I sometimes observed him in the early morning hours of the school day. Before 6am, there he’d be, leaning over his wooden fence – a peaceful look on his face, the kind that says I’m grateful to be here today, yet also a forlorn look that spoke of immense hardship. Perhaps a lifetime of struggle and poverty.
This, in 2013 when my son and I would travel by train to Retreat station, the early trek to school. Pick-up at the station was anytime between 05:50 – 06:15.
Then one morning my son had to use the toilet, 5 years old and an emergency toilet stop is an emergency toilet stop! Taxis coming and going, people rushing off to work and then silence in between the commuter lull as life on this street seemed to revolve around the train timetable at Retreat station.
There he stood, the elderly man, leaning over the wooden fence while my son needed to go. Desperate for the toilet. I bravely held on to his hand and walked across the almost deserted parking lot, barely light outside – crossing the quiet street. Surprised to see us standing in front of the gate, I asked him if we could please use his toilet. A stranger, a man, a dark house – no one saw us go inside.
I was afraid, while my gut instincts told me that it was safe, my mind played out anything and everything that could go wrong. I trusted my instincts though, having observed activities in the streets for months. I somehow knew that I could trust this man as he lead us into the very dark home and showed us to the toilet leading off from confined passage space. The house was dead quiet. He turned around, reached into a room, turned back towards me and handed me a toilet roll. I thanked him and asked him if he could please keep an eye out for the school taxi while we were in the toilet.
Many thoughts went through my mind as I stood in the toilet waiting for my son. There was no light, and I wondered how many people lived in the house and if the man was the owner of the home or one of the possibly many tenants . . . I’ve been observing movements since our first morning waiting for the school taxi.
About four minutes later I pulled the chain. There was no basin to wash hands – or at least not that I can recall. All I remember is feeling exceptionally grateful, but also dead scared as we made our exit from the darkness into the light as the pathway to the gate beckoned. I had no idea as to how many people may have been in the house as it was very dark inside.
There he stood, the elderly man. Slowly opening the gate as I thanked him and stepped onto the sidewalk, tightly holding onto my son’s hand. I will never forget this man.
After this we hardly saw him again, as it was soon school holidays and then it was autumn and the mornings were colder and darker. We kept to the kiosk corner at the bottom of the bridge steps, safer.
I often said to my dad that one day I want to go back to that house and thank the man again. I’ve since driven down the road a few times, but the street looks a bit different and I think the house or fence may have changed . . .
This elderly man’s kind act made me feel a lot safer standing around in the early morning hours. Knowing that across the road lived someone I could easily go to if ever I needed help. Of course, I do not know who this man is. I do not know his history or whether he is still alive – what I do know is that in that moment he extended a helping hand and he reaffirmed that I can trust my gut instincts.
I’m going to mission and find this house and see if this man is still alive and explain to him how much it meant to me that he let us into his home to use his toilet. Strangers. Afraid yet trusting. He needs to know that in that brief moment he made a difference and impacted positively on my life
Disclaimer: the featured image is from pixabay and NOT the man referred to in my post.
I found “The Man at Retreat Station” on 23 March 2018!