When Being Chatty Saves People

, , , , | | Hopeless | July 15, 2019

(I’m walking to the library with my four-year-old. She’s skipping alongside me, chattering happily, waving frantically, and yelling, “HI!” at everyone we pass and every car that goes past. Nothing unusual. About a block from the library, she waves and says, “Hi!” into what I think is just an empty laneway, but as we step forward, I realise there’s an elderly man standing there in his pajamas, in the middle of the lane, with a small dog running in circles around his feet.)

Man: “Why, hello, young lady! Out for a walk, are we?”

Daughter: “Yep! We’re going to the library!”

(The old man looks confusedly at us for a moment. At first, I think it’s because my daughter’s speech impediment means she pronounces it as, “yiberry,” but as we pause, I realise that he has no shoes on and his pajama pants are covered in mud. I can also see that his feet are bleeding in a few places, like he’s been stepping on prickles. It’s INCREDIBLY cold today and I finally realise how cold he must be, and his dog isn’t on a lead but seems to be getting more and more worked up.)

Me: “Yep, off to the library. Where are you off to today, mate?”

Man: “Ah… I’m a bit late for work! I work down at the ice works but, well, bit embarrassing but I seem to have gotten turned around.”

(The ice works in our town is now a historical site. It hasn’t been operational in almost forty years at this point.)

Me: “Happens to the best of us, mate. I know the way, though; how about you come with us?”

(After a bit of convincing and my daughter excitedly yelling about her new friend coming along, I convince him to come out onto the footpath and stand on the grass instead of the asphalt. Trying to give him my jacket doesn’t work — he staunchly refuses to take “a young lass’s jacket on a cold day” — and he is getting more agitated but never angry or violent. I stand there wondering what the heck to do next when suddenly a car screeches to a stop at the kerb. A middle-aged man leaps out of the car and hurtles towards us.)

Younger Man: “DAD! Dad, Jesus Christ, I’ve been looking for you everywhere! What the h*** are you doing?”

(The guy honestly looks like he’s about to cry, as does his dad, who seems even more confused at this point.)

Older Man: “No time to play right now, [Younger Man]. I’m late for work, mate. I gotta go.”

(The younger guy tries for a few minutes to convince his dad to get in the car, to no avail, when my daughter pipes up from behind us.)

Daughter: “Excuse me! Maybe it’s warm in the car, and you can go home and get your shoes for work!” 

(The older man seemed to accept this, after checking his feet and realising he did, indeed, have no shoes on. After the older guy and his dog were safely stowed away, his son informed me that they live CLEAR across town, and the guy had been missing for FIVE HOURS in the freezing cold. His little dog had seen him take off and obviously decided that his human shouldn’t go alone, and they’d been at large for most of the day. The younger man thanked me profusely, even though I barely did anything, and I’ve never been so thankful that my daughter wants to talk to everyone she meets.)

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