Still alive

A stroke must be, at least, when it does not – mercifully? - deprive the life, a terrible thing to endure, leaving, as it does, the victim struggling against greater or lesser brain damage due to the haemorrhage and, a body made unbalanced, clumsy and resistant. I have recently encountered such a person – a man of, perhaps, my own age or similar - and this story is about him.Sunday, for most people, I expect, is a day somewhat given over to habitual routines such as cleaning, changing the bedding or last minute grocery shopping before the start of the work week. Many, I imagine, reserve their afternoon for catching up on favourite shows or following the all-important football match-up. For myself, the afternoon is given over to some sort of creative endeavour, be it writing or drawing makes not a little difference as long as I am, in some way, productive; this is my reward for having accomplished my errands, for, until they are done, I don't allow myself to sit down to start or continue a project.

Today was no different aside from the fact that, rising at 10 o'clock, by 11:30, I still had not managed to get my act together; I have been terribly disorganised lately due to some uncooperative medication and frequently imagine myself as a good font for some very original 'blonde' jokes.

It was not that I had a lot to do. There was a single load of laundry to dispense – one of the benefits of living alone – with a time commitment of about 45 minutes. I also had an errand to accomplish, comprising a pleasurable walk up the park behind the building where I live and, approximately, an equal time slice as the laundry. The potential visit to see my parents was eschewed with an apologetic phone call: 'Sorry, mom. I'll pop 'round to see you next Saturday'. I decided to do the one errand first and save the laundry for my return.

So it was that, with the trash and a big bag for recycling propped precariously on my arm, I exited setting the alarm and, as the door swung closed behind me, I called for the elevator and then locked the door.

The weather has been oddly mild here for late November and, despite a light rain which felt more like September, I rid myself of the packages and then headed up the street toward the walkway which cuts to the park and, to the north, my destination.

As I came around the bend in the street, I noticed him almost immediately; I tend to be – a result, I'm certain, of many years of travelling on my own – very aware of those around me and movement, in general. At a similar time on the previous day, I had seen him and, today, he was distinguished by a bright blue, hooded poncho to protect against the rain but, his aspect was no different from what I had seen before. He walked with a cane in his left hand; his right arm was bent at the elbow and carried before him like a burden – rubbery and useless. His legs managed only a shuffling gait and he leaned heavily to the left on the support of the cane.

Turning together into the path toward the park, being urban dwellers, we assiduously ignored one another; he, I'm certain, with his own preoccupations and, I, with a recently recorded and remastered bootleg concert blaring in my ears. In only a few passes, I had overtaken him and, while his presence had registered, I was soon far ahead, looking forward to a fresh cup of coffee and then the return to, hopefully, succeed in finishing a new part for my story with circe and, of course, the laundry.

It didn't work out that way because, on the return, my day changed.

I did, however, have my coffee. Standing outside at the shopping plaza, I took tentative sips of the strong brew while having a cigarette and leaning against a support pillar to the overhang which kept me out of the rain. I absently watched the comings and goings of the Sunday shoppers – some of which held folded newspapers over their heads or hastily opened umbrellas with broken ribs such that the thing did little but flop awkwardly. I made up stories about the people I saw. Then, with the cup emptied and the cigarette butt jettisoned, I launched into action, hitting, first, the pharmacy, followed by the bank for some quick cash and the grocery store. Done, I headed toward home.

In only a few minutes walking, I turned into the silence of the park even though the music continued in my ears but, considering the weather, the dog-walkers were sparse and, the children, with their watchful mothers, completely absent. I noticed the blue poncho almost immediately.

He had stopped about a half way up the park – near another walk-through from the street – and, for the minutes that it took me to gain his position, he was immobile, bent and perched awkwardly on the edge of a park bench with the cane leaning on a plank beside him and its foot in a puddle.

On another day, I, or anyone else, might have simply passed by, ignoring the fellow but, for no reason that I can identify other than my knowledge of his infirmity, having surpassed him by a few steps, I stopped and, hesitantly, hailed to him.

“Is everything OK?” I recognised the ridiculous nature of my call as soon as the words were from my mouth.

He responded, his voice barely more than a clumsy whisper and I fumbled with the earphone, plucking it from its position.

“Sorry?” I smiled and took a step toward him.

His voice was weak and one side of his mouth sagged making his enunciation unclear but, focusing, I understood completely.

He said, “I'm still alive,” and, cautiously, he returned to me a lopsided smile.

That is the end of the story.

I'm still alive.

That's a good start, isn't it?
The rest, it seems to me – in spite of what difficulties may be tossed in our path – is up to us.

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