Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bert has gatecrashers

Like any part of society, this place is made up of all kinds of personalities. There is Elsie, who thinks the world of everyone and treats everyone as if they were her own treasured children. Lola is always off in lollipop land, but manages to look serious every hour of the day, and fools a lot of people into thinking she's all there in the head (and she's definitely not). Ransa is always on the go, studying Economics three days a week "because it is interesting" and digging the gardens with an axe far too heavy for me to lift. She is one of the people still healthy in mind, as most here are. Another one is Bert (or I thought he was, until I heard this story).

I truly like Bert and he is quite young, perhaps late 50s. But he's a bit weird. He lives in the Courtyard, and is always exceedingly polite. He will arrive for dinner, stand beside his seat, cock his head sideways to look at you in a funny manner, pause for a painfully long moment, then thank you for bringing his food, pause again, then sit down. The other residents tolerate him but it's obvious they find him as "unusual" as the staff do.

We have always considered him one of the healthiest ones here. He's one of the ones who always brings his own trays back from breakfast. He goes out and does his own shopping, he goes to bowls, he has a beer at the club with the other people his age. He is just particularly private and independent while here at home. (Consider that most of the other residents accept and even expect the carers and other staff to stroll into their flats without invitation as if it's a serviced hotel, and it might be more apparent why a very private person sticks out around here.)

I've no idea what is physically wrong with him. Perhaps it is Parkinson's. I don't see him shake or have trouble with his motor functions, but he has a mannerism about him that suggests he is always, always cautious and worried about falling. A few of them are like that. It only takes one broken wrist to remember to slow down and be careful where you step.

In any case, he is on new medication for whatever it is that ails him. And it causes hallucinations. He came into my aunt's office one day to speak with the manager. Celia was on annual leave, so my aunt offered to try to help. "It's the family that have moved into my flat," he said. "I'm really not happy about it."

My aunt just stared at him. Bert lives alone, like almost all the residents here. But Bert wasn't finished. "They've rearranged my things. I found my own clothes on the floor because they used my drawers. And I am missing my peanut butter. Is it here? Maybe I left it on my breakfast tray. I need it back, it was a brand new jar."

After a moment of tense silence, Bert was the one to speak again. "You don't believe me, do you?"

How can anyone answer that question, when it is asked by someone who you used to think had nothing wrong with their brain?

My aunt looked at him carefully. "If I lived here," she asked, "and I came to you and told you a strange family had moved their things into my flat, would you believe me?" She said that Bert just stood there for a few minutes, without answering the question, and then apparently made up his mind.

"I'm going to go and ask the kitchen if they've seen my peanut butter," he told her determinedly. "And then I'm going to tell that family to move out."

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