Mike stood and looked around him, his brow furrowed. What was he meant to be doing? He was dressed, he was hungry. According to the large, digital clock on the wall it was Friday 12th December 2019, 10.49am. Time for coffee and something to eat, his stomach decided for him. He was aware that his memory was failing, had, indeed, been failing for a long time. The living room of his flat was a mess. Piles of papers covered every available surface. Bits of camera equipment and scenic black and white photos littered the large table in the corner. Photography had been a major hobby of his but it was too difficult now. He couldn’t travel to the places he liked to photograph, or work out the complicated settings that had been second nature to him in the past. The photos showed windswept beaches, misty lakes and gnarled tree trunks. He liked the images, but the memories of those visits were hard to pin down. One small table held computer equipment, covered in dust, no longer switched on even.
In the small kitchen he took a mug from the drainer and made himself a cup of black coffee. There was a small loaf next to the toaster so he popped some bread in and looked through the cupboards for something to put on it. Peanut butter, that sounded tasty. He took his coffee and toast and sat in the chair by the window overlooking the well-kept gardens. He had been in this flat for a while now (how long he didn’t know) and was glad he had moved. He vaguely remembered a large, dark house full of stuff he couldn’t cope with. The idea had been to move to this retirement flat so it would be easier to look after. He had liked his rambling garden but he knew it was beyond him now. As were most things …….
He looked at the clock. It was 13.47. How long had he been sat here? His empty mug and plate were on the floor next to his chair so he took them into the kitchen. He put on his jacket, with his keys and wallet already in the pockets and left the flat. Round the corner, in the lift, down to ground floor and out of the big doors. It had taken him a long while to learn this routine but he did it easily now. It was nice to be out in the fresh, cold air. It was December already, where had the year gone?
Mike followed the path he always took although he didn’t realise he always went the same way. In the little shop he bought a jar of coffee and a pack of two pasties. At the till he looked at the pasties. Did he need two? Oh well it didn’t matter. He could have one tomorrow. As he walked down to the canal a voice stopped him.
“Hi, Mike.” He looked to the left and saw a young girl sitting on a rolled up sleeping bag. She patted the space next to her and he automatically sat down. “I’m Lily,” she said helpfully. “You know me, we chat nearly every day, but I know you have memory problems.” As they sat and chatted a warm feeling came over Mike. He relaxed in her company. She was chatty and friendly, and didn’t ask him any questions like most people did.
“You hungry?” Now he realised why he had bought two pasties. They enjoyed the pasties, but eventually Mike had to stand up. His old bones were aching and he was getting cold.
“Where will you spend the night?” he asked. She laughed,
“You always ask me that. I’m fine, don’t you worry about me. See you tomorrow.”
“Do you need any money?”
“You always ask that too. No I don’t want your money. I enjoy your company and the pasty though.”
She watched him carry on up the towpath and turn off to the left back to his flat. He waved as he turned, thinking,
“Poor girl. I hope she has someone looking out for her.”
“Poor old guy,” she thought. “I hope he has someone looking out for him.”
Mike stood and looked around him, his brow furrowed. What was he meant to be doing? He was dressed, he was hungry. According to the large, digital clock on the wall it was Saturday 13th December 2019, 11.23am. He was cold. He turned the heating up and looked out of the window. Snow was falling, big flakes swirling around. He would have to wrap up warm when he went out today. A hot mug of coffee, that was what he needed.
He went into the kitchen and put the kettle on. Coffee? He looked in the cupboard. Mugs and plates. Try the next one. Tins of beans and other delights. How about the next one? Success! 4 jars of coffee! After coffee and toast, he had found some peanut butter in one of the cupboards, he sat by the window watching the flakes settle.
He decided he had better go for his walk before the weather got too bad. Jacket on, keys and wallet in the pockets. He shut his door and walked round the corner and into the lift.
“Hi Mike. How are you doing? Cold today isn’t it?” The elderly lady who got in the lift with him sounded nice and looked as if she knew him so he guessed this was not their first meeting.
“Good morning. Yes, very cold today.”
Out of the big doors to the little shop. What did he need? Better get some coffee, just in case and those pasties look good, I’ll get a couple of those.
On the way to the canal he saw a young girl huddled inside a sleeping bag. He approached warily.
“Are you OK?” he asked.
“Oh hi Mike. I didn’t know if you would come today as it’s so cold. I’m Lily, we are friends.” Mike couldn’t believe that a friend of his was living in such conditions. This time he would not take no for an answer and took her to a little café he usually went to on a Monday and ordered coffee and homemade soup, the pasties forgotten in his bag.
They sat in the café until closing time.
“Thanks Mike. I really appreciated the hot soup and a chance to get warm.” She made to walk off but he stopped her.
“Where are you going?”
“When it’s cold or wet I usually spend the night in an abandoned canal boat. I get quite cosy in there. Don’t worry about me.”
“I am worried though. It’s going to be freezing tonight. I have two bedrooms. Come and stay with me.”
“I can’t do that, you don’t know me.”
“I feel like I know you. I would like the company if I’m honest. I get so confused.” Mike’s shoulders drooped. He was holding back tears. Life was very difficult for him now. He was trying to keep going. What was the alternative? But the strain of coping was almost too much to bear. Lily could see it on his face. She could help him. She tucked her arm into his.
“OK, then, Mike. Just temporarily then. I can give you a hand with anything you are struggling with.”
And so they went back to his flat. She made no comment on the mess. ‘Her’ bedroom had boxes and boxes of paperwork in it, but it also had a comfortable bed and a radiator. Bliss!
They ate the pasties for tea and afterwards they sat on the cosy sofa Lily had unearthed and she encouraged Mike to talk about his past. He could remember all the jobs he had had. He had worked for various technology companies, had even travelled abroad trouble shooting for them. He had family too, he told her.
“It was my fault we are not in contact. I was always a bit of a loner and never kept in touch. I think they stopped trying.”
They talked long into the night and then they slept, warm, comfortable and safe.
Mike gradually got used to waking up and finding Lily buzzing around the flat, tidying, sorting, and cleaning. She was a clever girl (had dropped out of university but that was another story) and soon had his affairs in order. She couldn’t believe how many accounts etc that he had, but she filed everything carefully so he could access what he needed. She also found contact details for his sister. She hung some of his photos around the flat and he enjoyed looking at them often.
Every day they went for a walk by the canal, observing the changes as winter gave way to spring.
One night, as they sat chatting with a mug of hot chocolate she turned to him her face serious.
“Now the warmer weather is here I could be moving on, you know.” Mike’s face paled.
“Is that what you want? You don’t need to go. I love you being here.” He knew he wouldn’t cope without her. She was his memory. She took him to appointments, reminded him to eat, prompted him on the phone. She was good company. He loved her like an uncle. “Although I understand if you want to go. You have your own life to lead.” It was obvious that he was upset at the thought of losing her.
“I’ll be honest, Mike. I love being here with you. I have no family to speak of and I am happy to stay with you as long as you need me.” So, with sighs of relief all round it was decided. She could stay as long as she liked.
“There was something else I was going to say.” Lily was serious again. “I think you should get in touch with your sister. I found her address. We could give it a try, although she may have moved. I can help you write a letter.”
Later that month Mike’s sister, Lydia, arrived, having driven the 300 miles from her home down south. She was pleased to see her brother after all these years and was very grateful that he had Lily in his life.
“I thought you might think I was interfering,” said Lily uncertainly. “I know I’m not family, but I care about him.”
“He wouldn’t be coping without you I’m sure,” Lydia was astounded at the deterioration in her brother but tried not to show it. Unfortunately their mother had suffered from dementia for several years before her death so she knew what the future held for Mike. “As far as I am concerned you have become part of his family and I am grateful to you for that. Families come in all shapes and sizes.”