Friday, 12 June 2015

The Death Of A Stranger

Mr. Herman was one of those men who led that very silent, very invisible life; always merging into their surroundings like tapestry against wallpaper.
I never knew exactly what he did or where he worked, but I did know that each morning at 8 am, without a minute's delay, he would pull out his rickety old Chevy that was as silver as his hair, and drive into the day to do whatever it is that he did. At about 6 pm everyday, when I would return from work, haggard and annoyed from my mundane goings-on, I would see his car parked outside his house and some part of my subconscious would acknowledge and register my neighbor's quiet presence.
I had never truly had a conversation with Mr. H in the three years that we lived next door to each other. Of course there were the regular hi's and hello's and polite smiles we would exchange upon the chance encounter of (accidental) eye-contact in the neighborhood, but that was it. I have always been terrible at social niceties and I do my best to avoid looking right at another human's face, lest I be forced into having one of those laborious conversations that come as naturally to me as breathing underwater. What do you say to someone you barely know when he asks you how you've been and what you've been up to? Does he know what you were up to before this moment, to begin with? But let us leave this tirade for another rainy afternoon.

The day I shall now tell you about was a lovely one when the sunshine played with my fingertips and my hair felt light like the wind. My caffeine kick was just about setting in and I was walking to the garage to pull out my car when I noticed what can only be described as organized commotion outside Mr. Herman's house.
I knew for a fact that he lived alone and I hadn't ever before noticed him getting any visitors, apart from the annual visit his son would pay him around Christmas-time. On a keener observation, I realized that the people parked outside his house and on his front door were policemen, and with that, a horrid dread consumed me. I plopped my car keys into my bag and shuffled to where they stood.
"Excuse me sir, but what's going on?" I asked, although I was convinced I already knew the answer.
"I'm sorry ma'am, who are you?" asked a blue-eyed potbellied policeman.
"His neighbor, Shireen Polanski. I live in that house," I replied, pointing at my place. "Is everything okay, officer? Is Mr. Herman okay?".
"I'm so sorry ma'am, but Mr. Herman has passed on. We got a call an hour ago from his housekeeper when he failed to answer the doorbell. When we arrived, we had to break down the door. The coroner says it looks like he left us at least ten hours ago," he said with an apologetic shrug.
I stood there, stationary as an ice-sculpture, not knowing what I was supposed to do or say. The police-officer looked worried and said, "I'm sorry for your loss Ms. Polanski. Were you two close?".
I mumbled something incoherently because my lips and tongue seemed to be in a neuromuscular shutdown, to which the officer looked at me dubiously and said, "Excuse me? I didn't quite catch you. Here, why don't you sit down miss," and offered me a chair.
"No thank you. I'm fine," I managed to say, while continuing to stare profusely at the house which up until ten hours ago was home to a meek old man with a Chevy and a son in Chicago who made his Christmases a little merrier.
I have always been convinced of the fact that my mind is the noisiest place in the universe, second to none, but at that moment, there was an eerie silence that had descended over me like a venomous mist over a swamp.
I turned around and went back to my house and shut my door with a booming finality, as if though that would calm me down or make the noises reappear in my head; as if this would bring back some normalcy into this morning that seemed so glorious not so long ago. However, the only thoughts that came to me were of how old Mr. Herman was dead, and how terribly lonely it must have felt to die without any human companionship or audience when he breathed his last.
I wondered if someone had telephoned his son yet.
Of course they must have.
Somewhere in Chicago, a man had been freshly orphaned. Would he be drowning in a pool of his own tears for his deceased father? Or would he be at a bar trying to swallow his grief with some Scotch and ice? And then, the darkest of thoughts came to me like the swooping wing of an albatross- what if this young Mr. Herman was actually unaffected by the passing of his father? What if he didn't really care much and was subconsciously (or otherwise) prepared for such an occurrence? What if he viewed this as a mere formality that would end his Christmas duties with an irreversible punctuation mark to finish this proverbial sentence?

At that moment, I wept for the neighbor I had never spoken to and the man I knew next to nothing about. I suppose you could call him a good neighbor; he never did anything to disturb or annoy me. No irritating loud 50's music, no stenches of failed culinary experiments, no trash disposed off at inappropriate spots. He looked like a kind old fellow, but then perhaps that is the consolation prize your body receives when your skin has that many wrinkles. I would never really know about his kindness-or the lack of it-now.
I wiped my tears on the sleeves of my shirt and regretted my action almost immediately as my kohl streaked the crisp white with black, and I was instantly reminded of a misplaced zebra.
As I looked outside, I saw the policemen placing a body-bag into the ambulance, and with that visual, I decided that it would be best if I just drew my curtains for the day.
Life can be so funny, and so can I. Here I was, shedding tears for someone with an unwavering honesty whom I didn't know at all.
With another cup of coffee, I shook myself out of this crying session and decided that I would never like to die alone. I would hate to not have another soul witness my final hurrah, so to speak. I also decided that Mr. Herman actually picked a very nice day to leave this world. The sun shone down on us with a happy gentleness and the breeze embraced the day like an old friend. It was a beautiful day, and death was just the beginning.