by Kelly Quinn
The last ten minutes of my run are the hardest. Straight up the hill from the river. My morning runner’s high usually lasts until Shimada Bashi, a five lane intersection where trying to cross by timing the opposite light will lead to being blind sided by a commuter coming over the bridge.
This morning the light changed and I crossed the street. Just up the hill from the bridge is a bus stop. In the Yagoto residential neighborhoods, the street is separated from the sidewalk by a hedgerow of Tusbaki bushes. There is no parasol or shelter from sun or rain at this bus stop, just a gap cut into the hedgerow so passengers from the buses could step easily up onto the sidewalk. My runner high gone, I watched the bus pull up and three senior citizens step off.
The first woman got off without a problem, stepping lightly over the gap between the bus steps and the curb. The old man behind her stumbled. He grabbed the hand rail and sat heavily on the bus steps for a moment before falling off the bus to the left, missing the gap and pitching head first into the Tsubaki bushes. He lay in the street, his face and torso held at an awkward angle by the branches. The first woman and the woman in back tried to get him upright, but succeeded only in pushing his face deeper into the bushes. I stopped my run and tried to give them some help. I squeezed through the gap and stood behind the man, between the bus and the hedgerow.
“Is he OK?”
“Help us lift him up,” the first woman said.
“Don’t move him. Call an ambulance,” the second woman said.
Standing behind the old man, reaching under his arms, I locked my hands over his chest and lifted him upright. He probably only weighed fifty kilos.
“Don’t move him.”
The cheap fabric of the old man’s coat was rough against the exposed skin of my arms. Pressed against me I could smell him. That old man smell of menthol and hair oil. Upright, his head barely reached my chest and his liver spotted bald head was millimeters from my eyes.
“Get him out of the road.” The bus driver’s contribution.
“Don’t move him. Call an ambulance.” The second woman was now speaking to the bus driver.
“Get him out of the road. He is going to get hit by a car.” The bus driver closed the accordion door and pulled slowly away.
“Well, that was unkind.”
“Very unkind. An ambulance should really be called.”
“I think it is dangerous here,” I said. Cars sped by without slowing.
“Indeed, it is dangerous, I guess.”
“Yes, a little dangerous. But we should not have moved him. He’s had a stroke. You should not move stroke victims.”
“Let’s just get on the sidewalk.” I turned him around and started dragging him backwards up the curb. Each old lady gently touched a leg in sympathetic support.
“That is really tremendous, Mr. Foreigner, gaijin-san.
“Yes, gaijin-san, tremendous.”
“An ambulance should be called. Gaijin-san, do you have a cell phone?” the second woman.
“No, you see, I was jogging.
“You don’t need a cell phone when you jog.” The first woman said.
“I have a cell phone,” the second woman said, the pride of being up-to-date, and modern, clear in her voice. This despite the fact that she was the one who had been asking if anyone else had a cell phone.
“I have a cell phone, too. But I only use it to call my daughter,” the first woman said.
“Should I call 1-1-9?”
“Oh, I never call them when I need an ambulance. They take forever. It is better to call the hospital direct.
“I always call the Red Cross Hospital in Yagoto. They are really fast.”
“Call Sacred Heart Hospital. They were really kind to my husband when he died there.”
“Was it a stroke?”
“No, it was cancer.”
The old man was getting heavy in my arms. I could feel him breathing, but he was still unconscious.
“I have to set him down.” Just next to the bus stop there was a building with an Italian restaurant on the second floor. The steps leading up the side of the building to the restaurant looked like a good place to set the old man down.
“We are at the OmeteYama Bus Stop. In front of an Italian restaurant called Risotto,” the second old woman said into her cell phone.
I lowered the old man onto the restaurant steps. Holding his shoulders, I walked around to get a look at him. Two days earlier, on my jog, I had seen the city workers cutting back the bushes for winter. The freshly cut branches must have been pretty sharp. The old man’s face was scratched in several places and bleeding, but none of the cuts were very deep. He was breathing steadily. He looked asleep.
Finished with the phone call, the two women came over to inspect him. “Ojisan, are you OK?” the second woman, emerging as the leader of our triage unit, said.
“When will the ambulance get here?” No longer running, I was starting to feel the cold of the November morning air.
“I called Red Cross. They are very fast.” The second woman looked at her watch. “Oh my, it is almost nine. I have to go.”
“Is it nine o’clock? I have to go, too,” the first said. “All of the cheap eggs at the supermarket will be gone.”
I had assumed that the three of them were together. But without another word, the two old ladies walked away in opposite directions. One down the hill to the supermarket and the other continuing up the hill to some appointment. I stood holding the shoulder of the old man while he sat unconscious on the steps. His chin sunk into his chest.
I wanted to go, too and thought about just leaving him there.
“What happened?” I was saved from my selfish impulse by the arrival of another woman. She was younger, probably in her mid-thirties. She was wearing pastel coveralls with the name of a janitorial service company printed on the back.
I felt a momentary panic. A bleeding elderly Japanese man with a sweating foreigner did not look good. I wanted to explain that I was not mugging the old guy, but the janitor spoke first.
“I saw him fall when he was getting of the bus. I work over there.” She pointed to an apartment building down the hill.
“He fell when he got off the bus. An ambulance should be here soon.”
The woman squatted in front of the old man. “Ojisan, are you OK?” She touched his shoulder. The old man’s eyes fluttered open.
“Are you an angel?”
The janitor stood up. “He’s drunk.”
“I thought it was a stroke.”
“No, he’s drunk. You can smell it on his breath.”
Behind us we could hear the engine of a scooter approaching and then being turned off. We turned to look. It was a post office worker on a red 50 cc Suzuki Super Cub.
“What happened?” The post office worker was a woman in uniform. She walked up to us.
“He fell getting off the bus.”
The post office worker knelt down. “Ojisan, are you OK?
The old man’s eyes opened again. “You are a beautiful angel.” He reached out and took her hand.
“He’s drunk.” The postal worker stood up smiling.
The janitor leaned down. “Are you OK? You fell down getting off the bus.”
“This must be heaven. I am surrounded by angels.”
The two women smiled at each other, flattered. I wondered if I could leave now.
“You can’t sit there.” A woman in black slacks and a white button down dress shirt appeared on the stairs. She clearly worked at the Italian restaurant.
“You can’t sit there. The stairs are for customers.” The restaurant worker carried a sandwich board advertising the day’s specials.
“He fell down.”
“An ambulance is coming.”
“He can’t sit there.”
It had rained the night before and the sidewalk was wet and covered with puddles. I was wondering where he could go. Before I could do anything, the post office worker bent down and dead lifted the old man onto her shoulder in a fireman’s carry.
“Oh, angel you are so beautiful and strong.”
“I’ll get something for him to sit on.” The janitor ran to the apartment building. I did nothing.
The woman from the restaurant positioned the sandwich board sign on the sidewalk and then disappeared back up the stairs.
The janitor was back. I imagined she would bring a chair or a cushion, but she was carrying a large plastic garbage bag filled with leaves. She placed the bag against the wall of the building.
“He can sit there,” the janitor said, clearly pleased with her cleverness.
The postal worker skillfully lowered the old man onto the bag of leaves.
“Thank you. Thank you,” the old man said. “Your husband must be happy to have such a beautiful and strong wife.”
“I have been unlucky in love.”
“Impossible. Someone as beautiful as you must be married.” The old man was a charmer.
“Nope, I am single.”
“That is lucky in love,” the janitor said. “My husband gambles. He has debts.”
“I wish I could find someone.”
“It’s better to be single than to have a bad husband. And working at the post office is a good job.”
“It’s hard in the winter.”
“I’ll bet it’s still better than cleaning houses.”
“Is there someone we should call?” I asked the old man.
“You are such a kind foreigner. Your wife must be very happy.”
“Is there anyone you want us to call?” I asked again.
“Are you married?” It was the postal worker.
“Yes, I am.”
“Your wife is very happy married to such a kind foreigner,” the old man said.
“Is your wife Japanese?” the postal worker asked.
“Japanese women are kind and beautiful. You must be very happy,” the old man said.
“Do you gamble?”
“Foreign men are kind to their wives.” The postal worker looked wistful.
“Is there anyone to call?”
“My son lives in Osaka. He never calls.”
The janitor was studying specials on the sandwich board for the Italian restaurant. “This place looks pretty good. I have never been here, though.”
The postal worker moved next to her. “It does look good. It is kind of expensive, though.”
“My son never married. He says he is too busy with work. But he is just selfish.”
“Look they have a coupon. 10% off.
“Really. That is not so bad then.”
“Oh, there is only one.” The janitor held the coupon in her hand, awkwardly.
“Maybe, the waitress will come back and we can ask for another one.”
“I want grandchildren, but my son just thinks of himself.”
Mercifully, I could hear the siren of an ambulance approaching. “I think the ambulance is coming.”
“Here, you take the coupon. I will probably never eat here.”
“No, no. I come by here everyday. I will pick up a coupon some other time. You take it.”
The ambulance pulled into the bus stop and two paramedics jumped out. One was carrying a medical box.
“You called for an ambulance?”
“The old man, he fell down getting off the bus.”
“Are any of you related to him?”
“He has a son in Osaka.”
“But none of you are his relatives.”
“They are beautiful angels who took care of me. And this is a good foreigner, too. Everyone is so kind.”
“If you are not relatives, you should leave.”
“Is it OK?”
“Please leave the area.”
After exchanging glances, the three of us said goodbye to the old man, told him to take care, and went our separate ways. The Postal worker zoomed away on her Suzuki Super Cub and I started walking up the hill home. As the janitor walked back to the apartment building, I saw her pushing the coupon for the Italian restaurant into a pocket on her coveralls. After walking a few steps, I broke into a slow jog.