Every morning while going to drop my kids to school, I would meet him in my apartment lift with his dog. He must be in his late 80s, modestly dressed in a pair of trousers and a jacket. A calm, wrinkled, blank face. His eyes were sad and deep, I could see a storm in them. And it made me curious to know him more. I felt restless whenever I saw him. Before you judge me as nosy, that I am not, this was truly an exceptional case. There was always anxiety, an expression of fear on his face which was intriguing.
Unlike other neighbors, he would never smile or share pleasantries and even ignore the waving kids seated in their stroller. 2 minutes in the lift and we would part our ways. It was a ritual for him to take his dog for a walk every day. I called him “Dog Uncle” (only in my mind)
A year passed by but nothing changed. We would enter the lift together, exactly at the same time. I with the kids and him with his dog.
It was a bright sunny winter afternoon and I was out for a walk alone to enjoy some me-time when I encountered him outside our neighboring retail store. He was overloaded with groceries and clearly needed help. Our eyes met, but he averted. But somehow, I could not turn a blind eye. By then, his paper bag was torn and the stuff scattered on the road.
Without giving a second thought, I walked up to him and offered help. He nodded. Yes, he did. FINALLY. We beamed at each other while filling our jacket pockets with his stuff and headed back to our apartment together. Silently! Since then, we shared smiles, halted the lift door if we saw each other coming. We never talked but I was happy. Though I wanted to talk and talk a lot, the language was the barrier. He didn’t know English and I barely knew Polish. He turned affectionate towards us and would wave at the kids. A couple of times both of us tried to start a discussion using sign language but none of us could comprehend. He would just smile, bless us, and leave.
It was Fat Thursday, a Polish festival and we were invited to our neighbors’ flat for a small party. All the other neighbors were there on the floor except him. My eyes kept looking for him but I was dismayed as I thought it would be an apt day to break the ice. Finally, I asked my neighbor, and what she told me left me speechless. I could understand his anguish and how I wished to go and give him a tight hug right then.
My neighbor, Anna, told me his name was Zygmont and his wife was fighting cancer. They did not have kids but were the parents to dogs. They were a jovial couple when his wife, Katy was diagnosed with cancer a year back. This turned their life upside down. Katy had always been a fun-loving and extrovert lady, full of life, warm, and a very affectionate human being. Cancer invaded their lives like a tornado.
Regular chemos made her body frail. Zygmont was a diabetic and Katy was his caretaker all these years. She ensured he takes his medication punctually, goes out for a stroll twice daily, and stays fit. After Katy’s diagnosis, Dog Uncle took charge of her and his health took a back seat. He kept juggling between hospitals, drug stores, and home. Katy is clinically stable now and back home on lifetime medication but she took a promise from Zygmont for taking care of himself. Her vows tightly bounded him to take care of himself hence he goes for a walk daily. They live for and with each other.
He was seen nowhere for the last few days.
Every time I stepped out of my flat, I would look at his door just to find no one. I knew about his ailing wife. Is she OK? Do they need any help? Where is he and why can’t I see him these days? Should I go to their flat and meet them? Why is he not around? And many other questions popped up in my mind every time I looked at his flat.
Sometimes, you feel a connection with a few people with whom you have never spoken. With him, it was the same. I miss him, his presence, that smile, that polite face, those eyes, those blessings, those failed attempts to understand each other, and those few silent minutes in the lift!!!