I was preparing to go to the editorial office where I was going to give a lecture in front of a group of journalists. A cultivated, exigent, familiar audience. I was waiting for the car to take me there. I like to be left alone in such moments, so that my excitement doesn't show, which would be ridiculous for my age and experience in this field. I'm afraid that people might think that it's not because of excitement that I behave like that, but because of a feeling of arrogance for being invited to lecture. Peace, however, has never been something I had the opportunity to enjoy in life. I was just collecting my thoughts when my son came back from school. I didn't mind too much my son starting a big row with his grandmother from the very moment he entered the house, because he had not wiped his feet, he had thrown down his schoolbag, he hadn't blown his nose and other such things that are well-known and pretty common in any household where there are children, grandmothers and busy mothers. My son, however, candidly ignoring his granny's anger comes to me and says:"Listen, mom, there's an ailing guy sitting on the staircase of our block of flats." I can't tolerate that an ailing man does not get help so I readily ran out to see what I could do for him. This man was a real blessing at that very moment, just the excuse I needed to channel my excitement before the conference. "Do you need anything? Why are you sitting here like that?" The old man was almost paralyzed, he had Parkinson's disease, he was trying to put a cigarette into his mouth, but his hand was continuously trembling. Hs mouth, too, must have been affected by the disease, as he did not notice his cigarette did not hold in position. He can hardly utter a few words, stammering, telling me he'd like a little water. I rush, solicitously, to get him some water. On my way back, glass in hand, I notice a jar with quince jam. It briefly occurs to me that the old man would like some, or at least I thought so, or, to be honest, I doubt I thought at all in those moments but I mechanically associated the jam with the water; to cut it short, I take some jam for him, too. I try to make him hold them, but he is completely limp, he cannot either keep them in his hands or keep his balance, so I have to feed him the jam with a teaspoon, I also take the glass of water to his lips. "Would you like me to call an ambulance?" "No!" He shakes his head and waves his hands. "Would you like to come in?" "No!" The same gestures. "You are not going to sit here on the stairs, are you?" I ask him in an alarmed voice.He starts shaking again and he produces from his pocket, with great difficulty, a telephone bill, which he shows to me, trying to explain something. He was pretty neat and well dressed but when he opened his mouth to speak, my mother's quince jam spurted out, making a mess of his clothes. I felt I hated my mother for the way she scrapes the quinces into such small pieces so that from just one teaspoonful of jam that I had managed to introduce into the old man's mouth, dozens of minute pieces were now coming out spilling over his coat, his trousers, his shoes. It's true that I had given him a full teaspoon. I'm a generous person and when I give something I like to give it with all my heart. I quickly bring a napkin and wipe the old man's clothes and face and mouth and hands. I manage to get the information that he left home to pay his daughter's phone bill but he was sick on his way and he just entered our building to sit down and come to himself. I ask him what his daughter's phone number is, he can't tell, she is at her office now and he doesn't know the number there. He wants to leave. I try to support him. I am in a hurry myself, I try to rush him, but he is completely limp, he can hardly move. I manage to take him out of the building with the help of my son, and we carefully and gently prop him up against the wall. My son goes inside, he is hungry. A girl living across the road comes to ask me where I found the old guy. I'm trying to briefly explain that to her and taking advantage of her interest and sympathy for the poor old man I ask her to hold him in that position, leaning against the wall. She readily offers her help. I sigh in relief and go to ask some passers-by to call a taxi. But none of them would get involved. In the meanwhile all the high-life and old folks in the neighborhood have gathered in front of my door ready to advise me about what to do with him, how to carry him, etc. And there are just 15 minutes until the beginning of my conference in front of a full auditorium. The girl who was propping him up had grown weary of her philanthropic impulses and would have left, but he couldn't just leave him like that, as he was just like a post that had to be held. If she let him go she would collapse. He had to be held by the collar and pushed against the wall. The girl called me for help, the people around believed he was my old man, some of them looked at me reprovingly, others went away saying something about my behavior. I already had another audience here, that I could have addressed, and maybe I should have, since I really had no idea about what I was going to tell the real one who was already waiting for me.. My car arrives in the meanwhile, I rush into the house to get my coat and handbag. Everybody outside, the girl who was eagerly waiting to be released, the old man himself, every single person in the street believed that that was the car I had called for him. So before I got out of the house they placed him comfortably on the back seats and waited for me. When I came out I thought I was a character in one of Mircea Eliade's fantastic stories. Everything had changed. The old man was no longer propped against the wall, the girl had disappeared, a group of people were crowding around the car as if they were waiting for my triumphant departure. I try to come to myself, to forget about the whole fuss and think only of my lecture. When I get closer to the car I am really stunned. The old man was lying on the back seats. He had an air of satisfaction. You could tell he was feeling well "What have you done? That's my car!" "Exactly!" says one of them. "Aren't you taking him with you?" "I mean, it's not my car. It's a car from my office." "Make up your mind!" he retorts angrily. "Either it's yours, or it isn't. And even if it isn't, can't you take him with you?" "Take him where? I'm going to give a lecture!" "So why would you mind? He can listen too. He is pretty quiet." Puzzled by his retort I try to talk reason to the driver, I manage to persuade a couple of other people to take him out of the car. You could see the old guy missed his comfortable seat but he was obedient. He allowed us to pull him out of the car, but he was like chewing gum, if you seized him by a part of his body it simply stretched out. If you pulled him by an arm, the arm stretched out of the car like the tentacle of an octopus, while the rest of his body remained seated inside the car. The same with his leg. At last we manage to pull him out. The people leave mumbling something about heartlessness and indolence. Greatly shattered by the events, I tell the driver to take me to the nearest taxi rank where I manage to completely bewilder one of the drivers with my story about an old man, a heartless daughter, a conference, nervousness and when he finally could not understand anything he followed our car to the place and took the old man with him. Then I went to my conference, spoke about I know not what and came back home to relax. Why do I have to meddle with so many things? Did I really need to go to that conference?

by Maria Marian (b. 1930)