fallen.jpgPhoto by Rutio
I tell him it’s okay and he asks me if it’s okay
It’s dark when I get off the bus by the corner store. Not the best area of town. The only other person in sight is lying on the sidewalk. Groceries and two plastic bags are scattered around him, and a wooden cane lies a few feet away.
“Are you okay?”
He doesn’t say anything, so I squat down. He lies on his side; jeans and white runners; one leg looks too skinny; the daypack on his back is full. His dirty olive-green ski jacket is half open, and a plastic bottle of Chinese cooking wine is tucked inside. Two more bottles of the same wine lie among the spilled groceries.
“Are you okay?”
He raises his head a little. He doesn’t look old, maybe thirty-five; hasn’t shaved in a few days.
“Are you talking to me?” “Yes.” “You’re talking to me.” “Are you okay?” “I’ve talked to you before,” he says, “a long time ago.” “Oh yeah?” He doesn’t look familiar. “Yeah,” he says, “we’ve talked before.”
“Do you want me to help you get up?” “Okay.”
I’m not sure how to proceed. Will he even be able to stand? I give him his cane to hold on to. The man from the corner store comes to the rescue: “It’s okay, I’ve called an ambulance. They’re on their way.”
“It’s okay,” I say to the fallen man, “someone’s coming for you.” He looks up at me. “Is it okay?” “Yeah, they’re coming to help you.”
As I start to move away he says something else, and I turn back: “Eh?” “Do I have to?” “It’ll be fine. They’ll take care of you.” “Do I have to?” “Yes.” Backing away, nodding. “It’ll be okay.” I turn and go into the store.
When I come out again, the ambulance has arrived. The two attendants have turned the man over and propped him up on his daypack, as though he were lounging on a canvas beach chair. One attendant is getting the stretcher ready; the other is squatting beside the fallen man, who says, “Not the hospital!” as if hospital is code for hell. “No,” says the attendant, “not the hospital. We’ll take you to detox, okay?” “Don’t take me to the hospital!” They lift him onto the stretcher. “We’re not taking you to the hospital.” “Don’t take me to the hospital.” One of them slips the man’s pack off his back and hands it to him. He hugs it and lies back, but keeps his head up as if calling to his feet: “Don’t take me to the hospital.” “We’re not taking you to the hospital.” They’re patient, almost cheerful, as they manoeuvre the stretcher into the ambulance. “We’re taking you to detox.”
“Detox,” the man says. “Okay. Just don’t take me to the hospital.”