I’m back: reanimated, restored, relieved! I’m still showering in the dark and when I came home from work in the early hours of this morning, I had to take care not to stumble over the enormous extension cable that snakes its way from a socket in the hallway all the way to the fridge. But I can deal with fumbling for shampoo bottles and peeing by torchlight if I have the means to share the experience with the world.
Last week I told you about a spindly old man and his giant dog. Today’s story is not so empowering. It’s about an old man, without a dog.
I was walking home from work the other evening. It was dark and I was on a quiet, dimly lit road. In the distance I could make out the shadow of a figure on the ground. Their arms were jerking and outstretched as if having a seizure.
As I got closer, I found an old man with his chin slumped to his chest, trying to hoist himself up without success. I stopped, as did the man who had been walking a few paces in front of me.
I came closer. “Is everything okay?” I asked redundantly.
The old man’s eyes slowly turned to me. They were pale blue and very round. It took him some time to register the question and when he did his expression became pained and he said slowly “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. What have I done now?”
I was gentle. “It happens to all of us.”
“Oh shit, oh shit. I always mess everything up. My whole life is a mess.”
I tried to find out whether he was hurt.
He couldn’t answer my question and kept saying “I’ve messed it all up. My whole life is a misery.”
“Do you live near here?” I asked him.
“Do you live in this house?” I said, pointing to number 23, which he was leaned against.
“Yeah.” His gaze wandered slowly around.
“Do you have a key?”
He swayed a little.
Suddenly, with a bolt of energy that came from nowhere the old man sprung to his feet. He stumbled wildly and before I could get to him, fell forward with full force. I could hear a crack as his head hit the pavement.
Miraculously, the fall seemed not to affect him. My heart was beating very fast. I brought him over to sit on the doorstep. The old man smelt of vodka.
I called an ambulance.
The other man who’d stopped was about eighteen or nineteen. He was hovering uncomfortably and said very little. He might not have know it, but I was immensely grateful for his presence.
The old man made more wild attempts to get to his feet and fell again. While we were waiting for the ambulance to come, a young couple stopped to see if they could help. The girl was very pretty and very kind. She put her arm around the old man. Her boyfriend was more detached and said simply and without judgement, “Alcohol’s not the answer to your problems, is it?”
“You’re right,” said the old man. “You’re right.”
He sighed. “I’ve messed up my relationships. I’ve messed up my life.”
His gaze flitted intermittently to each of our faces.
“And then this happens,” he said. “And you meet people.”
The ambulance came promptly and a big man in a security vest said cheerfully,
“Now, what’s the problem here?”
It was a question which would take the sad old man years to answer.
The ambulance man hoisted him up.
The old man was so unsteady on his feet that it looked as if they were dancing all the way to the ambulance.