JOINT | Tutku Barbaros’s prose poem lights a spark between a dodgy knee and a kind physiotherapist.
by Tutku Barbaros
Our girl has done her knee in. Not really sure how, possible bad luck. But then there’s years of kicking about, kicking off, skipping beats, running late. All that. All of that to consider too. Her GP said, a kind bloke, with kind eyes told her that her connective tissue is out of whack – well, not in so many words – something like that.
He explained that she needs an MRI. She’s always had this thing about them. This fear that they’ll swallow her whole. Obviously instead of express that she just makes a tonne of jokes about how she thinks it’s like being a butt plug shoved up a giant robot arse. Doctor Kind Eyes just ‘…’
looks at her, unsure whether or not to laugh.
He does laugh eventually, in the end, because he’s polite, trained, kind: is aware that fear can often wear a jokey guise. He comforts her, agreeing that yes come to think of it, it does sound like a building site but at least it’s done now.
Well, that bit’s done now.
With one hand on the keyboard and the other on a pen, he asks her, if she’s sleeping, how’s her eating, if she’s stressed. He’s asking her again.
She shares a luke warm sentence saying that she’s fine. Doesn’t take a degree to know that that’s, a burning lie. He stresses it again, that physio will help, but maybe not just physio alone?
It’s fine no thank you, no.
And with that, her little tab on the computer is closed.
Our Girl finds herself begrudgingly pushed through the capillaries of the system.
Because the thing is, and this is the thing:
some times bits of her cartilage chip off and some times those little bits of cartilage wedge themselves between the joints of her knee
They leave her stuck. Sometimes, for up to a week.
She can’t ignore this thing this time.
Next week she buys a blow up parrot from the pound shop and does an insta story about it. ‘Peg Leg of Peckham,’ she calls it. With something witty about why the fuck did Jafar have a parrot as well? She flies off on (the magic carpet of) that tangent, and stays there for the day. Meanwhile a letter lands on her mat with a first appointment date.
She’s nervous about it. Like, really nervous. Not so nervous that she doesn’t note the irony of there being no lift to a physio department on the third floor. But nervous enough.
The cartilage is fine at the minute. She’s going to have to explain that and she will probably feel like an idiot
and and and
maybe this is all actually all just a big faff!?
(She always feels like she’s taking up someone else’s precious time.
She feels guilty, guilty all the time.)
Then, there’s a painting of sunflowers on the door.
A stacked man enters the waiting room and she laughs to herself because yes obviously he has a reason to be there – he clearly does sports so that makes sense – that is how one achieves a sports injury. She dabbles in YouTube yoga and that’s pretty much it, damned if you do, damned if you don’t she thinks.
She’s focusing on the form when an Irish accent calls her name,
startled, she drops her water bottle
Watching in disgust, as it rolls across the floor
She wants to leave it there
but that would look weird so she chases and then grabs it.
As she gets up the Irish accent is now attached to a body.
Raised eyebrows jokingly ask ‘hand–eye coordination, a problem then?’
She responds saying hand–eye coordination is fine.
As is he, she notes silently.
Fine, with several ‘I’s
As usual the bed is just that little bit too high so she immediately begins mentally planning the best strategy to mount it.
His eyes search her face.
‘Sorry! I was thinking about how to mount the thing, sorry.’
‘Mount the what, sorry?’
‘The . . . uhm . . .’ (gesturing)
‘Oh right, the bed! Sorry!’
She says something about how she wouldn’t really classify that as a bed and he agrees. They settle on it being a bit more of a table as he lowers it for her. It being adjustable is something she’s never considered. Intrusive memories of her naked fanny clambering onto the table while a beautician pretends to get the wax pot ready flood her thoughts before suddenly she feels the weight of his observations again.
She has a sip of water.
As she swallows she remembers that it’s probably picked up every lurgy on the floor.
The physio grimaces with her, which is not reassuring at all.
He cracks up laughing,
She joins him there.
They’re joint together there.
She’s on her back now as he assesses the range of her knee now, gently pushing it closer and closer towards her torso, continually asking if it hurts, which it doesn’t. Eventually the knee is pressed up against her chest. Well not her chest: her tits.
She makes a joke about that.
About how when she looks at other women doing yoga their bodies form straight lines, they look like a zig-zag, like a very neat isosceles triangle.
She’s all boobs and bum she says.
She feels scalene almost all the time she says.
‘Scalene is absolutely fine,’ he says adding ‘does yoga’ to his notes.
Tells her that it’s working: she’s very flexible.
She says that she knows.
She feels the thin blue paper stick to the sweat in the small of her back, makes a joke about how when she gets up it will form a kind of cape.
‘I reckon you could pull that off,’ he says.
He sees her.
She sees him see her.
The grunting of a 75-year-old trying to touch his toes on the other side of the curtain breaks their brief silence.
Furtive, returning to his list, he goes over the notes about her weight and height
For both of which she attempts to apologise.
Because it’s necessary for the healing (and because he makes it so easy)
over the weeks she has to give a picture of herself to him.
Her band, carrying instruments, no time to rest, jumping round on stage, financial instability, gig, gig, gig, no boyfriend, no girlfriend either, a part time job though, lots of time on her feet, she’s good at waiting tables, crap at making coffee. He says it could be exacerbated by stress, gently asks what profits she makes, and she says ‘profits’ are a stretch.
And they talk about that.
They talk about a lot
while he’s shoving her legs around, working out what’s improving, what isn’t.
Flitting between necessary questions, a kind of curiosity and increasingly familiar instructions. She thinks about how it’s easier to be honest when you don’t have to look someone in the eyes.
He asks her to place her heel on his hand and push him away as hard as she can.
He mentions he loves festivals.
She lets out a heavy sigh,
Did that hurt, where? Here? Why?
No she says. Yes, she thinks, I wish I’d met you anywhere but here.
She’d love to say it but that’s a breach really isn’t it. Instead she just keeps pushing her heel into the base of his palm.
The next week he announces they’re doing something different. She hopes it’s a trip to the pub. He blindfolds her. Leads her out to the bigger sports room. He makes her stand on this wobbly thing and
throws beanbags at her.
To improve her coordination apparently.
They fill the space with laughter,
Laughter which bounces off the apparatus and echoes through them both, landing awkwardly in the space between them.
Off balance she stumbles, let’s out an almighty ‘FUCKKK’ – terrified she’ll crack her head open
he catches her (obviously)
turns out he’s standing really really close (obviously)
I’ve got you, he says.
She’s about to go on tour and she’s nervous. He talks her through it, the knee shouldn’t lock up. As we know though, shouldn’t isn’t the same as won’t . She should not give him a flyer for her show, but that doesn’t mean she will not. He takes it, smiles, flattered, pretends the whole thing isn’t totally inappropriate, folds it up and pops it in his pocket, presumably so none of the other practitioners clock it.
While away on tour, she accidentally misses her last appointment.Get taken off the patient list.
And that is it.
She wonders if he’s offended. If he feels stood up.
Reminds herself he could have just turned up.
She presumes they live in the same borough,
maybe they’ll run into each other?
She has to do the exercises every day.
So of course she thinks about him every time.
Months later back with Doctor Kind Eyes, he’s assessing the situation,
She’s thinking about all the cheeky winks, all the fascination.
With one hand on the keyboard and the other on a pen, he asks her if she’s sleeping, how’s her eating, if she’s stressed?
She remembers the heel of her foot pushing into the palm of his hand.
She remembers trusting someone new.
Kind Eyes asks again
Are you sleeping? How’s your eating? Would you say you’re stressed?
She rests a hand on the knee she now understands.
Kind Eyes, begins to wrap things up but she doesn’t this time.
That palm on her heel was like a dominoes touch, on a domino path.
She answers: no, yes and yes.
Kind Eyes’s hands leave the keyboard and the pen, meet in the middle, clasping, joined.
He’s relieved. He’s happy. And actually so is she.
Do you feel ready to be connected to someone who can help?
Yes, she says smiling, yes.
Tutku Barbaros | @tutkubarbaros | Instagram: @tutku_barbaros
Tutku is a writer and performer from South East London. She’s currently one of the Tamasha 2019/20 Playwrights. She is also co-founder of comedy trio Plunge with whom she’s been creating feminist bants for nearly a decade. She believes in community more than anything else, so come and say hello.