The first I saw of Mel was a late summer's evening, when we were called to her house for a very simple transport. Arriving ten minutes earlier than the scheduled pick-up time and understanding the significance of the call, we waited outside in the ambulance for those few minutes. As the clock struck on the hour, we knocked on the front door and waited.
"Oh, you're here! Sorry, we're running a few minutes late." Rob looked tired and hassled as he moved a small suitcase out of the way so that we could get in. "I've never been a good one for time keeping, that's always been Mel's job. Speaking of which, you'd better come in and meet her."
Rob shows us to their bedroom, as Andy and I size up the corridors and turns to see which will be the easiest route out again - on a wheelchair or the trolley bed - but the last corner is too tight for the latter. Mel's eyes are closed as we walk in, but she still manages to welcome us.
"Hi guys. Let me guess, he's running late, right?"
"Well, yes, but take your time. We're in no hurry. We're either here in your lovely home, or out there fighting with drunks. I know which I'd prefer."
"Has he offered you tea yet?" Mel gives Rob a look of resignation, as if all the lessons she's been trying to teach him have failed to register.
"No. We're good thanks. Too much tea is an occupational hazard we need to avoid. Not enough toilet stops, you see."
Mel manages a smile as Rob steps out to finish packing. All around her are cards and flowers, messages of support cover the bedside table and windowsill. A single picture in a frame sits in the middle of all the cards. A photograph of two young children, one boy, one girl, both in school uniform, lazing on a wooden bench in the shadow of an enormous tree.
"Twins?" Andy asks, pointing to the picture.
"Twins. But born a day apart. Well, ten minutes really, but one each either side of midnight. I'd always heard stories like that, but never thought it would happen to me!"
"Cool. How old are they?"
"Eleven. That picture was taken two days after I was diagnosed, three years ago, so I guess they must have been eight then. I'm sure they'll be down in a second."
Rob comes back into the room with a glass of water for each of us and behind him, as if on cue, are the twins.
"Ah, maybe I have taught him something after all!"
"Oy, be nice! Or I'll tell 'em to drive you over every pot hole from here to the hospice!"
"You wouldn't make my last ambulance ride a bumpy one, would you guys?"
"We wouldn't dare! Well, not unless the money was good enough!"
Last minute logistical arrangements meant that the twins would come with us in the ambulance, whilst Rob would drive his car, leaving them with transport to get home again. As we wrapped Mel in a blanket on our wheelchair, she remembered to check a few things with Rob.
"Are the kids' uniforms ready?"
"You set the alarm for the morning?"
"For heavens' sake, Mel. YES! Have some faith, won't you? Now, I'll be back in a second, just going to lock the back door."
We wheeled Mel to the front door and waited for Rob. The twins stood just outside, half staring into the back of the open ambulance, its tail lift sitting on the floor waiting to swallow its precious cargo.
"Shall I switch the hall light off?" Andy asks Rob.
"Actually," says Mel, "do you mind if I do it?"
We lift Mel just high enough in the wheelchair so she can reach the switch, and as the sun sets through the clouds outside, the hall is engulfed in the orange glow of the last light of day.