In the secure ward

We sat on a wide verandah and looked out on a backyard. Backyard? This one was huge, park-like and  its green flowed  past crimson flowered jacarandas on both sides for more than an acre. Finally  it gave way to a to a lily-covered billabong under the shade of towering ghost gums.

Size was one thing, the sounds of the backyard quite another. Bird calls filled the air, some raucous (crows), others like Ibis who silently stalked the lawn looking for food or scraps of bread thrown  from the verandah. And there were Kookaburras and Magpies and tiny Wagtails which periodically attacked kookas because they, like the other large birds threatened the young in their nests.

The yard was a mixture of entertainment and cacophony. One day a Kookaburra swooped on an unattended plate on the deck, stole half a toasted sammie – then dropped it. Not only was it far too  big for him  but it was  also hot.

Reluctantly we left the birds to squabble and squawk and visited a friend in a retirement unit. He had recently been moved from the comfort of his own unit to the secure version because his  condition had  deteriorated.

There we heard no birdsong but as we entered we did hear the sound of a man singing, sort of.  Opera Man they called him, though like a stuck record he repeated an arpeggio, filling the unit with La La La LA,  La La LAA….

Another patient called  Trolley Man, pushed anything on wheels, sometimes those in  wheelchairs against their will;  inside one room a woman occasionally cried out: “They took my baby”.

An elderly woman sat in a wheelchair in the hall  her leg bandaged and smiled as we passed. Inside an adjoining room nearby, we saw another whose eyes might just as well have been bandaged for they were so empty.

After we visited our friend, we were about to leave when a man with a gentle manner approached  – and asked if we could take him home… What to say?

Outside in the brilliant sunshine we regrouped  in silence.

“Shoot me if I get anywhere like that” somebody said.

Nobody replied, though we knew what he meant. We could be any one of the people in the ward. They were the elderly victims of  Dementia  and we were too close  in age to dismiss the possibility that one day we might join them.

And so we returned to our backyard with all its clamour and  embraced  the life there with a renewed appreciation.

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.