He made a beeline for me. I was gratified, ridiculously so. It’s worked. My idea has worked, someone has responded. Yippee, I thought. He sat next to me on the small two-person sofa. Up close, stroking my hand, patting the side of my leg. Was it sexual? I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t intimidated. He was so small, so hunched, so frail. His finger nails were black. Underneath the nails, four of them, completely black. He stroked my sewing, the black lines I was stitching. He kept saying ‘chi’, the Welsh for you. I Dim Cymraeg, I replied. I don’t speak Welsh. But he continued. So I used all the words I knew, saying yes, hello, no and so on. He kept pointing out of the window and a couple of times got up from the sofa and walked to the window to point outside. Did he want to go out? With me? The little man left for a while but returned ten or fifteen minutes later and sat down again. The same rigmarole until he arrived to collect me. It all changed then. The old man became aggressive, almost shouting at me. Pulling at me to follow him out of the room. He was jealous, he said later. Jealous of me. I hadn’t thought. I thought I’d made a friend. I’d sat next to him noticing the biscuit crumbs on his cardigan, the stains on his trousers, his chocolate brown Velcro-fastened slippers. I’d sat next to him breathing contentment. I am a good presence, I told myself, a calming presence, I am doing some good. What a fool. It was just like in The Samaritans. She’d warned me. Don’t get intimate, don’t think you are making relationships. You are not. What did he see? That ex-headmaster. What did he see in me? The act of sewing clearly resonated with him. He kept touching it. Did I remind him of somebody? He wanted me to himself that was clear. I remembered him from a few weeks back. I don’t like that man, one of the other residents had said of him. His body is a curve. His back a hillock. He is no threat but his anger, the sharp jab he gave my arm was a shock. I have learnt my lesson. My reality is not theirs. We do not even meet in the middle. All is forgotten. Long gone. I must let it go. He is in his fantasy. I crossed that path. I have learnt my lesson. And the lady? The lady with the toy cat. Is it the same with her? Her winning smile, she with the Rice Krispies all down her skirt. Did that have no reality also?

I wanted it to work too much. In a way it has but it is an ongoing experiment. Is it a success if I pleased and then distressed him? It was the same with the little woman last time, when she wanted to come out with us. To please and then distress. And yet all is soon forgotten. Is that not guaranteed? And him, banging on the window shouting ‘out’ at me in Welsh. Out. Only a few want out. The other old man came in while I was sewing. All dressed up as usual in coat, scarf, hat and gloves and with a stick in his hand. He sat for a moment or so before getting up to wander the corridors. Most just sleep, slumber or wail. My heart breaks for them. But I cannot know what they feel. We have lost the ability to communicate. Broken. All I can do is be there, a witness. And be as kind as I can be, in the circumstances. I can’t take you with me. You must remain behind the locked door. For your own good. They are fed, they are warm and the staff are kind. They are clothed in other people’s clothes, they sleep in unfamiliar beds, the wealthy mix with the poor, the intellectuals with the illiterate. His old French teacher was there. She’s a hundred years old. I’d watched her reading The Guardian. Her tiny frame, the skin on her face and neck falling a reticule of lines, sagging, sliding down. Do you remember me? You used to teach me. What is your name? I wouldn’t have called you that. What is your real name? She had lit up. Profoundly deaf. You’ll have to speak up. Temporarily restored to her self. He is kind. My love. I felt sullied by my mistake, my error. He won’t remember, he said. It is alright. Always. Always alright.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.