Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Thirty Five on Ninth

The door bell rang at 5:30pm.

"Who could that be?" asked Sapphire, as all her friends 'visited' by email, SMS, facebook and Skype during week nights.

It couldn't be Love Chunks as he never loses his keys and was never home at such an early hour.

Maybe it was Anne, the Kiwi maternity nurse from the 1st floor who very kindly passed on the trashy English gossip mags that her friend passed on to her that I then pass on to someone else.

Nope.  It was a tall elderly gentleman, holding a newspaper, some letters and a small bag of shopping.

"Excuse me madame," he said in perfect but heavily-accented English, "Is this the ninth floor?"

"Sorry no, monsieur," I replied.  You're one floor out. It's upstairs."

"Where are the stairs?"  He looked unsteady on his feet and confused.

"I'll be back in a tic," I called out to Sapphire as I grabbed my keys and shut the door. "Let me take you."

I followed him up the stairs, deciding that if he slipped on the fancy marble I might be some kind of pudgy cushion that would soften the impact.  Gripping the handrail tightly with the plastic bag swinging against the wall, progress was slow.  Once on the ninth he said, "I live up here and have done so for over thirty five years."

My polite smile faded: now it was my turn to look confused.  I know all the neighbours directly above us, and had never seen or heard of my this tall old bloke before.

"Are you sure it's the right building?  There are five here and every third floor allows us to move between them and what with the lifts being repaired one after the other, it always means that one of them is out of action and...."  my voice trailed off when it seemed pretty obvious that my inane Aussie-accented chatter was too much to comprehend at such a puzzling time.

I reached for his bag of shopping and mail.  "Let me take those."  He handed them over, appreciating the time to stop and think for a bit.

"Madame, I'm in 18A."

"Ah, we'll you've found yourself in 20A.  Your lift is out of action this week, so you had to take ours and walk through, you see and our floor - the eighth - is one of those connecting floors."

He clearly didn't see.  "Let me take you," I said, for the second time that day.

The connecting doors were locked.  "Sorry monsieur, but we'll actually have to walk outside to the very front entrance, use the lift in Building 18 and walk through from the other side."

His dark winter coat covering a rather posh-looking fine wool jumper and tailored business shirt seemed far too much for a 25C day, yet it was me that felt under-dressed in my grubby jeans, black rubber thongs and mens' t-shirt.

"Do you mind if I read the letter boxes in the foyer first?"  Of course I didn't mind.  His walk was getting progressively slower now and he tottered uncertainly over to the wall lined with shiny stainless steel boxes.  "Ah yes, there I am.  Ninth floor."

In the lift we formally introduced ourselves.  He was a long-retired Director from the UN's International Labor Organisation and a native of Cyprus. "We helped a lot of our people get work and homes in your country," he said, "More than anywhere else, in fact."

On the ninth floor, we both peered at the tiny label under the door bell.  Yes, this was the right place.  Still holding his gear, I waited, wanting to make sure that he could open his door and that nothing - I wasn't entirely sure what - awful was lurking inside.

He didn't invite me in, but for some reason I followed.  His apartment was decorated in the cloying baroque style beloved of far wealthier - and much older - people. It was impeccably clean with flocked wall paper, brocade arm chairs and every French-polished surface was covered in silver framed photographs of family members.  He saw where my gaze had travelled to.  "My daughter now lives in Paris and my son is in Istanbul.  My grand kids are scattered all over the world; at colleges in the US, working in Britain, travelling through Asia and my four great grandchild was born last month in Malta...."

There was a note pad and pen by the living room door and I hastily scrawled my name, address and phone number on it.  "Monsieur, this is just in case you ever get lost, or need anything from the shops or, just, er need some help."

He peered at it before slipping it into his coat pocket.  "I have a housekeeper who does all that for me since my wife passed a year ago, but thank you all the same."

"No worries," I said, before realising how strongly Aussie and incomprehensible that must have sounded. Looking towards the living room window to the Jura mountains on the right and France straight ahead I realised that the size and room structure of our apartments were identical, as was the view outside.

"I like watching the planes come in," he said, gesturing to the sofa. "I often sit there and see if I can tell who they are."

"Me too," I nodded.

He took my little note out of his pocket and looked at it again. "I've lived here for over thirty five years."  His voice was now whisper quiet.

Muttering more inanities that basically encouraged him to call me any time, I closed the door behind me, my last glimpse of him sitting on the sofa looking up at the sky, criss-crossed with aeroplane vapor trails.

He's been disoriented a couple more times since then, both on my floor and the one above.  His family are going to have to travel over, get together and make a few inevitable decisions soon.  Ageing is cruel and often lonely and, sadly, out of our control.  No-one deserves to be lost after a lifetime.


Pandora Behr said...

This brought tears to my eyes. Thank you. xx

Kirstie said...

Almost as sad is the fact that not many people would have helped as you did.

Jayne said...

Thank goodness for you being there to help him, Kath.

Hannah said...

Kath, you are a wonder. Not only this man and peopel like him, but the world overall needs more people like you, willing to help out, willing to listen, even if just for a moment or two.

Anonymous said...

That is sad but if you are rational about it, it is life and ageing. We have been doing it for a long time. At least he is comfortable and can afford a housekeeper.

Cat J B said...

Oh Kath, that is so sad. Lovely of you to assist him though. I have a good friend who does all the wonderful, people-connecty things that seem to come so naturally to you, the world needs more of them and I am not naturally one of them. Although I do find myself more of an effort lately....

Elephant's Child said...

Oh Kath. You are a truly lovely person. Tears for your new friend though.

Fen said...

oh bless him and well done for helping, many would shut their door on someone like that and not bother to take the time to really see what's going on.

River said...

This is so sad Kath, and kind of makes me glad my family live in the same city, if I "get lost" in the future, they won't have to uproot themselves and fly home to help out. I'm glad you helped.

MedicatedMoo said...

It seems a cruel way for life to peter out and wind down, doesn't it?

diane b said...

How compassionate and understanding you are for a young person. Well done. Us oldies need more people like you in the world. I feel sorry for the old man even though he is obviously not in need of money but he certainly needs caring for now. It is scary growing old and wondering how we will end up.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Bonjour Kath,

Not a lot to say other than you are such a kind person. It's such a shame for the old guy - I fear for things like that happening to me. It's so sad.




Nuttynoton said...

Sadly what happens when family fly the nest and you get older you can eventually be alone, then confusion comes in.Well done for helping out, just shows that money does not help at this stage!

drb said...

I like the new look of your blog. Very classy.

Looking out for the small, weak and old is the best trait of the Reads. :-)

After recovering from the traumas of my dad's heart attacks, we did wonder whether it is better to go out in a bang or let life slowly peters out...

River said...

Kath; I've tagged you for a challenge scheduled to go up at my place tomorrow.

Wally The Walrus said...

"It seems a cruel way for life to peter out and wind down, doesn't it?"

Oh aye.

Life and aging are bugger. I dread ending up like that. Go with bang... please. Preferably aged about 79 and doing something disgraceful :)

Wally The Walrus said...

I have to say... as I get a tad older (not yet 50!!!) but get greyer, I'm finding 2 things:

1. The younger folk are BLATANTLY ageist, making comments about me being "old school" and similar. This is simplistic, ageist, and it pisses me off hugely.

2. There seems to be an assumption that anybody who is going grey is a stupid old fart, and I find that the younger folk are constantly trying to catch me out, prove they are smarter. So much for trying to learn from others who have been around... they actively want to go make a whole series of expensive technical mistakes and no natter what I say, I can see them treating me as some obsolete old idiot.

It's very easy to see how people in their 50's who leave a job have trouble getting another. My leaving and going independent when I did was both brave and foolish. I've been going grey for 15 years but I have never experienced anything like this before.... It's not nice.

wilbo43 said...

Looks like he has a good friend in you. Nice story.

Windsmoke. said...

Wandered over to say thank you for your comment and for signing up to follow Bizarre Scribble and i've signed up to follow your blog :-).

Jackie K said...

Oh that's so sad. Hit a nerve - I have just got back from a 3-day odyssey with my father, assisting my 91-year-old grandfather back to Melbourne to be with his dying daughter (my aunt). We didn't make it, sadly - she passed away this morning. It's all so sad.
Thank you so so much for helping this gentleman and writing this lovely post.

Red Nomad OZ said...

I find it incomprehensible that this may be my fate one day - but obviously not as incomprehensible as your gentleman is finding. Surely there's a better alternative than this. Just don't know what it is.