The other night I came across an old man on his own in his motorized wheelchair struggling to find his way home (?).
As I made my way to meet my other half I saw a taxi drop off a severely disabled man in what seemed a rare place to do so as it wasn’t the easiest place to maneuver a wheelchair. We asked him if he was all right to what he responded straightaway ‘No’, half mumbling but trying his best to be coherent. He couldn’t talk properly, we realized he had some sort of speech impairment and we hardly understood his desperate words but could sense that he was determined to get to his destination and needed, more than anything else, moral support.
After some juggling we made out that he needed to get to the main street in town, somewhere near Debenhams but was disconcerted and although he recognised the area he didn’t seem to know where he was in relation to the place he wanted to reach. We took to guide him to where we thought he wanted to go. It was freezing and he wasn’t wearing enough layers; his bony smooth hands were very cold and he kept searching for mine in order to feel some warmth. He kept embracing my hand firmly to his chest whilst repeating the word ‘warm’ as best as he could. He stopped several times sighing and taking a breath, trying to find his bearings. We repeatedly asked him if he knew where he was going or if someone was meeting him. He kept saying ‘No’ and other words we were unable to understand until he reached for my hand, extended my palm and with his finger “wrote” each letter of the name of the place he had in his mind. Five letters: COSTA! I pronounced loudly, he nodded in satisfaction and his face lit, at last we were able to communicate clearly and effectively.
We carried on and after a few more stops finally got there. We helped him in, he managed to stand up wobbling to reach his back pocket for a few coins to buy a warm drink. Meanwhile I went out to get help, not a police officer in sight but after a little while we realised that the staff knew him and was one of their regulars. We said goodbye and left.
What I learned was that this man, within all his vulnerability, disability and apparent frailness is a very strong willed human being, resilient and determined and he is not prepared to give up just yet, he is a fighter. He also taught me that although communication is vital to help someone in need, we can make ourselves understood non-verbally in very ingenious ways, his approach to tell us where he wanted to go was simple yet very clever. He wasn’t only tactile in the mere sense of “writing” on my hand, but what he really touched was my soul making me acknowledge that this is what being human is about.
I was awoken in the middle of the night by the thought of him, I wondered whether someone else had helped him reach his home safely.