NOT FADE AWAY
How many times have I been amazingly lucky and not known it? How many bad things have I avoided through no effort or wisdom of my own? When auspicious events did happen, how many did I even notice at the time?
There is no good reason to suspect that my luck has run out or is wearing thin. Even though I am old and retired, living on the other side of the world from the country I used to call “home,” I am not yet dead in the water. Wheels are turning. Opportunities continue to present themselves, though I am usually the last to know.
In these, my twilight years, I must make the effort to keep an open mind. If I am closed off from all serendipity, then probably my life will unfold as a self-fulfilling prophesy. Steady decline. Ultimate death. Me, in diapers, waiting for an attendant to bring me my next dose of medicine.
Did I take the last dose? Yes Mam. Actually, I hid it behind my pillow. My intention is to stockpile them and then take them all at once, hopefully overdosing in the process. I am, however, not ready to exit this stage quite yet. I will cherish this last hurrah, milking the moment, toying with the audience’s attention. I will slow my movements and modulate my speech. I will have them in the palm of my hand. Then, and only then, will I pop a handful of pills.
Little did I know that when I doze off the nurse comes and removes the pills from behind my pillow. She’s encountered my type before. She thinks I’m just another shell of a human on his way to the crematorium, when I am in fact awaiting my renaissance. My glory years lie ahead.
Oh sure they made me sign certain papers to be admitted to this program. No effort would be made to extend my life. Do not resuscitate. But all that applies to someone else, not me. These other poor souls really are on their last legs, but my limbs are growing stronger and more supple by the hour.
And along with my body, my mind is growing in wit and whimsy. Lately, the most complex problems unfold like a child’s puzzle. Small and seemingly insignificant events delight me. I am like a purring cat, licking its paws and staring with fascination at dancing dust motes.
Although I have few visitors, the ones who do stop by all remark how well I seem. A few have even accused me of faking it, of exaggerating my senescence in order to have a free place to stay. Well, for one thing, this place is not free. It costs about what I was spending to have an apartment in a fashionable part of town. My former life and all that it entailed is history now, and someone else inhabits my abode. He or she hears the rumble of my refrigerator compressor motor in the middle of the night. He/She says hello to my neighbors in the elevator.
I am now a voyager, bound for distant climes. No use stamping my passport, for the places for which I am headed have no borders to guard. They are vast, mysterious, and gloriously untrammeled. They are as fresh as dew and as picturesque as a Parrish painting.
So what if my disposable diaper flaps in the wind? It was never my choice to wear it in the first place. Of my own volition I am unclothed and unshod. I wear no armor, no uniform. I am part of no invading force. That which may dangle, does.
Most importantly, I am totally emotionally present wherever I go. No more fading out as I wait for time to pass. I am suddenly wide awake.
My attendants only check on me sporadically. When I leave my room, albeit haltingly, leaning on my four-point cane and shuffling from room to doorway, then out onto the path that leads into the woods nearby, I am undetected.
It is a pleasant morning. The heat of the day has not yet announced itself, the sun hidden behind dark clouds that may or may not foretell rain. Birds sing. A gardener is busy at his work and does not look up. I must appear as a thin, pink figure, bent and shuffling down a damp path into the foliage. My heart is high in my chest and I’m breathing deeply. I am in ecstasy!
I hear a motorcycle coming closer, at low speed and a banging noise. It is one of those scooters with a metal box side car for hauling things. An old woman is driving it. She stops and motions for me to climb aboard. There is a plywood board at the bottom of the sidecar which I can sit on. I do. We drive off, slowly.
This is fun. I have seen old people slumped over, riding like this. No one can see that I’m naked. Just as well. We leave the main gate and proceed down a common road, driving along for about ten minutes. Then we pull into a driveway of a dilapidated wooden house, one of those teak houses you often see. She motions for me to follow her. There is a rickety staircase leading up to the door. The house is on stilts and the door is ten feet off the ground.
There is no handrail, so it is slow going for me. I climb the stairs very slowly, using my cane to propel me upward and to keep me from falling sideways. When in doubt, I lean into the house. After fifteen minutes I make it to the door.
The house is dark and surprisingly cool inside. I sit down on the floor, for there is no furniture. She hands me a shirt and a skirt, the kind the Burmese wear. I can put the shirt on by myself, but she has to help me wrap the skirt. She brings me some water.
I say “thank you” in her language. Then we sit in the relative darkness and look towards the main window, which has shutters and is open to a grove of bamboo. I am glad to be here. We sit in silence for a long time.
I keep waiting for her to say something, but she doesn’t. In trying to guess her age, sometimes I conclude that she’s roughly the same age as me, other times that she’s twenty years my junior. After a few hours she goes about making dinner. It’s a very small and simple dinner, but I can eat it.
There is a toilet in the house, one of those squat affairs with a plastic bowl and a water bucket instead of toilet paper. I am not yet ready to use it. When she cleans up my mess, she does so as if incontinence is normal. When darkness falls, I sleep where I was sitting. There is a pillow for my head and a blanket nearby, should I need it. She sleeps on a hard surface, as well, a sort of wooden sofa.
After a few days, I realize that I can make it to the squat toilet on my own. I can also crawl around well enough to explore her house. It is a simple place with few secrets. She comes and goes once or twice a day, but I stay behind, because I imagine they are looking for me and I don’t want to be found.