When I was little, we used to live around the corner from the old folks’ home. I would pass it every time I went to the local playground. Not too much attention was paid to the place. I never heard anybody talk about it, or even really look at it. I on the other hand watched it often.
Every now and then there would be a young lady pushing one of the oldies in a wheelchair. She would wheel them outside into the sun and walk back inside. I would emerge from my hiding place (usually behind a large tree across the road) and wander over to join whoever had been left alone.
There was one man in particular, who seemed to be left alone outside more than any of the others. I often sat with him for hours chatting away, telling him about all the important things in my life. He never spoke back to me. I’m not sure if that is because he couldn’t, or if it was simply because I never gave him a chance.
Being an only child had its ups and downs. I would often complain to my mother, begging for a younger sibling, so that I had someone to play with, but it never worked. At times being alone got the better of me and I would have to get creative to deter boredom.
This particular story is about one of those days.
I skipped over to my silent friend, (whose name I never did know) and sat on the park bench jabber-jawing away. After a while, talking got a tad boring. This was something that was serious cause for concern with me, as I rarely got sick of talking. It had been such a long time and no one had come to take my friend back inside.
They’ll never know.
I’d watched the lady wheeling other folks outside for a long time, so I knew roughly how to operate the wheelchair. I released the brakes and proceeded to wheel him along the footpath toward home.
It wasn’t easy and I have never really gotten credit for my efforts. I managed to wheel him two blocks, along the short road, up the driveway right to our front door. That was when I struck a problem. Not only was he difficult to manoeuvre, his wheelchair was too wide and too heavy to lift up our front step.
I explained to him that he would have to wait a moment and I would be right back.
“Muuummm?” My voice echoed through the hall and I searched the house for my mother.
“Can me and my friend have an icy pole?” I asked, once I had found her.
“It’s my friend and I and yes you can have an icy pole, but bring your friend inside. It’s rude to leave people standing at the door”
I hurriedly rushed to the freezer and grabbed two icy poles as I explained the situation to my mum.
“I tried to bring him inside, but his wheels won’t fit”
I knew the look - The blood draining from her face and her eyes bulging from their sockets. I was about to be in trouble.
I raced to escape back through the front door.
“What wheels Kylie?” Mum was hot on my tail following me.
I handed an icy pole to my at least 80-year-old friend and stared back at my mother.
“Where the hell did you get him?”
“He was outside the home, they chucked him out. Can he move in with us?” I did my best flitter of the eyes and my sweetest smile.
“TAKE. HIM. BACK... NOW!”
My head drooped and I quietly muttered “yes mum” as I released the breaks on the wheelchair and started the journey back to the Aged Car Facility. I am sure mum considered coming with me, but she was too ashamed to face the staff and explain that her 6-year-old had kidnapped one of their residents.
That was the beginning of a long lasting friendship with the staff of the local elderly home.
The old man had been sitting outside for days. It had not occurred to me that the staff of the home had been wheeling him out every morning and bringing him back an hour or so later. I thought the poor old guy had been dumped. I imagined him being sad and lonely and frightened, so thought I would ‘rescue’ him. I hate to think now what must have been going through his mind as I wheeled him away.