Ritual

Sally tapped the top of every second prong of the fence as she went past number 13. Number 15 had the funny plants on the nature strip that went through as though she was in deepest, darkest Africa. Number 17 had a dog, so she walked on the edge of the gutter and tried to act as though she hadn’t even heard it. What dog barking? Oh, that one? No, I’m not scared of it, don’t be silly. Number 19 was the corner house so she made corners with her feet as she walked – one forward, one sideways. Then, stop at the street, look both ways three times and when the cars were gone, walk across sensibly, with a sensible face on and a pretend suitcase, because Dad is the most sensible person she knows and he has a briefcase and he would never be silly on the road because it is dangerous, don’t you know.

Today, there was an old man standing on the corner. Sally looked at him closely as she walked past. She was told to not talk to strange men, but she didn’t think he would hurt he. He was crying. Not the embarrassing sobbing of Mum sometimes when she’s watching TV, or the whining, whinging of Sally’s little sister. Just tears coming down his face. He didn’t see her as she snuck past and ran the rest of the way home, straight home, only slowing for driveways, and not doing any of her usual routines.

“Mum! Mum! There’s a crying old man on the corner.”

Sally’s mum looked up from her book. She was settled in a comfy chair in a ray of sunshine and she may have been napping.

“What?”

“On the corner. There’s an old man, and he’s crying, and he looks lost.”
Sally’s mum sighed and they walked to the footpath. The man was still there, staring and crying.

“You go inside, I’m going to talk to him.”

“Should I call anyone?”

“Let’s just wait and see.”

Sally went inside and ran upstairs to see if she could see anything. She could just see the old man’s head beyond the fences and trees of her neighbours. She saw him look up – her mother must be speaking to him. He looked confused, and lost, and maybe didn’t speak English. He shook his head emphatically and then a moment or two later, Sally heard the front door close.

“Sal?”

Sally ran down to her mother. “What’s happening?”

“I think he’s from one of the nursing homes. I’m going to make some calls. Can you jump online and go to yellow pages, the Australian one, and look up nursing homes in the area? I’ll call council, they might be able to help.”

Within the hour, someone had come to collect Mr. Jones – he had managed to sneak out of a locked up home. The nursing home sent a card thanking Sally and her mother for their assistance.

Now, on the way home, Sally would stop where Mr. Jones had been and try to think of things to make herself cry. It was really hard, and sometimes she didn’t really want to feel sad, but it was part of her ritual. 

 

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