Chapter 29

The operation

We hung around the hospital for several days, waiting and, in my case, worrying. In those days I could have worried for England. In our desperation to know more about what was going on, Gene, Louis and I cornered a passing doctor on the stairwell. We wanted to know some answers: What were Xero's chances of survival? Would he still be able to play his saxophone?

The doctor turned out to be a dour Scottish brain surgeon working in Dortmund. He explained that he performed operations such as these every day. To him it was a fairly routine business. He informed us that it remained to be seen how the loss of a section of his brain would affect Xero. It might be that his motor skills were affected. It might be that Xero would end up suffering terrible mood swings. But, he reassured us:

" The chances of your friend dying during the op are fairly slim." He said this with a strangely jolly glint in his eye and as he talked, he toyed with a miniature Stanley knife attached to his key ring, before heading off up the stairs, three at a time.

Sally flew to Xero's bedside immediately, and I began to fully understand the phrase 'Tower of Strength'. Louis, Gene and I all vacated the room to give them some time together. After half an hour Sally called us back in for them to announce that they intended to marry as soon as Xero was back on his feet. They both beamed beatifically, the only flaw in the whole picture being the tubes that emerged from Xero's head, the shunts which were in place to relieve the pressure on his brain.

The op went well, although Xero was a mite ticked off with the doctors when they wouldn't let him take his tumour home in a jar. It had to be sent off to be tested. He worried over whether his fingering and co-ordination might be affected, and whether he would still be able to blow as hard, but he never showed his concerns to anyone but Sally.

Two days later, he disappeared. The nurses on the ward set off a full-scale search and he was found walking in the acres of parkland at the back of the hospital. He had been gone for hours and had walked several kilometres, but then that was the sort of thing that Xero did. The next day he persuaded me to accompany him on a trip outside to go to a bar at the railway station. He wanted to sit amongst busy commuters, drink a Scotch and savour a Cuban cigar. To savour Life.

On the way out of the hospital we had to descend via the lift. Xero was clad in his baggy jeans, black leather jacket and customary Ray-Ban shades. He carried his sax case over one shoulder and his freshly shaven head now sported a second scar, a mirror image of the one from his encounter with the dustbin truck. As the lift reached the ground floor and the doors opened, a line of four boys took one pace backwards, as if choreographed, and looked collectively aghast. Xero looked like Robert DeNiro as the deranged psychopathic taxi driver in the movie "Taxi Driver".


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