Old man and the street

An old man accosted me yesterday morning. Accosted is too strong a word, but I am not sure how else to put it. He saw me just as I walked out of our apartment building, and started talking. Something about telegrams and mental illness and NIMHANs and medicines.... All the time, I was thinking, "Oh hell, why me, why me! Why can't he go away and bother someone else"? I was going to pick up little man and I had just 10 minutes to go.

But he just wouldn't walk away and kept rambling on. Was he mentally ill? I am not sure, he certainly appeared lucid enough. He didn't seem disoriented or lost, as a person with dementia would seem to be. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Naveen, our building's security guard (who lives here with his family), watching. I glanced uncertainly at him, hoping he would come shoo the man away. He didn't.

And yet, I didn't, couldn't, walk on, pretending this old man didn't exist. Instead I wondered why was he doing this? Where was his family? And then I thought of my own father, 83-going-on-84. He has dementia. And he has gone missing two times--once for more than 17 hours, and on another occasion for four-five hours. When my father was wandering around, did he approach people like this man? Ask for money? I honestly don't know.

So I gave the old man a Rs 100 note, and he carefully tucked it among other smaller denomination notes, in his wallet. Then he slowly shuffled away.

This old man, he was not ill. He simply wanted money. And he probably was spinning me a yarn, but I really don't care. For me, this old man and the way he came up to, reminded me of my father. And the times he went missing. Because both times, someone did help him and someone did alert the police. For that is how he came back to us. If people had turned away, ignored my father, he would still be a missing person today.

That morning, that is what I thought of when I saw the old man before me, spinning me a yarn just so he could get me to pay him something. Yes, maybe I am a sucker for such stories. But in any case, what can be more heartrending than seeing an old man so desperate that he goes up to a total stranger asking for money. That is why I did not turn away, when that old man came up to me.

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