Today I saw a man from the back, shuffling. no really–Shuffling across a parking lot. Slightly bent and shuffling. Well, sure, my eyes automatically started to avert. Eww—who wants to be confronted with a) old b) poor c) ugly ???
But I couldn’t avoid him. Our paths were going to bi-sect right at my car, so as my eys slid back to him I noticed more: Old black cloth slippers scraping along, old gray khaki pants, a bent back and hands scrambling to what? Keep his pants up? NO-keep them away from his body: he had soiled himself.
Oh god, what do I do? WHAT DO I DO? I so wish I had lingered just a little longer in the bank or the store. Oh hell, I am gonna run right into him. Oh, damn damn damn double damn. He shuffles like my father. As that thought hits my brain like a speeding train, I know I am lost.
He is lightly ahead of me so I speed up and as we intersect I catch his eye. Are you alright I ask? He is facing me now, and his hands continue to scrabble over his chest and waist and pants, his eyes are watery but bright, and he breaks my heart by giving me a thumbs up, all the while shuffling, shuffling along in his soiled khakis.
He will not stop so I walk beside him asking if he needs help. He says nothing, just gives me thumbs up and points in the direction of the corner, mumbles something and keeps shuffling. I think he knows that he has soiled himself, and he just wants to keep going—somewhere. I know I cannot grab him and hold on. Something doesn’t allow me to interefere wiht his journey in that way. I smile at him and say OK. His almost toothless smile lights up his face. He points and shuffles and mumbles and smiles. He is not “here”, but he knows how to give a thumbs up, and somehow he has a destination.
But, I am afraid for him and I get in my car and go to the assisted living home down the street, and pound on their locked back door until someone answers. Perhaps one of their residents has escaped. To their credit, one of the attendants gets in a car to check it out—he finds my shuffling friend and when I pull up, he tells me that he is not one of theirs, BUT he will stay with him until he can find out where he lives or the police come. He is trained to help.
Good. Nice. The old man looks at me and grins and blesses me with another thumbs up. I see him waving at me in the mirror as I pull away.
I pull around the corner and stop the car as I burst into tears. He will be safe. I am not so sure about me.