Lola at first glance seems to be a quite proper lady. She never makes any demands and is always very polite. We tend to think of the undemanding ones as the ones that are all ok in the head. But Lola isn't quite all there, and I have forgotten this a couple of times. Really, someone who looks very intelligent, who nods in understanding at everything you say, can fool a lot of people.
A few months back Lola stopped coming to lunch. This wasn't completely unusual, since Lola is terrible with awareness of time. If she hadn't come to lunch I had just assumed the carers would take her a sandwich later on. But then they started telling me that Lola had called in advance. "Lola says she isn't hungry today. She'll have a cup of coffee in her room instead." And it became more and more frequent.
At lunch time I remarked to her tablemate, Mara (bitch extraordinaire) that we wouldn't be seeing Lola today at the table. Mara looked at me as if she were the headmistress holding the cane over an unruly child's buttocks. "She's up there with three packets of Tim Tams," she sneered disdainfully. "She eats nothing but blasted Tim Tams when her son has been for a visit."
I didn't quite know how to take this. These people are grown adults. Are we supposed to tell someone they're not allowed to eat three packets of chocolate-covered, chocolate-cream filled biscuits for lunch? I asked Maria, the carer on duty.
"Oh dear," she said, "that isn't good. I'll go up and see her now." Maria accordingly went up to visit, and sure enough, there was Lola in front of the TV with a plate of Tim Tams and a cup of coffee. When Maria asked what was going on with all the biscuits, Lola exclaimed in surprise that she was just having a little bit of late morning tea. The rubbish bin revealed two more empty king-size packets, so in reality Lola had eaten more than 50 Tim Tams. As to when she'd started, we weren't sure, but she may have lived on them for three days. Lola was still clueless as to what she'd done that had got people so upset. She couldn't remember whether she had any breakfast and couldn't tell us if she'd eaten anything else lately.
Maria called each of her children and asked them to limit the gifts to one packet at a time. From then on she began attending every meal again with regularity. Never on time, but always there, sauntering in half an hour late and sitting placidly in her chair, waiting for someone to notice her and place a meal on the table.