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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Celebrating living

I walked slowly down the corridor, my white kitten-heeled sandals click-clicking, keeping time to the musical squeaking of his wheelchair.

Now that Mr Wheels was feeling much better and was able to get about on his own, he had many questions about his current condition and treatment. A few days previously, he had rolled in on a stretcher, grey-faced and sweating, as his heart fluttered erratically in his chest like a trapped sparrow. Now, he was scooting about in his chair, fancy-free, whilst his heart thumped away, strong and regular as a ticking clock.

I'd spent about ten minutes slowly going over the details of what had happened to his heart and the explanation behind his symptoms. Afterwards he seemed pleased, and said, "Do you have five minutes? It's not anything medical."

I nodded and followed after him as he headed down the corridor and out of the ward. Outside, sun was shining down on the ivy-covered perimeter fence, glancing off the leaves that were just beginning to show the season's colours.

Mr Wheels gestured towards the fence with his hands. "I have a lovely garden at home, and we've got a fence just like that, with a green climbing plant. I think I shall uproot it and replace it with ivy just like that. Look at those colours. So vivid!"

He folded his hands in his lap and sighed to himself.

"Ever since I had me operation, it's been hard to get about, but I can still manage in the garden, and that's one thing."

He looked intently at the stump of his right leg, with the trouser leg folded over and neatly hemmed.

"You like gardening?"

I told him that I loved plants but didn't have a garden. Our flat has a bit of green in every room, to keep the air pure. He smiled in agreement.

"I try to make things beautiful around me. There's so much horror in this world. Two days ago, I thought I was going to cork it, but it wasn't me time. You're from Singapore aren't you?"

I nodded mutely, shocked at the sudden change of subject.

"I recognise the accent. I was a soldier out there, just after the War."

He paused, watching a flame-coloured leaf that was floating by on the wind.

"I went to Changi then, and helped exhume the graves. Had to give them a decent burial, you know? Three hundred Chinese men made to dig their own grave with just their bare hands and then all shot to death, and then the bulldozers must have just covered them over, you know, a mass grave. It was horrible. But things like that happen all over the world, during all wars."

I asked him if he'd ever been back there, to Singapore.

Mr Wheels nodded vigorously, his grey eyes lighting up with the memory. "I loved it out there. Absolutely loved it. I went back there to work when I finished with the army. I was in construction. Raised my family out there for many, many years...real sad to leave, but my company sent me all round the world for all sorts of work. Been everywhere - America, Australia, the Middle East, you name it. And I went back to Singapore to visit a few years ago. Amazing! It looks so different now. You been to 'Underwater World'? Amazing."

He reached towards the ivy and plucked a few golden leaves off.

"You know, the best thing was all the festivals. The colours! So many cultures living together, there was a festival going on practically any day of the year. Celebrating life and living. That's what it's all about. Anyway, you best be going back in - you have better things to do than listen to an old man's nattering."

I told him that a man like him has better things to do than to waste his precious afternoon telling stories to a young whippersnapper. He laughed. I put my hand on his shoulder and thanked him for his time. Then, I picked up the flame coloured leaf that had come to rest on my shoe, dusted it off and gave it to him.

He wheeled himself back to his ward, and in a few moments, his grandchildren arrived for a visit, filling the ward with their childish laughter. I watched from a distance as he showed them the leaf I gave him, holding them up to the window to catch the light. They clapped their hands. Even the other patients began smiling and chattering to each other.

It was like a party.

Then I understood, that it was a party. It was Mr Wheels, celebrating.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Made me tear, I don't know why.

Very nice, thank you for this post.

12:19 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, what a powerful story. Thank you.

8:11 am  
Anonymous skates said...

...and it's for moments such as these that is why you are what you are, and will continue being what you are. Take care and I can only imagine the autumn light, as compared to the haze that is shrouding Singapore.

10:54 am  
Blogger tscd said...

anon and mama mia: Thanks. I felt very moved by this gentleman's words as well, although I'm not sure why.

skates: It's rare to share moments like these with a patient. More often than not, I'm rushing round so much, I don't have time to exchange pleasantries. But when I so, it is always rewarding.

3:12 am  
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1:46 pm  

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