A sound. I turn, and see him sitting in his wheelchair right outside the extra-wide wheelchair-friendly door. He beckons, moving his arm back and forth, clearly insisting that I come over.
He looks familiar enough, but that might be because of the residents have always looked way too similar. I think I remember passing him once or twice before in the hallways. Maybe never.
I walk over, willing to help but also cautious. I don’t understand what he’s saying, because they’re just noises, noise to my ears because they’re not words, nothing I recognize. Just noise. He moves his hands around, he makes more noise, and I try to follow but it’s hard because it’s not like I can bring over a translator to help me understand what 3 seconds of “ah” means. Ah, was that mean?
He says fragments, fragments of words that I think I recognize or at least imagine I recognize because we all try to make sense of unfamiliar things. He waves his hands, and I think I hear the word “pencil”. It’s worth a try. I ask him “pencil?” and he wheels himself over to the counter where there should be a stray pen and paper lying around but they’re so neat that there’s nothing there but a clipboard full of patients’, I mean residents’, names. There’s nothing unimportant to write on, and anyway, there’s nothing to write with.
I hold up a single finger, hoping he’s familiar with the universal sign meaning I’ll be back in one second but not exactly one second but it’ll be so darn quick you’ll think it’s one second, and run over to my backpack where I pull out a fat pen that I keep just for these kinds of occasions. No paper. But then I remember that I had been too lazy to throw away the pay stubs from my days working in San Francisco and find them still sitting them in the pocket inside the second largest compartment. Sometimes laziness pays off.
As soon as I’m standing them to him again, he grabs the piece of paper out of my hands, for what could be mistaken for rudeness but these are special circumstances. I hope that he writes in English, or maybe even Korean because I can at least try to enlist my sister’s help if there’s a word I don’t recognize. He grabs the pen with his whole hand, like how one would hold a knife before stabbing someone in the back. He has no such intentions. He wants to communicate.
“Today”. That’s the word he writes, and at that point I feel better because he can write and I can understand and thoughts can finally be transferred from this man I don’t know to me so that I can help him somehow. “Today sat or sunday”.
To be honest, I don’t know. I lose track of days, and I tell him to hold on as I check my right pocket where I always keep my phone. The left pocket is for keys. It’s not there, and I realize that it must be back in the room, charging, holding the answer to this man’s important question. I tell him I’ll be right back, locate my phone, find out that it’s Tuesday, and jog back. “It’s Tuesday.” He makes a noise. “Tuesday.” He doesn’t understand and I don’t understand.
He points to his ear and shakes his head. Oh. He’s deaf. I stand there wondering what to do, and he hands the pen over to me, showing me that there are ways around the means of communication that I take for granted. I thank him, and write “Tuesday” in the neatest way I can. The piece of paper is back in his hand, and he stares at it for some time before it finally registers. He circles my word, the answer to his question which must have tormented him for god knows how long. The pen scratches fiercely over his question, maybe to erase his erroneous assumption that it can only be one of two days, both of which has long since passed. He smiles. I smile. All is well.