthier than me,’ I tell her.
‘Oh. I doubt that very much. But I’ve always been pretty good.’
No medication, an episode of cancer a decade ago that resolved without further complication, nothing else to declare.
She does not want to go to hospital.
‘I just want to go home and have a nice cup of tea,’ she says. ‘Karen will look after me. Won’t you dear?’
‘I think I can manage that.’
Mrs Jackson looks around her.
‘This is all so exciting,’ she says. ‘I think you do a wonderful job. Of course, many years ago I used to drive these things. During the blitz. A dreadful time. We didn’t do half what you do now, though. It was a very different kettle of fish. All we could really do was dust the poor people down – there was a lot of dust then, you know – give them a thoroughly good dusting, and then drive them off to the hospital.’