the old man in the curry house
the one where he thinks about how he wants to spend his final years
It was damn near a disaster. I had barged into the cafe and nearly knocked the Old Man off of his feet.
He wobbled dangerously and I spun around to steady him.
The Old Man swatted my hand away and caught himself on a chair.
“All fine, boy.”
I bumbled apologies but he made it clear that he would just as soon forget it all happened. The Old Man found his seat and I winced as his hips shuddered in instability.
“Stop staring,” Claire hissed at me. “And watch where you’re going!”
The cafe Proprietress came over to scold me, but seeing that my wife was doing a fine job of it, she settled for taking our orders.
The cafe—really a curry house—was owned by a pair of British ex-pats: the Proprietress and Cook.
It was a wooden patio painted pastel blue that led into a single open space that combined three dining tables, a reception counter, and a small kitchen where the Cook worked from sunup to sundown.
The patio was right next to the road and looked out into the bay. Stray dogs, cruisers, and locals would walk by and it became something of a social affair as acquaintances would stop to chat and make plans for later.
The Old Man sat at a single wooden table facing the sunset. Sitting ramrod straight, grasping his knife and fork with spindly fingers, he sawed and gnawed at Steak Au Poivre—the only non-curry item on the menu—and washed it down his bony gullet with a gin and tonic. Soon as he finished, he reached into his shirt pocket from which he produced a pack of Marlboros.
“Stop staring,” Claire reminded me.
Suddenly, the Old Man shot straight up out of his chair.
“Have I paid my bill?” He asked no one in particular.
The Proprietress walked over and whispered in his ear.
“Very good! Well, I’m off!”
She pressed his cane into his hand and quickly scanned his seat for a wallet or anything that could have fallen out of his pockets. “Be careful, would you?”
“Hrmph .. of course!” He announced to the back of the room in a theatre yell.
“Well, I’m off!” And with that he turned to make his way down the road where he became a backlit figure shaded by leafy coconut trees, swaying and leaning heavily on his cane.
As we were the only ones left, the Proprietress walked to our table, tutted, and said, “Dementia. He always asks for a drink and I water them down. But, look at that, the cheeky bastard has a flask in his pocket.”
Sure enough, leaning against a coconut tree, the Old Man was fumbling with his back pocket.
“Who looks after him?” I asked.
“No one, really,” she said. “He used to live on a boat out in the bay. But as you can see he’s in no fit state to get on and off a boat. He rents a room nearby.”
“He collects a pension. Spends it on rent and booze. Then mostly walks about. I feed him whenever he shows and I’m not particular about the bill. But otherwise he’s free to roam.”
The Proprietress left to go argue with the Cook.
At the time, Claire and I both had grandparents in their latter years. And I could see that she was held by the same thought as I.
What a thin line this Old Man walked.
How precarious a life.
But then looking down the road at the man with dementia sucking down overproof rum from a flask, belly full of curry, ambling to his next social engagement, I couldn’t help but think,
“What a way to go.”