First I have to admit I have a soft spot in my heart for old men. My dad was an old man, and so I guess a subconscious compassion arises everytime I see an old man because I associate him with my dad. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared out bus windows at old men crossing the street, or wanted to help them carry bags or whatnot. There have been men in particular who look so similar to my father, or to the way I remember him, that I have been stunned into silence, only staring to see what they’ll do next. I suppose I feel a compassion for old people in general, since I feel so strongly that it is the elderly generations who have been forgotten and denied comfort, left to live lonely lives instead of being supported by their children and their communities.
Here at school, my community service group provides entertainment to old folks who live in a nursing home near the school. About eight or nine old folks come down to the school once a month and sit in a classroom while the kids sing and play music for them and play games with them. It nearly breaks my heart to see how happy the kids make them feel. There’s one man who last time recited poems for the kids, and other women who cry tears of happiness because they are so touched by the students’ kindness. It’s a really amazing thing to see, especially at Christmas when you know they’re missing their families.
On my street lives an old man who I have been polite to since I arrived in Brazil, but because of the language barrier, I never spoke to before last night. We have always waved at each other, or I’ve said a “bom dia” once in a while. I was always afraid I wouldn’t be able to understand him, or if he asked me a question I wouldn’t be able to identify that it was a question in the first place, which has been a struggle of mine since arriving. But last night, when I came home from my work feeling particularly Portuguese proficient, I saw him leaning on his gate looking out at the street. As I approached him, I smiled, greeting him politely as usual, but as I continued walking, the high heel of my right shoe got stuck between the cobbles and my I was forced to stop and fix it. Fortunately, I was stuck directly in front of him, and so we began to chat.
This man, Seu Abril, is the kind of old man who walks with his shoulders hunched over and who shuffles from place to place. He isn’t spritely or energetic at all, which makes me want to be that much more careful with him. His face is long and weathered, tan with deep wrinkles, and sunspotted skin. His hair once was thick because he has a good amount of it on his head, though thinned and white.
But physical appearance is no indicator of how active a conversation can be. I stood there on the street talking with him for maybe a half hour. He told me everything about anything…jokes, the story of where his kids are now, where they’ve traveled to, who works at my school, whose house he lives in, what subjects he studied in school in São Paulo when he was a little boy, the languages he knows how to speak.
It was so nice to meet him, and towards the end of the conversation, his wife too. Dennis met us on the street and there we were, the four of us, talking over a little gate in a language that ten months ago I knew absolutely nothing about. We laughed and shared stories and it was so friendly, that I left feeling warm and comfortable despite the falling night temperature.
“Tchau, filha,” he called as I walked away. “Goodbye, daughter.”