Friday, October 12, 2012

The Finger

Two café tables away sits an impeccably dressed older gentleman in a gray suit of subtlely striped fabric, light shirt and tie, and an orange – soft, burnt orange – knit beret. I cannot see his face because he is holding his forehead in his left hand. With his right hand, he alternates between spoon and fork to eat his meal, one small bite at a time. Sometimes he changes the position of his left hand – instead of an open palm propping up his brow, he uses his fist against his left cheek. Without such support, his head falls very far left and forward – just like my mother’s did in the years of illness before she died.
She never used her hands as head-supports, however, at least not that I remember. When she was still able to sit up in a wheelchair or in bed, she would sometimes ask for a pillow to be placed between her shoulder and her left ear, particularly when she was trying to eat or drink what was being offered to her. But her hands had become rigid, except for The Finger.
Her right index finger remained in her control long after her torso and limbs, neck and voice ceased cooperating with her brain. When we would take her to the mall, a favorite outing, she would direct us from her wheelchair, pointing the finger toward her desired destination.  Despite her multiple disabilities, she could point her way to the perfume counter, the bed & bath store, or the lingerie department. At the food court, the finger made it clear that she wanted a dish of ice cream and a cup of water (for taking pills). The finger also knew the location of the candy shop, and could select the perfect piece of chocolate (for pure pleasure).
The man in the orange beret has finished his meal. His chin rests on his chest as he folds his napkin and places it on top of his plate. He scoots out his chair, and fumbles for something in his suit pockets, eventually producing a handkerchief. As he walks past me, I notice that he’s also dropped a blue card, but by the time I retrieve it – a printed schedule of High Holy Day services at the local temple – he has gone. The waiter told me that she regularly serves him during her evening shift. She promises to give him his card the next time he appears. I hope to see him again, as my new office is located conveniently closeby.

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