I found myself strolling aimlessly in an old folks' home last week. With almost-zero knowledge in Hokkien (common dialect among senior citizens of Taiwan), and guts of a chicken, what I basically do is smile, greet the old folks, and listen to their murmurs.
I was doing my 67th round when my classmate walked out with a thin old man, smiling and shaking hands with everybody on the way. Elusively, she handed me the man's hands and rocketed "he speaks Chinese, this will be yours." Two seconds later there's only me and the old man introducing himself to me, shaking my hands warmly, and saying thank you all the time. I sensed a hint of dementia (memory loss) in him, but I joined in the chorus and repeated "you're most welcome" and the like. Holding hands, we strolled my 68th round.
I tried to engage him in conversation, but with a memory span of less than 1 minute it's difficult - we're discussing about his experience as a Kuomintang militant 40 years ago and suddenly he'd be shaking my hands again repeating thank-yous. The old folks' home's matron teasingly asked him who am I, and he answered "my friend, of course" rightaway, not knowing I'd just met him 5 minutes earlier - a fact that he is a patient of dementia.
After 30 minutes of thank-yous and friendly handshakes, I decided to take him home. Asking if he wished to go back to bed, I walked him to his room and guided him to his bed at the far end. Upon arrival, I told him "here you are, have a good night's rest." Demented though he is, he insisted that this is not his 'home' as I promised I would take him, and swiftly walk away pulling my hand.
I inquired where his home is, and he told me it's in a rural township outskirt of Hualien. Together we walked my 69th round, hoping this journey would be symbolic to his road 'home'. I took him to his room again, and he obligingly followed. "No, no. I have to go now." "But...here you are. You...here." Demented though he is, I do not know he still has full comprehension of language. Trying baby talk this time, I combined body language and simple phrases "Home, you, here (pointing towards bed)." "I really have to go. I'm going to miss the train back. Let's go!"
Finally, after my 70th, 71st, 72nd and 73rd round, my female classmate appeared. She managed to persuade him the last train had departed and the next train is not till next year. So he'd have to stay here in the meantime. After my 74th round, he finally goes to bed.
After removing his shirt and blanketing him, I bid goodbye and left. It was approximately 10 steps from his bed to the entrance of the room, a walk of 20 seconds. When I exited he was still waving his hands. Seems I'd been a very good friend of his.
p/s: I certainly hope dementia isn't infectious. I'd lost my file last week, which contained my high school certificates, IELTS score card, and some memorabilia uncompensated by insurance (even if it is insured). My pen drive cap got lost last weekend, and my water bottle today. A sign of dementia.
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