Baklava at Noon
These things only happen when you’re high.
We were sitting in a park, Claudia and I, when a motorized wheelchair came towards us. As it got closer we saw a small woman sitting inside it, almost crumbling inside it. She looked paralyzed from the neck down and a white plastic tube was in her mouth. Maybe she was steering the wheelchair with her tongue.
She also had a dog. The dog looked nice.
The woman approached us, humming along, on her big battery operated machine. Then, just as she was about to pass, she stopped. Claudia and I looked at her from over our shoulders. We couldn’t see her face, but we watched the wheelchair in silence.
Four long seconds pass.
Then, just like that, she kept going on her way. Humming along.
“That was strange,” Claudia said.
I didn’t respond. We got back to our conversation, forgot about it.
We were somewhere in Hochelaga. The sun was out. We made it a point to get out early. There weren’t many sunny days in the spring and it was necessary to take what you could get.
It was either a Sunday or a holiday. Something important was happening. The park was empty and only people without families roamed the streets.
We were freshly stoned and Claudia was rolling another. She was always rolling another.
Our conversation turned towards “fucking Harper” when the wheelchair reappeared. She was coming back down the same sidewalk and the humming noise was getting louder as she got closer.
We both got quite.
When she reached us she stopped again. Then she went backwards, then forwards, then backwards. It was chaos. We sat there, watching it unfold. The chair made all kinds of noises, buzzes, clings and clangs. She kept braking violently. Backwards, forward, backwards, forwards. At some point, the chair turned and she drove straight off the sidewalk, into the grass. Her tires spun.
She was stuck.
Claudia and I were still sitting, watching. The woman wasn’t moving. We saw the whole thing happen, but couldn’t believe it happened. And, of all places, why did it happen in front of us?
“Should we help her?” I asked.
“I think we have to help her,” Claudia said.
We got up. Action time. Time to save the lady.
The dog jumped on us when we got close. He was happy to see us. I petted the dog and looked at the wheelchair. The sidewalk was a little higher than the grass. She was definitely stuck in the grass.
Claudia crouched down and asked the woman if she needed help. She responded slowly in one-syllable sounds. She didn’t move her jaw. Each sound came out of a little opening in her lips. Eventually, the syllables made words. It looked like a painful process.
“She says the brake is stuck,” Claudia said. “I guess there’s a green lever that we have to pull, but I don’t know where it is.”
“A lever, I don’t see a lever,” I said.
“That’s what she said, I don’t know.”
“I see a green button, maybe it’s the green button.”
“Haw, I don’t know, what if we fuck something up and break the chair?”
“I have no idea, there’s a lot of buttons back here. Ask her again.”
Claudia listened to the woman’s response again. It was something about the brake, but we couldn’t understand.
“In don’t know what to do, she’s stuck here,” Claudia said. “ Do you think we can lift the chair up?”
“Maybe, you want to try?”
We got on both sides of the wheelchair and grabbed the metal frame.
“One, two, three …. WHHHOOOOAAAAWWW … SHIT!”
It was too heavy. The wheelchair didn’t move at all. It was like trying to move a boulder.
“Damn this thing is heavy!” I said. “Why is it so heavy, do you think it’s the batteries?”
Just then, a middle-aged man passed on the sidewalk. He saw the dog and came over to pet it. He started laughing and kept saying “What a nice dog! Aww, what a nice dog!” in a thick Quebecoise accent.
He didn’t pay attention to us. He smelled like beer, gin, whiskey and piss mixed together.
Claudia looked at him and asked, “Hey, excuse me, can you help us? This woman is stuck in the grass.”
“Stuck in the grass?” he said.
“Yes, she’s stuck and we can’t get the chair back on the sidewalk.”
“How did she get stuck in the grass?”
“I don’t know, it just happened, can you help us pick up the chair?”
“Ah, yeah, sure. Of course, I can help.”
He took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves.
“So you and me, we can do this,” he said looking through my eyes.
“Okay, let’s try it, the two of us.”
We grabbed the two sides of the chair and bent our knees.
“One, two, three … HHHHGGGGAAAGGGAAG, TABARNAK!”
We didn’t move it a millimeter. Things weren’t looking good for the woman in the wheelchair.
“What if we try it all together?” Claudia said.
“I don’t know, this thing is heavy, I didn’t know they made chairs this heavy,” I said.
“Let’s just try it.”
“Okay, you two go on the sides and I’ll push up from the middle.”
The three of us crouched down. No one said a word.
“Okay. One. Two. Three … YIIIIIIAAAAOOOWWWWW!”
Our faces turned red, each of us breathed heavily. We forced the chair up against the sidewalk ledge. The back tires slowly left the ground and we managed to set one wheel on the concrete.
“Nice, we got one part up, now we should be able to do the rest,” I said.
We pulled and pulled, violently dragging the wheelchair on the sidewalk. It wasn’t pretty, but it was working. The woman bounced all over her seat. Maybe we broke her ribs.
We got all four wheels on the sidewalk. She drove forward and stopped. The chair was functioning again. We achieved something.
“PHEW! Look at that, look at that,” the man said. “Today we will be blessed from God! Look at that!”
He shook our hands, pulled an open beer from his coat pocket and took a swig.
I was still breathing heavy, but I was relieved … until I saw Claudia talking to the woman again. She looked troubled.
“Diego, I think you should help here.”
“What’s going on?” I said.
“Well, she wants us to push her shoulder. She said we moved her body when we rocked the chair.”
“She wants me to push her shoulder up, this one,” Claudia said pointing her finger. “But I can’t do it. That’s too much right now. Can you do it?”
I looked at the shoulder. It was small and brittle. The woman was wearing a sweater, but I could see her skinny bones through the thick fabric. In that moment, I closed my eyes and saw the shoulder breaking off under the pressure of my hands. I heard the sound of a dry stick cracking. The squeal of a baby pigeon crying.
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” I said.
“So can you do it?”
“No, no way.”
“Okay I’ll tell her we can’t do it.”
Claudia talked to her and then looked up at me again.
“She said okay, but she wants to see you before she goes.”
“To see me?”
She was right, the whole time I had been standing behind the chair. She hadn’t seen me, she only heard my voice.
I walked around the chair and stood in front of her. Her body seemed dead. She was so still it was hard to believe there was a pulse under there, hard to believe she was breathing.
Then I looked in her eyes.
They were wide open and popping out of her lifeless skin. Vibrant. Staring straight at me. Drilling into me. They were neon blue like a glacier and seemed to be screaming: “GET ME OUT OF HERE! GET ME OUT OF HERE! GET ME OUT OF HERE NOW!”
I watched her for a minute.
Slowly, softly she said, “Mer …. Ci.”
Each syllable coming out under her breath. Each breath coming out like it was her last.
I wondered how it felt to watch me through those eyes. How it felt to watch me walk freely, carelessly. How it felt to watch everyone living their lives, laughing. How it felt to see couples kissing and then knowing the only person that would touch you that day would be the servant during your afternoon bath.
How did it feel to live so far apart?
Her sharp eyes electrified my mind with these thoughts, but still, I couldn’t touch her. She was too fragile for anyone to touch.
But maybe a touch was all she wanted.
A cloud passed over the sun and the woman drove away in her wheelchair. The dog followed.
Claudia and I sat back down on the bench and the drunk stuck around. We talked bullshit for ten minutes. Another lonely person. He pointed at the pigeons on the lawn.
“One is white and the rest are gray,” he kept repeating.
Eventually, he left.
We sat, thinking to ourselves for a while.
“What the hell just happened?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but something happened. These things always happen to me,” she said. “I still don’t understand how she got stuck though.”
“Maybe she did it on purpose.”
“Hmm, I didn’t think about that.”
Claudia pulled out the tobacco and started rolling another one.
The clouds moved south across the sky and the sun came out again. It was a strong sun, the kind you could feel on your skin.
Then a young woman walked over to us. She was holding a Styrofoam box in her hands. She was smiling.
“Hey, excuse me, I was just in the market and the guy at the counter gave me some extra desserts,” she said. “It’s baklava. I really don’t want them. There’s two in here, do you want them?”
“Sure,” we said and thanked her.
She walked away.
“Ha, is this our reward for the good deed?” I asked.
“Maybe, Diego, maybe. It’s a sign.”
“A sign from God?”
“What a day this is turning out to be, we should get out early more often.”
“There’s a saying, I don’t know from where, but they say ‘The day belongs to those who wake up early’,” Claudia said. “I don’t know if I agree with it, but some people believe that.”
“Yeah, I guess it depends.”
We opened the Styrofoam box and ate baklava at noon.
© Diego Cupolo 2011