The small coffee shop was not crowded at two o’clock on a warm September afternoon. School was still in session so the teenage crowd had not yet arrived for wild concoctions of mocha, choi, soy, whipped cream and who knows what else. Customers in the shop were mostly older, sipping simpler drinks, and enjoying their newspapers or just chatting quietly.
It was a convenient time and place for me to prepare for an appointment with a client later in the day. I was fortunate to be able to secure my favorite spot in this particular shop, sitting with my back to the far corner where I could work undisturbed but where I could also observe what was happening in the shop whenever I wanted to take a break.
After a few minutes, I noticed an older couple entering. They looked to be in their mid-seventies and at first glance, appeared to be in good shape for their age. Both were tall and trim and stood straight without a problem. Her blue blouse and white slacks were neatly pressed and a white sweater was draped about her shoulders with the sleeves tied in a loose knot in front. Her white hair was simply styled and held in place with a simple barrette that matched her eyeglasses. He wore an oxford cloth shirt and tan Bermuda shorts, both crisply pressed, a golfer’s cap and running shoes with white socks.
My eyes were attracted to them because the woman seemed to be having a bit of difficulty moving. It looked as if she could walk just fine but she just didn’t seem to know where to go. The man nudged her along gently toward a vacant table where they stopped. The man pulled a chair back and, by gently holding both her upper arms, guided her to a standing position just in front of the chair. Next, with one hand he gently pushed down on her shoulder while tapping the back of one knee with his other hand. She sat slowly.
Two other chairs were pushed up to the table and she was having trouble positioning her feet among all the chair legs. The man rearranged the chairs and positioned her feet in a natural stance. He sat in one of the other chairs and noticed that her barrette was in disarray. He removed it and with both hands, smoothed her hair over her ears and toward her back. Then, he placed the barrette back onto her head in the correct position. She didn’t move and offered no resistance to his actions. He stared at her face for a moment, then stood up and walked toward the restroom.
While he was gone, shop staff members spoke to the woman as though they knew her. She looked at them and smiled faintly in return but did not say anything. She turned her head to look around the shop with a somewhat confused look. I wondered if she was looking for the man. She looked in my direction, not at me specifically, just at space, I think. I got the impression that in her youth, she would have been quite attractive. Although she obviously had issues now, her graceful bearing was still evident.
The man returned with some damp paper towels and dabbed around the corners of her mouth, then walked to the counter and purchased what appeared to be yogurt and granola. He returned to the table, opened the yogurt and mixed the granola with it. He took the woman’s hand and placed a spoon in it while sliding the yogurt toward her. I again sensed that she was physically capable of doing something but could not figure out how. The man guided her spoon into the yogurt, then to her mouth. At this point, she understood what to do and began eating.
While she ate, the man spoke with another man sitting at the adjacent table. Evidently they knew each other and I picked up bits of their conversation regarding medications and treatments. They chatted quietly while the woman ate. She paused from time to time and her companion would nudge her spoon to the appropriate spot to help her get started again. After a while, she placed the spoon on the table and the man wiped her mouth again with the paper towels. He continued to chat with the other man while he placed one of her hands atop the other, then placed one of his own hands atop hers. She didn’t pay much attention to either of the men but glanced around the room, looking not only at the people in the room but also the ceiling, the displays and vacant tables.
They were such a handsome couple that I wondered what they had been like forty or fifty years ago. Was one of them, or maybe both, a professional of some type? Did they have children? Had they traveled widely? What did they do for fun?
Was I was looking at a snapshot of my spouse and me forty years from now? Would one of us be caring for the other like this? Would the issues so important to us today all have given way to simpler tasks? Would there be strong enough bonds to keep us tightly coupled even when one of us was not fully there?
After about ten minutes, the man stood and pulled her chair away from the table. He took both of her hands in his and helped her to a standing position. With his left hand holding hers and his right hand at the small of her back, he encouraged her toward the door. He paused to say goodbye to the other man and to the shop staff, then they moved to the door. He positioned his right arm more firmly around her waist and held the door open with his left hand. Once outside, he grasped her left hand with his right and they walked to their car.
He opened her door and with nudges at various parts of her side, hip and legs, positioned her in her seat and reached across her to buckle her seat belt. Once positioned in his own seat, he leaned across and kissed her on the cheek. Then they slowly exited the parking lot and drove away.
© 2015 Jim Stringer