Sunday, April 7, 2013


"May I give you a hand?" I asked, walking closer.

The balding man had been seated in his wheelchair near the wrought-iron fence by Starbucks, trying to get the attention of a passer-by when I approached. From where I had been standing, waiting to cross the street, his back was to me. A large backpack sat in his lap. The man twisted uncomfortably to look back at me. I'm too accustomed to sitting in office chairs, I said to myself. Wheelchairs, dummy, don't swivel. I circle-sidestepped, so that he could see me more easily.

"Can you push me to the corner?" he asked, pointing ahead of himself, up the street. My gaze followed his outstretched hand. The sidewalk sloped steadily upwards in the direction that he was pointing. On the one hand, I'd walked that block before, and realized it wasn't flat. On the other hand, part of me was just then realizing that it went uphill.

"Of course," I replied, taking his wheelchair by the sturdy black handles near the man's shoulders. It was out of the way, but it wasn't far. And I could spare five minutes. That same cavalier attitude towards time was constantly overcommiting me, but I ignored the little voice in my head that chided me for adopting it yet again.

It was immediately evident why he needed a hand. Moving the man forward required more effort than I'd credited it with, given the gradual slope of the street at this point. The chair was solidly built, feeling like the proverbial cast iron. Had you asked me how much it weighed, I couldn't have told you, bit it was clearly more than I thought it did before I started pushing it. The man himself didn't seem particularly heavy, nor his backpack that large, but together they were a load; I was unsurprised that, left to his own devices, the man had been unable to make headway. But I'd soon settled into a steady march step and had the man rolling up the slope.

I would say that we chatted as I pushed him along, but, honestly, he did almost all the talking. (Which was a nice change of pace. I do have a tendency to prattle on, if given half - or less - a chance.) He mainly thought out load, observing what was happening on the street around us. For the most part, I simply listened, only occasionally offering a comment. He seemed happy to have someone to talk to, and spoke un-self-consciously; and I didn't want to interrupt that. He avoided the subject of himself, or his impairment, until I pushed him over a disjointed bit of the sidewalk, and the jostling set the brake on the right wheel.

He asked me to pause for a moment, and when I'd complied, undid the brake. "When you're walking," he observed, "the bigger bumps in the sidewalk aren't a problem. But if you're in a wheelchair, or on a skateboard, watch out." And then he went back to the topic of the people and things around us.

"Okay, this is good," he said, as the sidewalk leveled out a few feet from the corner. I let go of the handles on his chair, and stood still as he maneuvered his chair 90 degrees to the right, and started wheeling himself away along the sidewalk perpendicular to the one we'd just been on. "Thank you."

"You're quite welcome," I said with a nod, seemingly already having forgotten that facing away from me, the man could not see me.

About a yard away, he turned his chair somewhat, so that he could again see me more easily.

"Nice hat."

"Thanks." I said.

And with that, the man wheeled himself on his way, and I resumed my journey to track down some lunch.

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