We’ve come out to the neat sprawl of houses and shops just east of the city. As a money-saving initiative, the council have switched off the residential street lamps – great for star-gazing, but not so great for finding your way about. Still, Rae has parked immediately outside Celia’s little bungalow and left her hazards on, so we know where to go. Making it to the front door is more problematic. We have to use our torches to pick our way along a crumbling concrete strip that the wilderness of the front garden is gradually claiming for itself.
Celia comes to the door. A wizened old lady of ninety-three, she has the rolling gait, wild hair and benign but slightly disappointed expression of an ancient orang-utan.
‘Oh! There’s more of you, is there?’ she says, and then slowly turns to go back inside. Rae is just behind her.
‘Hi guys. This is Celia. Celia called the ambulance tonight because her father had a stroke and wandered off down the road.’
Rae widens her eyes and nods.
‘Isn’t that right, Celia?’
‘I don’t know. If you say so.’
‘Where do you think your father may have gone?’
We follow her into the kitchen, where she slowly takes a seat back at the table and puts both hands flat on the surface.
‘Over there. You know. Where those girls live. My sisters. The – um – where he sleeps sometimes.’
Rae sits next to her, tells me she found a number for the care agency, who said that Celia does have some short term memory loss, but nothing on this scale. Frankly, they’re concerned. They also mentioned a neighbour who pops round, but Rae says there was no answer when she knocked.
‘I was just about to do a round of obs when you turned up. It is looking like some kind of acute episode, and there’s the safety issue here, so I’m thinking we might have to go in.’
‘What are you saying?’
‘I’m saying we’re all just a bit worried about you, Celia. You don’t seem yourself tonight.’
‘Don’t seem myself? Who do I seem like, then?’
‘A bit confused.’
Celia bats her hand, tuts and crosses her legs. She is wearing odd slippers.
‘Doesn’t everyone get a bit confused sometimes?’
Celia looks away, then reaches out and strokes the door of the kitchen cabinet nearest to her.
‘I went all over London looking for that. You can’t get it anywhere else. But that’s how I am – particular about things.’
Next to her on the counter is a pile of old cutlery, stacked precariously, forks on top of knives on top of spoons.
‘When you’re gone I think I’ll get up and give the ceiling a wipe,’ she says. ‘I like to keep busy.’
We check the house to make absolutely sure there’s no-one else there. Many of the rooms are closed up, an abandoned air to them, a bed made-up but untouched, a dusty scattering of photos on a windowsill.
‘He’s a funny chap, my father,’ she says. ‘Very small. Runs a pub in Bethnal Green. You know where the canal is?’ She makes a vague gesture with her hands. ‘Where it goes – straight up? That’s where it is. My grandma had it first, then he took it on.’
She pauses, picks some invisible lint from her trousers, then settles her ancient hands gently in her lap.
‘Don’t know where she is now,’ she says.