Monday, 13 February 2012

I don't know

A man I didn't really know died recently, I'd met him once or twice at events hosted by one of those not-for-profits that invade every aspect of everything ever thought of. The not-for-profit decided to sell memorabilia at one of their events and the man, the now-dead man, trembled his way over to the table to inspect the goods.

He took a while moving between his seat and the merch table at the back of the hall, you could see his navigation systems were having some trouble and his legs, though willing, bowed and angled like they were bearing the weight of an eight-tonne truck and not the birdlike body of an elderly man. He fingered some of the merchandise, letting it slide between his fingers before putting it down again. He opened his wallet but came up a little short, I offered, because I was working the merch table, to let him pay the balance later, but he declined. Angling his head and taking a last look he went to walk away but his wife spotted him and came over. He politely enquired as to whether she might have some money about her person and pointed shyly to the merch.

The wife, elderly and impeccably groomed, gushed, "Of course you must have one my darling" and immediately produced a large amount of cash, in hundreds, from thin air. She might have been pompous if it wasn't for the tender glance she shot in her husband's direction. He fingered the merch once more before reverently choosing one and carefully stashing it in his battered old briefcase. Earlier in the proceedings he had introduced himself to me and proudly stated that he was back in action and ready to be of service once again. I had eyed him warily wondering if he wasn't a crackpot who'd wandered in from the street but was soon sure of his status in the group when The Captain of the not-for-profit made a show of shaking his hand.

At the time of the showy handshake I felt a shiver of disgust, not for the man but for the closed in world of not-for-profits. I found myself in a state of involuntary reverie about community marching bands and pony clubs. Those places seemed haunted by elderly people who did nothing but yell at children like me to sit up straighter on my pony or hold my clarinet at different angle. Back then I wondered why these elderly yelling people were tolerated when all they did was wear the club tie and yell and complain about things. I know better these days but at the moment of the showy handshake I felt a childlike urge to gallop off or deliberately play in the wrong key.

During the speeches, and the reading of the minutes and the chugging through of the agenda I watched the old man from my perch at the back of the room. I felt my own small tenderness for his dear old head as it bent over his shaky notes. I wondered what he was writing and why. The secretary was taking official minutes and the room was packed with emeritus academics who surely must have one or two memory cells between them. He persisted with his intense concentration and note-taking right through to the end of the proceedings.

When all the other academics and assorted official people were braying loudly over full cups of expensive wines and rocking back and forth on their heels in a mildly demented manner the old man was sitting lightly on a plastic chair in the corner. Every so often he would take a peek in his briefcase and stare fondly at his merchandise. I made a note to post him a receipt with a kind note, something simple about how the not-for-profit was terribly glad he was "back in action".

I never saw the man again, he died before I had a chance to make up for the insolence of my youth, all those times I rode off at pony club with my nose in the air, or declared at band practice that someone was 'not the boss of me'. There's probably something I should think of to tie this little anecdote up, finish it up with a concluding sentence but I just can't think what it is. Perhaps it is enough that I noticed him, that outside of his family and friends and the official mourning accompanying anyone who has achieved great things there is someone else who will remember him. Or maybe it isn't. I don't know, maybe I'm just feeling sentimental and in five minutes I will have forgotten all about everything.

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