I kept looking back at him. Clearly, I couldn’t leave him so turned around. At first, I bent over a bit, looking down and speaking in a half-whisper. That didn’t work. I squatted, then knelt. The pavement felt like ice. Was he breathing? I couldn’t tell. Tears pushed through. I continued speaking softly. “Can you move?” His legs dangled over the edge of the curb. I feared a car would come and crush them.
I looked to see if there was blood. I still couldn’t tell if he was breathing. His creamed coffee skin was hairless with large pores and deep-set wrinkles. His hair, dusty black. If I guessed his age, I’d say he was young – an old, weathered kind of young. Finally, I reached out and ever so gently put my hand on his shoulder. When he moved, I almost laughed out loud with relief.
“You cannot stay here like this. It looks like you’re hurt.” His forehead was bloody. It looked to be swelling, bruised. “You might have a concussion.”
I couldn’t smell booze on him, but there was an odour. I just didn’t know what it was except that it was acrid. It burned the back of throat a tad. I remembered the smell from the undertakers when I was a kid.
He was pushing himself up now. His black eyes were partially open. Clear but unfocussed.
He mumbled what sounded like “I am” but that was it. His arm started shaking. I thought he was going to fall over so I reached out to steady him. I was fighting those tears again. Why wasn’t someone coming to help?
The street was filled with people. Mind, many of them weren’t that much better off than this fellow, but still, you’d think someone would come over. And then, poof, they were there.
“We’ve called 911. Did you?”
There were two of them. Older and casually dressed, I assumed these men worked the streets in some way, taking care of matters like this one. They had a kind of ‘take-charge’ way about them.
“Okay, you can leave him to us.” But I wasn’t going away. He had hold of my hand.
His palm was dry and warm. You couldn’t see him shaking on the outside, but he was, under the skin. My heart hurt.
“You shouldn’t really touch him, you know.”
I looked at his face, eyes filled with confusion, lower lip hanging, and moved closer to support his weight. Somewhere in him moved his people; proud, dignified ancestors who loved the land and each other. He carried them in his blood and bones and needed their strength now. I needed to tell them how sorry I am for my complicity in their abuse and how ashamed I am of us.
His breathing changed. The two men noticed it too and moved closer. I could feel their anxiety. But he put up his hand for them to stop. The gesture surprised us. For a split second, he was transformed. Looking straight at me he said, “Saw ey imi kos iw.” I hadn’t a clue and shook my head asking him to say it again. He did, three times, each time slower than the last one, and then closed his eyes.
Sirens. I’ve never been so happy to hear them. The paramedics worked quickly. He was gone and I was alone on a crowded street.
I’ve cried a lot today wondering how he is and what will become of him. I’ve cried a lot today for a lot of reasons. One of them is because of the magic that happened, and for the gift I was given.
The word saweyimikosiw means I am favoured by the spirits. Indeed, I am. I am truly blessed.
My wish is that we never lose sight of how grace comes to us. It can come from the most unexpected places, the most unlikely people, and at the oddest times.