I met an elderly gentleman today and I can't seem to get him off my mind. Nothing unusual about being elderly though...I've reached that category myself, for heaven's sake.
There were other things about this man, however, that left an unusual impression on me -- one of sadness, sympathy, worry and wonder all wrapped up in one -- if you can imagine it. To compound my emotions, I actually ran across him twice within a span of about four hours.
It was late afternoon in our local Tim Horton's when I first encountered this thin, stooped figure of a man as he was attempting to order a coffee and a bowl of soup. It was clear that he could not hear what the quiet-spoken young lady on cash was trying to convey to him and she could not understand what he was trying to communicate to her in a halting, muffled tone. I decided to insert myself in this awkward scene.
"I think he wants his order for here and he's asking how much it is going to cost," I told the cashier. "Okay," she responded..."It will be $4.28 and I will take the order to him."
Going chest to shoulder with him, I verbalized the information as clearly as possible. He struggled to pull a wallet from his jacket pocket and slowly pulled out a $10 bill with stiff, fumbling fingers. After receiving his change he continued to half lean on the counter with a blank, yet rather expectant expression on his face. His cane fell to the floor.
Picking up the cane, I told him that I would help him to a table and that his food would be delivered to him when it was ready. It was all I could do to support this once six-footer as we unsteadily made our way to the nearest table. At no time did he ever speak a word to me, although he did manage a weak smile when I jokingly offered: "It is not every day that a fellow gets his food delivered to him by a pretty girl."
It was about four hours later when fate would bring us together again...This time as I was doing some late evening grocery shopping. I spotted him, coincidentally, as he was leaving the check-out counter with a cart full of groceries. "I can't believe it," I commented to the cashier. "This is the second time today that I've seen that poor man. How did he make out in paying for his groceries?"
"Oh, it was a nightmare," she replied. "In the end, I had to help him find his debit card and to make matters worse he could not remember how to use it. I had to ask him for his code and then I punched it in for him...I hope he trusted me," she added.
I was still paying for my purchases when the dual entrance doors opened and there he stood again with that same blank, yet expectant stare. Another alert clerk rushed to greet him, saying loudly as she held up a cane (his), "I thought you would be back for this. You also left behind a pound of butter...I'll go get it for you."
"I'm kind of worried," I said to the cashier. "I don't know how he got here. Maybe I can give him a hand with his groceries, or give him a ride somewhere. Certainly he can't be driving a car." I rushed out in an attempt to find the man in the shadows of the grey parking lot.
Parked directly in front of the store was a late 1990s model Lincoln Continental in mint condition. As I looked through the passenger side window I could see the man struggling to position himself behind the steering wheel. I ran around behind the vehicle and reached him as he was attempting to close the door with his cane. "Are you going to be alright," I asked? Before giving him a chance to answer, I could not help posing another question..."How old are you, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Ninety-eight," was the unhesitating surprise answer.
The Lincoln Continental left me standing in a cloud of dust, its red tail lights disappearing into the darkness of Highway 21.
I'm still shaking my head -- wondering.
I pray he got home -- somewhere!