We talked for over half and hour this morning. The first time I called her she could barely manage five minutes, bringing the call to end saying she felt dizzy. Now, she chats away. It is a delight. She has blossomed. She even laughs. A kind of chuckle. Delicious. Light as meringue. She’d just come back from a walk. She said we. With your daughter? I asked. No, the neighbour’s dog. She’s pining for Jet still. And she is funny, she said, barking at things I can’t see. We talk of all things. Her daughter’s old primary school teacher, who told her she couldn’t sing in tune. The storm in Aberystwyth. Llandudno. And the mild winter. Even the primroses are out, she said. And the daffodils. In the past you struggled to get your daffodils open for St David’s Day, she said. I hold the phone closer to my ear and love her. She is a stranger to me and yet, there is love, it cannot be anything else. Go well.
We were sitting outside Morrison’s waiting for it to open. The remnants of Imogen were still whipping up the rain and the wind. Looking across the car park we could see an elderly man blown hard against his car, trying to make his way to the trolley park. I better go, he said, reaching for the door handle. No, I said, let me.
He was large man, with flaccid flesh. He reminded me vaguely of the vicar in Dad’s Army, he even had that slight aristocratic voice. His trousers were too short and thin. His raincoat flapped around his thighs. Can I help you? I asked. Oh, thank you, he said, but I’m alright once I have hold of a trolley. I touch his arm and leave him to it. He is slow but steady, his cheek made pink. I see him as a widower, he says as we get into the car. No, I say, I think he’s been living with his aged mother and she’s died, leaving him the family home. Spot on, he says.
The Prom is like a bomb site. The road is cordoned off. Apparently, someone was arrested for getting too close. We wanted to look. The sea was a marvel. Wild. A torrent. One is drawn to it. Drawn to its danger.
His shoes were muddy. I remember my father cleaning his shoes each morning before work. He didn’t do much around the house. He wasn’t a practical man but he always cleaned his own shoes. I’d watch him sometimes. The cleaning stuff was kept in a box in the hallway cupboard. He did it carefully but briskly. At that time I was too young to even tie my own shoe laces. To me he seemed so confident and so dapper. I loved the care he took over his appearance. They both did. My parents. That was before they got too tired, he with a brain tumour and she with disappointment. I clean his shoes, with love. I serve. I chose to. I always have. Always will.
The man delivering the Pause for Thought talks about how he struggles to like everybody. And how that makes him feel. He concludes with a compromise, if it is indeed that. He talks about bearing witness. Bearing witness to others’ suffering, challenges, ordeals, life experiences. Bearing witness, standing alongside, being present for another. That’s how it was as a Samaritan. It wasn’t about liking, but about compassion. Standing for a moment in another shoes. It is enough. It is a loving act. An act of love.
The Year of the Monkey. Not good for tigers, it seems. Lay low, plan but do not act. I know a monkey. He fits the bill. Quick-witted, intelligent, short-tempered, a bit of a rogue. We weren’t suited. But I am grateful for what he brought me. A gift indeed.
I hear the owl most mornings. Is it the same one? Not a wit-a-woo, as I said, more like a howl.
I was nervous. Would he still be the same? Was he still alive? Would he remember me? Was he still upstairs? we asked the Receptionist. A cheery woman, yes, she said, second floor, take the lift. Locked in. Enclosed in a floor of thick-carpeted lounges. Full of wanderers. A woman in an expensive padded jacket, says hello and have I met you before? No, we say, nice to meet you. We ask a member of staff where he is. More cheery faces. Everyone smiling, except the large woman we walked past downstairs, in a black t-shirt. She looked a tartar. He’s over there, says the carer. A large man in an armchair staring at the TV. Was it even on? I take his hand. Hello, he says, do I know you? I sit on the table across from him. He tells me he’s been silly, and that his eyes have been watering. I give him handfuls of names, talk of events, places. Do you know my wife? he asks. Yes, I say. Do you know my family? he asks. Yes, I say. Isn’t it a small world? he says. It’s been so nice to meet you. Another carer comes over to take him to his lunch. Do I know you? he asks. Yes, she says, I take you to lunch every day. What’s your name? he asks. She laughs, Julie, she says. Locked-in. He is locked-in. I only came here yesterday, he says. Did you? I say. Are you happy here? I ask. It’s nice enough, he says. I don’t know really. No. How can you? Lost. It is all lost to you. You remember your job. I was important, you say. I have lots of friends, you say. Do you know any of their names? Yes, I say, do you remember so and so? I think so, he says. His eyes cloud over. They have always been rheumy. Weepy eyes. Sad eyes, like a spaniel’s. I am so sorry. I am so sorry, you are lost like this. The woman in the expensive jacket comes over to shake his hand. Do I know you? he asks. She walks off. It is a bedlam of sorts but with carpets. A happy home. Make this a happy home, sings Gladys Knight. Not home. He remembers his homes. He will return, he thinks. Not now. It is too late. He is lost. You are lost. I hold your hand and remember. I shall remember for you. With love. Always with love.