Ila


Ila is 81 years old. She looks it. She is tiny and frail, I have never seen her before in my life, although I imagine I pass by her twice a week.

I was in the library today, borrowing Stephenie Meyers Twilight (Yes I am reading Stephenie Meyer, yes I have no shame). It is one of those mornings when I haven’t brushed my teeth, I have one of those once every week, where I don’t talk to anyone till noon or as late as I can manage, it rests me.

I had planned a quick trip, breeze in, get the books, I reserved two copies, or else my roommate will kidnap mine (Yes I reserved Stephenie Meyer, yes I have no shame). On my way out, as I eyed a very cute blonde boy, Ila gestured to me.

She may have spoken, I had music in my head, but she called out to me holding a small white plastic heart with red wool embroidered in it. It had a thin satin ribbon to dangle.

Her face was like an orange, textured, wrinkled and round, she wore pebble glasses, blue jeans and blue sweater. She was very very white, her hands pink.

She had a black walker, wheelchair, something to sit in that people push you around in, with a bag on it.

With my dubious hygiene, I stood a respectful distance away and smiled at her.

“I make these hearts for the security guards”

“Thats nice”

“This one is not complete, it has to be closed”

“Can I have it?”

“If you want, although its not complete” I take the hint and tuck the heart back into her bag. And sit beside her, in the angle of the morning sun.

“They’re all so nice to me here, they’re all such nice people”

“Yes they are”

“There was this big black man on the third floor, he hugged me when I gave him the heart. Everyone was amazed, that I hugged a black man”

“Is that uncommon?”

“It shouldn’t be. My relatives, they expect ten times in return for what they give. They don’t like me. I think a thanks is all I want in return, I baked cookies and gave it all away, cherry, walnuts, peanut, chocolate and mint”

“That sounds delicious, do you have any left”

“No, it was twenty years ago, I baked it all myself, and it was so good, it tasted so good, now the cookies don’t taste good, the ingredients are all different” She spits slightly when she talks

“Yeah I know what you mean”

“Im 81”

“Oh”

“Don’t I look it?”

“Yeah you kinda do”

“And my relatives, they don’t want me to give things away. I live with my son and daughter, and they don’t like it, they want me to live in a home”

“Thats terrible”

A security guard passes by across the giant library hall, she waves at him, he waves back

“What nationality are you?”

“Im Indian, what are you?”

“Im from South Dakota. I was born in an Indian settlement, Ive moved all over the place, I was at Williamsburg, then I moved to Deerfield, there were Indians everywhere, they were all so nice to me, they gave things worth millions away to my family. My husband used to mend things for them. He was a good man, Swedish and Norwegian, I wish I still had him”

Her face shrinks with emotion, I feel tears coming

“Now my son and daughter are on the fourth floor”

“Oh theyre here?”

“Yes, they’re finding out about their heritage, I don’t like to climb floors, I like to sit here”

Another security guard walks by. She waves, he doesn’t notice. She waves harder, and goes “Hey” in a thin treble. He doesn’t notice. She does it again, he finally turns reluctant, and waves back.

“They’re all such nice people, they hug me and call me sweetheart. I also give these hearts to the people on the road and in the bookstore” She gestures up the street “They call me the million dollar lady”

I laugh

The reluctant security guard walks up to us,

“How are you after your fall?”

She nods “Im fine, im doing great”

He makes idle talk for a minute and walks away

I ask her “Did you fall?”

“Yeah I fell on my back, hurt my tailbone”

“Oh thats bad, a hot bathe should help!”

“My sink is jammed up, and its the only place in the house where the water drains, so I cant take a hot bathe. We’re going to lose the house anyway”

“Oh why?”

“We dont have any money. My son works here, he used to work in Menards near Apple Valley, but they cut his wages, we moved over to Richfield, and they cut his wages again, we dont have any money left. I havent eaten since morning”

I feel the first harsh stab of guilt

“That really sucks, can I get you something to eat?”

Theres emotion again, “I didnt tell you this so you’d get me something”

I put a hand on her shoulder “I know that, now cmon, isnt there something you’d really like to eat today?”

“Oh you shouldnt get anything, its really expensive” She gestures to the Dunn Bros nearby.

“Its not a problem, now tell me, what would you like to eat?”

“Cookies, maybe a doughnut, a small cup of coffee”

“I’ll be right back” I walk to the Dunn Bros, there are no doughnuts, I get her a cinnamon muffin and a small latte. I debate whether I should get something and eat with her, then decide against it

I give her the food and coffee, its boiling hot “Are you allergic to anything?”

She takes it “Thank you thank you”

“Are you allergic to anything?”

“I don’t know, thank you, arent you eating anything?”

“No im fine, I dont drink coffee”

She examines the muffin and tucks it away and looks up at me “Thank you”

I accept the dismissal, I can imagine what it feels like to have a complete stranger buy you breakfast. I can also imagine that her relatives, who expect ten times what they give, live far more comfortably. isn’t life beautiful?

I hug her, and hold my hand out

“I’m M”

“Im Ila, I-L-A”

“Wonderful to meet you Ila” I walk away. Next time I meet her, im going to write out a quote by Khalil Gibran for her, I would have liked to calligraph it, but my personal calligrapher is dead, so it’ll have to be in my own giant scrawl

From “Sand and Foam”
We are all climbing toward the summit of our hearts’ desire. Should the other climber steal your sack and your purse and wax fat on the one and heavy on the other, you should pity him; The climbing will be harder for his flesh, and the burden will make his way longer. And should you in your leanness see his flesh puffing upward, help him a step; it will add to your swiftness.

 
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4 Responses

  1. Engrossing, M. You should write more.

    ~Tooty, im trying really hard to do just that, apparently its not that simple for me 😦

  2. Older people seem to have more stories than me … that I haven’t heard before.

    I wish there was another term for “Good Samaritan” … because I think it’s universal and non-denominational really.

    ~Ross, my sentiments exactly, I wish too, I want too 😦

  3. there is great insight and empathy in your words… if only more would take the time. great prose

    ~Thanks Enreal, I expect I should market better, or to be precise, market 😦

  4. I just wrote a blog about my four year old niece named Ila, and once I published it, the link to your blog was automatically generated on my page. I just read this and it is deeply touching. I find it uplifting that you took the time to write about your encounter with 81 year old Ila. Sometimes the most unexpected moments in our lives are the most profound. 🙂

    ~~MM – Thanks Julia 🙂

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