05 June 2008

On Being Myself - Memories of B

Whilst growing up my parents had a gentleman, B, living in our house who was viewed by the general community as 'not right in the head'. He was mocked and shunned by certain people but my parents gave him shelter when he was due to become homeless.

B was born in Cuba and left the island as a young man, escaping during the revolution and moved to another Caribbean island before emigrating to England during the early 60's. Before he left the Caribbean he met and fell in love with a woman. When he spoke about her to me many years later his eyes would become sparkly with tears and his voice croaked.

On his departure from the Caribbean, before getting on the boat to his new 'home', England, he promised to send for her.
On arrival in Britain B found bitter cold weather, hostility and discrimination. 'No dogs, No Wogs and No Irish' were the signs displayed prominently in the windows of the English with rooms to let. He worked hard and saved as much money as he could to send money back to his 'intended'.

He diligently organised the paperwork, made all the arrangements and waited excitedly at the airport as she flew in to meet him after a few years of being apart.

Within 6 months of her arrival she ended their relationship and he never saw her again. Each time he mentioned her name, talked about her beauty, poise and intelligence, I felt his pain. It was palpable. Up until his death decades later he never had another relationship. It had to be her or no one.

As a child I used to sometimes sit in his stuffy, dimly lit room (he rarely opened the curtains or the window) which was packed full of books on shelves, on the floor, on the small single bed and listen to him talk about politics, democracy, religion, the royal family, communism and world events. I didn't understand most of what he said with my child's mind, but I found him interesting. Sometimes he would start on a topic and become angry, shouting and shaking his fists, usually whilst talking about the Pope and the whole charade, the pomp and ceremony, the wasted money, the great con inflicted on the people who professed to be Roman Catholics and so on. B particularly raged about the hypocrisy of the monarchy - Queen Elizabeth II invited the most venom as the head of state and the Anglican church. He would almost spit! He would sometimes drag out these old tomes, blow the dust off them and read me passages of philosophers he felt I had to know about. He had read the various versions of the Bible and rejected them without hesitation.

He would also lend me books which I could only read with great difficulty and little comprehension, but I tried!
B hated things which controlled him, be they communism, religion or anything else and he spoke about these at length.
Sometimes he would tell really awful jokes, which caused me to laugh only because they were so dreadfully bad! His sense of humour was great!
He enjoyed living with us as he was free to be himself. If he had 'an episode' of ranting about the woes of the world that was okay. If he sometimes had had a few drinks and sang rather loudly whilst cooking, that was okay too!

I left home and stepped out into the big wide world, but I never forgot B the man who was gentle, kind and caring.

Years later after he had had a stroke and was bedridden, my parents refused to allow him to go into a home and cared for him for several years. He had already become a part of the family.
As time progressed an incident occurred when my father was not at home: my mother couldn't lift B up out of the bath. They knew the time had come for him to be cared for elsewhere. The years of being a carer had taken its toll on both my parents. He was placed into a home about 1/2 mile away and their visits to him were regular and they were keen to ensure he was being treated well and enjoying his life in the circumstances. He still received their traditional home-cooked Caribbean 'Sunday dinners'.

After being away for many years I hadn't had physical contact with him but kept up-to-date with how he was.
Prior to a planned visit home I gathered together my siblings and we all piled in my car for the long journey. Included in our schedule was a visit to B and to take him a few gifts.
On arrival I realised that the care home was clean and the staff friendly. I then saw a man sat in a high-backed chair and my mother told me, 'There he is.'
I blinked a few times as my eyes adjusted to this new image of a man swollen and puffy with dribble running down his chin onto his vest. My eyes pinged. I could not stop the tears as I remembered this man, this great man, who had fire and passion and intelligence and was now sat unable to control his trembling lips and whose eyes were vacant. I held his hand and he smiled as he said my name and stroked my arm, saying with difficulty how pleased he was to see me.

I left there finding it difficult to drive due to the tears obscuring my view. My mother patted me on the shoulder and said, 'That's life, my dear, that's life! He had a good life with us and he's happy.'

He died about a year later and my parents ensured he was buried according to his own wishes. He had no immediate nor distant blood family. No children. Just us.

I look back on his life and don't consider it a waste as he brought joy, laughter, wackiness and he had shared some of his ideas and outlook on life with me. He encouraged me to think outside the box, to not follow the crowd just to be 'hip'. He was unique and yet totally human.

I think of him and all those people outside our home who shunned him because he was 'not right in the head'.

Their loss. Their loss.

1 comment:

GirlBlue said...

That's a beautiful tribute, well worthy of the man