The old lady that lived across the street was always standing on her porch smoking stinky cigarettes. I suspected they were laced with weed. But they could have just been Turkish. She seemed out of place in our yuppyish neighborhood, until I realized that the house across the road was actually divided into tiny bedsit’s, and that she must be one of the renters.
I guess she had a room at the back of the house because there was never any Rear Window shit where I watched her life through our living room. I never saw her lights go on, never saw her playing piano or watched her watching TV. I really didn’t know anything about her except that she was always smoking her stinky cigarettes at 5.30pm everyday that I came straight home from work.
I didn’t really think too much about her, she was like any other neighbor I’d come to recognize in the street I’d moved to. The young father with bright red hair and a bright red wagon which always had two bright red-haired children stuffed into it and another hanging off his free hand. The middle-aged man in faded Canada Post Jacket fussing with his lawn every morning, leafs/snow/grass. The pretty girl who was always bundled up on top, and wore thin stockings below.
They were all a part of the landscape and I took them for granted. Maybe sometimes I fantasized that I was like Truman from ‘The Truman Show” and they were all extras that added to the scenery. Other times I was less egotistical and just found it amusing that the number of familiar faces were growing with every passing day.
Then one morning, I took the day off.
Sinuses clogged with snot, chest heavy with mucus, eyes itchy, bloated, stomach churning. Yep, I had the whole list of fun I-can’t-go-to-work excuses. I sat on the couch miserably in my pajama’s, a freshly opened box of crackers in front of me, and the day stretched out like one feverishly exciting house party-of-one.
And then I saw the old lady. Hair covered with a scarf, bundled up in a mustard yellow sweater and heavy navy coat, she eased herself carefully down from the steps of the porch with her drag-along shopping trolley, and set off down the road towards the shops. I’d never seen her walk anywhere, and I’d never seen her off the porch, so I was surprised by how slow she was. I guess “old lady” denotes that she’s old, but there are varying stages of oldness. This was definitely less of the Helen Mirren old, and more of the papery thin-skinned grandmother old. I started watching episodes, filling up tissues with the poisons from my nose, throat and lungs. Occasionally I would look out the window and watch the goings on of my street. Mostly I was half conscious.
When I was at the end of my sixth straight episode of a sitcom, the old lady coming back down the street. Her pull-along basket didn’t have much in it. Leafy greens poked over the edge and I could see lumpy bags down in the bottom. I watched her try to navigate the stairs, the basket and the awkward distance between each step. And then she fell, not heavily, but backwards over her basket, and like a turtle, she lay on her back, arms and legs wiggling in the air. I pushed myself up on the coach and strained my head left and right looking out the window. No one was around, it was early afternoon, the street was quiet.
I grabbed my keys and ran down the stairs, a resplendent vision in faded saggy singlet top and hole riddled green and pink pajama bottoms. The old lady had used the railing to pull herself up, but she still looked shaken and her food was scattered over the pavement.
“Are you okay?!” I asked, out of breath and red-faced from my flu.
The old lady seemed to be checking herself all over for breaks, she was massaging her knee. After a moment she nodded, and tried to pull herself up further. I put my hands under her elbow and gently lifted her to her feet…