Today the temperature reached 60 and all the snow melted and the sun came out. I got spring fever, practically running to work in my bright red Prada shoes with no coat on. I was giddy.
After yet one more day of being not very good at my job, it got rainy and cold again, and I was stuck in my office with no coat and no hat and no umbrella.
Eventually I faced the truth that I had no choice but to walk home in the rain. It is, as I may have said before, a one-mile walk that should take me about twenty minutes. But not tonight. Halfway up the hill I saw a man stumbling in middle of the street. I thought he was just drunk, but as I got closer I saw that he was rather elderly, and as he stumbled over to the far side of the street, where there is no sidewalk, only a muddy embankment, he clutched his chest and looked like he was in a lot of pain. So I called out to him.
I was right the first time. He was just very, very drunk. He was perhaps in his 70s, although it's hard to tell. At first I thought his pinky finger on one hand had been amputated, but in I saw later that the finger was normal, just curved in at a strange, painful angle. He was wearing a ratty hooded jacket and big cheap glasses.
"I'm drunk," he said.
"I'm really fucked up," he said.
"Where we goin'?," he said.
"I don't even know where the fuck I am," he said.
"I'm followin' you," he said.
He said these things over and over again. He said them all in the same tone of voice -- not pitiful at all, and not angry either, but sort of like he was giving a command, regardless of whether he was actually telling me to do something, asking a question, or stating a fact. The only thing in a different voice was a little terrified-sounding "woah!" when I started to get too far ahead of him. He'd lean against the fence for a moment, then revert to his normal tone. "Don't let me fall, motherfucker."
He only fell once. One of the lenses of his cheap glasses popped out, and a wad of cash fell out of his pocket. I thought that perhaps I would ditch him in a bus shelter and run home. It would have been easy, since we stopped in the bus shelter across from my house. He would never have remembered me, or remembered my failure to help him. And the only help I was providing was leading to the liquor store and the pay phone, which in the big picture was hardly any help at all. He wanted me to take him to a restaurant or a motel. Neither were a possibility in Cleveland Heights at midnight on a Monday. The liquor store was the best I could do.
And I did it. I got him to the all-night liquor store, walking slowly in the rain as my bright red Prada shoes got more and more waterlogged and my toes got more and more numb. I held his hand now and then, briefly, but mostly walked five steps ahead. Mostly I just wanted to keep him from walking into the road and getting hit. As he finally walked in the door of the shop, I ran back towards my house that we had earlier passed. He never told me his name or expressed any gratitude whatsoever, except for a moment when I handed him the lens of his glasses.
There was a moment, in the middle of our journey, when we stopped in a bus shelter, when he said "Wait, wait. I want to talk to you." He started to say "I'm from..." and then a long pause "I need to go to..." and then another long pause. He never told me where he was from, or maybe he didn't know anymore. After the moment, we fell back into his mantra of "I'm drunk...where we goin'...I'm followin' you."
He would not have remembered my abandoning him. He will not remember my helping him.