Turning and turning in the widening gyre the falcon cannot hear the falconer; things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world… Remember that poem by Yeats? I thought he was exaggerating. Using poetic licence to make a point. But sometimes things can feel like that. Sometimes the world turns on its head and the expected order is reversed.
I dread the tidal bore of malls, the rushing mass of strangers pushing and shoving, strutting and fretting their times upon their internal stages; I hate the food ‘courts’ in malls even more, though. I’m not sure if it’s the smell of cheap food, or the Brownian movement of those who treat the ceremony of meals with disdain -but, like some parts of the city, they are places in extremis. Waypoints for some, perhaps -abrasions for others…
And yet, when all the usual shopping center seats for tired old men in the busy causeway are occupied, the courts are a form of sanctuary, if not salvation, I suppose. At any rate, the other day, exhausted by an already hard swim against an increasingly turbulent current of shoppers as noon approached, I found myself beached on the shores of a particularly chaotic food court.
I tried not to examine it too closely -I was only seeking temporary refuge, after all- but it is difficult not to be drawn into the drama constantly evolving all around it. Like the old woman with the grocery bag precariously balanced on the seat of the walker she had wrapped in front of her like a shield. She pushed it in little steps, presumably intent on threading her way through the roiling masses to one of the food stalls, but with little progress through the flotsam that surrounded her. People all around her waded past, seemingly blind or just indifferent to her distress, and I could see the frustration on her face as she made it beyond the boundaries of my seat.
Dressed in purple pleated slacks, and a white frilly blouse, she had draped a long black coat over a portion of the walker near her groceries. I imagine she was hot, because I could see little beads of sweat glistening on her forehead but her short silvered hair was still neatly combed and barely disturbed, and she continued pushing her way through the crowd with arms of steel.
I was about to offer her my seat, when an unexpected space materialized in front of her and she jogged into it like being sucked into a vacuum. Suddenly, someone else with the same idea knocked the groceries off the walker and the contents rolled onto the floor in all directions. A few feet noticed and hands picked up an apple here, or an onion there, but by and large, things disappeared like mice in a forest. The person who’d caused it, a middle-aged woman with in jeans, and a soiled grey sweat-shirt, was clearly embarrassed at blundering into a frail old lady in a walker and dropped to her knees to retrieve what she could, apologizing profusely.
The table right beside mine cleared, and the two of them sat down at it as the older lady restocked her bag and the younger scanned the floor for remnants.
Still concerned that she might have injured the elderly woman, she blushed and seemed uncertain how to make amends. “I’m so sorry, ma’am. I…” she stammered.
“Leslie,” the older lady interrupted. “It’s Leslie, and thank you for your help. Some of these walkers have design flaws, don’t you think?”
“Mine’s Denise,” the other woman responded, obviously relieved. Then she looked at the walker and laughed. “I’ve never really seen one of these up close,” she added. “Quite the invention, eh?”
Leslie glanced at her new friend and smiled. “The physios put you in one of these if you break your hip and they figure you’re too old for crutches. They think everybody over eighty has balance problems… Anyway, I only use it when I come to the mall.”
Denise looked at her with new respect. “You broke your hip?”
Leslie shrugged. “Stuff happens, eh?”
“Look, you stay right here and I’ll get you something at the counter.” She rummaged around in her pocket with a worried look on her face. “What do you want?”
Leslie smiled, guessing her friend was probably between pay cheques. “Oh thank you,” she said, in obvious appreciation. “I was just going to have a cup of tea,” she said and pulled a $20 bill out of the little purse hanging from her shoulder. “And you get yourself something, too, Denise.”
I watched Denise thread herself expertly through the tumultuous crowd like an otter weaving through storm-tossed seaweed. I thought Leslie was being a bit too trusting, but then again, I was interested to see what Denise might buy for herself -if she returned.
She did return, though, and she made it back to the table in record time, balancing a cup of tea with its little tale tell string hanging from the lip, a soft drink and two huge slices of pizza on a tray. Impressive really.
Leslie reacted to her arrival as if there’d never been any question of return. As if she’d merely sent a friend on a mission.
“Thanks, Denise,” she said as the tray arrived.
“I… I didn’t know whether you liked pizza…” She looked down at the two slices, and handed Leslie the change. “I got two different kinds, so you could choose,” she said hopefully.
The smile on Leslie’s face grew. “Thank you dear. That was sweet of you, but I had a big breakfast this morning before I left. You go ahead and eat them both if you’d like.”
Denise was obviously hungry, but I could tell she was trying to pretend she wasn’t. She gulped down the soft drink, though -as if she couldn’t really help herself.
Leslie sipped her tea, pretending not to notice her friend’s discomfort. “Please eat. Don’t mind me. I’m just enjoying my little rest.”
A little hesitantly Denise chose the lumpy slice, but once it neared her mouth, she couldn’t restrain herself, and it quickly disappeared. She was about to repeat the performance when she suddenly gasped and her face began to turn blue. Her eyes looked as if they might even leave their sockets as she fought to take a breath.
Leslie was on her feet in a moment, and dragged Denise upright from behind. She reached around her waist, compressed her abdomen just below the ribs and squeezed. Denise coughed once and took a deep, stertorous breath.
By now, people had gathered around them, not certain what to think, but it was a classic, perfectly executed Heimlich maneuver. I could see the onlookers glance at each other in admiration.
When Denise had recovered enough to breathe normally, and the people had dispersed, she stared at what she had thought was a frail old woman with a surprised look on her face. “What did…?”
“Once a nurse, always a nurse, Denise” she interrupted, as if it didn’t really require an explanation.
Leslie stopped the question with a smile. “She hath borne herself beyond the promise of her age, doing, in the figure of a lamb, the feats of a lion.”
Denise seemed confused, but Leslie merely shrugged and her eyes twinkled mischievously. “Never mind me, dear -I’m just misquoting a line from Shakespeare…”
Denise thought about it for a moment, and then a smile suddenly appeared on her face. “It’s from ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, isn’t it…?”
The two of them giggled like little girls.
I couldn’t help but chuckle with them, and I remembered another line from that poem of Yeats: the ceremony of innocence is drowned…