We got there a little early. I was nervous and wanted it done. Done and dusted. What a day of it. Both ends of the spectrum – from traditional Western to herbal Chinese medicine. Both opaque, at least to me. She gave me a form to fill it. Call me when you’re done, she said, slipping back through the curtains. Oh, dear, I hadn’t realised she was with a patient. It wasn’t what I’d expected. A small shop right on the main street. Two doors, the one on the right with a little label saying her name. Inside a counter flanked behind and to the side and beneath with shelf after shelf of plastic bottles full of stuff. I peered at them trying to work out what they were. Some looked like dried mushrooms. There were powders, dried flower heads, seeds, twigs, roots. Everything, naturally, was in Chinese. To the right of the counter, beside the white curtain was an Acupuncture chart. Her voice had been a little brusque on the phone. But seeing her was different. A small woman with a broad face and smile. She had on silver pumps beneath her white coat. She asked me questions about the form, scribbling down my responses in Chinese script. Your condition is not serious, she said, that sharpness returning, or was I just imagining it? Take these, she said handing me two bottles of pills, and come back and see me in ten days. No spicy foods, coffee or chocolate. Tea was alright, apparently. But not chocolate, she reiterated.

I told him later what a lad I’d met as a teenager had said to me. He’d been a son of a friend of family, I think, and he’d come to our house. We were ‘playing’, as kids are always told to do. He’d offered me some chocolate and I’d refused. You look like someone who likes chocolate, he said. I was mortified.

I’d been conscious of my resistance, no my mistrust, of the smiling woman all along. And how I grieved over it. And yet compared to the English doctor I’d seen in the morning, her consultation had been in-depth and knowing. I felt her kindness. No acupuncture? he asked her. Not necessary, she said. I felt a little fraudulent, especially when her patient hobbled out from behind the curtain on two crutches. The doctor was kind too but distracted, she hadn’t done her homework and couldn’t answer my questions. (Her surgery had smelt of coconut when we’d walked in.) How I hate giving myself over to traditional practitioners. I do not like what they offer and I’ve felt unwell on these last drugs. Enough. What a cul-de-sac. And she’d forgotten why I come originally. We shall see what these tiny black pills do. Twice a day. One bottle tastes of aniseed and the other of licorice.

He called the hospital on my behalf. They want another blood test. Bummer. He frets that I won’t do what I am told. They’re ACE inhibitors, the doctor said, but I’ve forgotten what that stands for. The consultant, she tells me is thorough. Aren’t I just wasting their time? Can’t I go to that little shop on the high street for everything?

There was dead field mouse on the path as I walked up to work. No murders beneath my bedroom window last night.

The rain is holding off. He went out with an umbrella nevertheless.

Mary Costello’s writing is so tender. ‘Never in my whole life did I have one iota of courage’, the main protagonist of Academy Street, Tess, says to herself. Then, describing her neighbour’s, a black woman called Willa, flat: ‘warm, a glorious place, a hum of heaven’. I’ve ordered it from the library, I couldn’t help it even though I’ve two more to finish. And I’ve bought a second-hand copy of Gertrude Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B Toklas. Got to strike while the iron is hot, eh?

The TED talk yesterday was on altruism. The Gold Coats in the San Francisco prison, inmates who voluntarily help other inmates with dementia and the philosopher from Princeton who talked about effective altruism. That is, giving intelligently. I never thought my life would have reach. I am a small person, not here to do grand things. I can maybe help one or two lives but no more, no I haven’t the confidence or the courage. Is it enough? Is it ever enough to just be? I sat on the bench in the sun and thought about being empty, empty of everything. Clean, shiny and clean. This is why I am writing this to make myself white, fresh, a clean slate. And then, then perhaps I will have something to give.

But I will think about world poverty, the eradication of disease and make my small contribution, I promise.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.