Sunday, March 04, 2012

Heard the old woman cry out and I did nothing

I heard the woman approaching before I ever saw her.

<scrape>
"Ohhh..."
<scrape>
"Arggg..."
<scrape>
 "Oooo..."

She was making a whole host of aggrieved noises, so I looked up.  Unlike what I assumed, she was not being mugged or otherwise molested.  She was simply walking -- achingly slow -- down the hallway, using her cane.  Every step brought some sort of vocalization, none of them pleasant or muted.  She was using the sort of voice one uses to make a lover guilty while sitting six seats down the bar from them ("oh, you're a DOCTOR.  WELL, isn't that AWESOME!")


I turned back to my reading.  Ordinarily, reading in a public place gives me a little more chance to tune out various noises.  In this case, the sounds of obvious human suffering must have an evolutionary shortcut through the din of a crowded hallway.  I couldn't stop listening to the woman wheeze and grunt as she traveled painstakingly down the hallway.

Finally, she reached a chair.  Lowering herself into it in a manner I once saw a group of Russian soldiers use to crate a tranquilized rhino, she made a final exhausted landing grunt.  This was quickly followed by the gradually fading intensity of several puffs and sounds of recovery, as a train would make after ceasing motion at the station.

The woman was no older than my mother and she carried pounds in excess.  It clearly had taken its toll on her knees or her ankles, judging by the difficulty she had in moving at even the slowest of paces.  As she sat in the chair recovering, she said something under her breath I could not understand.

She said more.  "David..." in a questing way, the sound varying in pitch and timbre, suggesting her rotating her head and searching for whoever she was calling.

"Where is David?  I think they all hide from me."  I raised my eyes to see if she was somehow speaking to me, but she was looking towards another group of ladies known to her who were engaged in a conversation a little way off.

Having not gotten their attention, she said, "Have you seen David?" with more vigor.  The two conversing ladies turned their heads, their conversation interrupted.  "What, Beth?"

The seated woman took an audible breath and repeated herself.  The women replied that they hadn't seen him, pointedly ignoring the repeated comment about people hiding.

The woman continued to complain whether or not anyone cared to listen, content to inflict her words on people.  She didn't seem to require a response, either -- her conversation of one continued speculating where "they" might be, how this was a lot different than the previous building, how the addition of steps was "terrible".

And all the while, I stayed with my nose in my book.  Were she my mother, I'd have gone to her and attempted to quiet whatever issues were plaguing her.  As it was, I simply sat there and let her discomfort make ripples in the calm of my book.  Other people keep moving and avoided the part of the hallway that had such a discontented occupant. 

She reminded me greatly of the person who used to come into the Panera Bread I worked at and tell us all about her mental difficulties.  Schizophrenia, manic/depressive, and a host of other ailments: this customer had them all and discoursed about them at length.  The other employees and I always thought it was odd, considering the long list of other customers who might have metal difficulties and chose to keep them quite to themselves!

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