He was wandering in the middle of the road, misplaced like a vulnerable child on the first day of school, and I almost ran him over. It was too dangerous a place for me to stop the car. My eyes searched the rear-view mirror for his image, but he was gone, obscured by the sea of morning traffic following from behind. It was as though he had never been there at all.
I dropped my son off at school and began the final stage of my journey to work. There would be time enough to stop at the newsagents to buy a paper. I pulled in and parked, and when I looked up, there he was again, on the footpath beside my car. He reminded me of my dad.
“Are you okay?” I asked, conscious that I was invading his space and startling him with the question.
“Thank you. Yes,” he said. But he wasn’t. I could see very well that he wasn’t.
We walked in unison for a few yards, as far as the lights. I noticed the clean crease down the front of his twill trousers. He wore dapper brown brogues on his feet. And I wondered if anyone was missing him yet.
The pedestrian light was red, but still he carried on, the destination inside his head precluding any normal line of thought. So, I walked beside him, fearful for his safety, yet reticent to cross the boundary keeping the lives of strangers like us apart. Then he was stumbling, falling in slow motion towards the concrete and landing sprawled in an undignified heap on the road.
A man at the bus stop helped me lead him safely to the footpath. His glasses tottered on the end of his nose; his mouth was agape with the shock of it but I could see that pride had taken the brunt of the damage.
“Can I call someone to come for you?” I asked, fixing the glasses horizontal again. His eyes were the colour of a May sky. They looked at me as if I wasn’t there. I tried again, “Come into the shop,” I said, this time grasping his frail fingers with my own, “and you can sit down and have a drink.” But he shook his head, adamant to be once more on his way.
“You can’t force him into it love,” advised the man from the bus stop, so I reluctantly let him go, watching him shuffle his way along the street, shoulders bent, head cocked slightly to one side. And I watched until, like the speck on an old black and white television set, he vanished into nothingness.
I carried on to work, overcome by the burden of guilt that suddenly clung to me like a shroud. Somewhere in the distance a siren stung the morning stillness and I said a hasty prayer for someone in need I did not know. Somebody, perhaps, whose name I never asked.
And all I knew was he reminded me of my dad.
This article is part of a series. Read the other posts here:
- Part 1 – getting into writing
- Part 2 – how I became a poet
- Part 3 – garden blessings
- Part 4 – cancer and me
- Part 5 – thank you for the music
- Part 6 – anyone for a carbonara?
- Part 7 – who cares?
- Part 8 – technology and me
- Part 9 – dementia and my family
- Part 10 – the visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau
- Part 11 – the menopause
- Part 12 – stuff
- Part 13 – change
- Part 14 – Christmas
- Part 15 – getting old
- Part 16 – bazaar
- Part 17 – hush-a-bye baby
- Part 18 – gettin’ hitched
- Part 19 – the birthday lunch