Mrs Kaplan, across the hallway

Posted On Aug-16
i rolled over in my bed, as I heard my phone buzz. Half asleep, and with a terrible hangover, I picked up my phone. It was a text message from my best friend Tammy… “Hello Luv, I’m running a bit late, will be there by 11.30″. Inebriated from all the alcohol inside me from the previous night, I replied ” Sire”….. What I’d actually meant to say was “Sure”…. but hey , its Tammy. She would understand anyway. And so, not bothering for a second to override the ridiculousness of auto-correct, i drifted back into the land of dreams.

I looked at the clock on my satellite box… the numbers read ‘11.05 AM’…. Hastily I got on my feet, and headed to brush my teeth and get a little presentable .. On my way, I downed a couple excedrins. They are simply the best for fixing a hangover headache.

Before long, Tammy was at my door. She wanted to do a voice-over sample for an advertisement, and for some reason (I totally don’t know why), she considers me as the computer Guru. After we had our usual friendly fights, and after calling each other fat, I set up my environment, for her to start recording the voice-over. In the middle of the recording, I heard my doorbell ring…. A little annoyed, I opened the door.

” Hi, I am Mrs Kaplan from across the hallway. Could you do me a big favor? My maid is on vacation. I need to go to the store urgently. I haven’t stepped out of the apartment in a few years. Could you tell me how exactly I get back into the building if I go out? ”

Now, a couple years ago, they removed the locks in our apartment building’s entrance, and made it a badge system. You had to scan your RFID badge to get in. So I was standing here, looking at the elderly woman, and thinking that sheprobably hasnt stepped out of the apartment in atleast 2 years. I said ” Sure Mrs Kaplan, do you have the residents RFID badge? ” .. As I asked her this, I spotted the badge in her hands.. ” Yeah , thats the one. You just scan in downstairs when you enter the building..Its easy”.

She seemed a little confused..” Oh, whom do I show this badge to ?” . I answered ” Well, you dont show it to a person..you just scan it in front of the little badge reader, and the door opens automatically”… and I quickly added ” Let me walk you downstairs and show you how to use it”.

She thanked me profusely, and we hit the elevator button to go downstairs. Then she spoke ” Can I go back into my apartment, and get my shopping cart. Its something for me to hold on to , if I am feeling weak. It supports me when I am walking.”
” Sure, let me walk you to your door”. We walked to her door, she paused, looked at me , and asked
” Why are we here again? “.
” Mrs Kaplan, you wanted to take your shopping cart”.
” Oh yeah, I almost forgot …see what old age does to you? ”

At this point I was a little worried. Nevertheless, I walked her downstairs and showed her how to use the badge system. By the time I got back into my apartment, Tammy was done with her recording. I narrated what had happened and Tammy was worried ” Ajay, she might have Alzheimer’s. You shouldn’t have let her out. Anyway, I am done with my recording, and I am about to leave for an audition. I will come back here after the audition. For now, come with me, see me off, and look for her.

” … Oh yeah, this was gonna be a long Saturday. I got out of my jammies, slipped on a trouser, and went downstairs looking. But I couldn’t find her. I wasn’t hungover anymore. Feeling a little tensed, I came back to the building, and rang her doorbell…” No answer”. Now I knew that Mrs kaplan lived by herself, but she had another neighbor that usually checked on her. I went over, and rang this neighbor’s doorbell… No answer. At this point, I was clearly worried. I went back into my apartment, and my friend (and roommate) Angelina was home. I told her what happened, and she was worried too.

Angelina was on her way to the museum. After she left, I went across the hallway one more time, and rang Mrs Kaplan’s doorbell. As I was about to leave, the door opened, and I was so relieved to see Mrs Kaplan, who looked at me in a questioning way. It didn’t take me long to realize that she did not remember me, so I said ” Mrs Kaplan, I escorted you downstairs a few…..” Before I completed my statement, she welcomed me inside, and asked me to have a seat.

” I stopped by to check on you Mrs Kaplan”
” Oh, thank you so much sweetheart. Wait, did you find out what happened? ”
” No, not really. What happened? ”
” Well, as soon as I stepped out of the building, I wanted to pass out. And I saw this other lady, who lives in the building too. I know her by face, you see. I have been living in this building for the last 60 years. So I know most of the people in this residential complex. I know them by face. I told her that I wanted to pass out. She said that she was gonna call an ambulance. But you see, I hate that kind of drama. I don’t like to hear people say they wanna pass out. But this time, I wanted to. Might have been the heat outside. Anyway I told the lady that I didn’t want her to call the ambulance. She walked me to the bench across the street and asked me to sit down. Shortly after I saw all these nurses, and people dressed in white. They were taking my pressure, or giving me a shot or something. They wanted me to go to the hospital with them. I told them that I didn’t want to. I asked the lady to take me back to my apartment. She did so. She is a nice person. She lives upstairs on the 6th floor”

I was literally shocked. ” Mrs Kaplan, you shouldn’t have gone out. If you need anything, please ring my doorbell, and tell me what you need. I will buy it for you when I go out to the store”

” Oh , you are such an angel.” .. she kissed me on the cheek…. and she continued.. ” You know, I went downstairs, stepped out of the building , and almost wanted to pass out”…. Clearly , she had forgotten telling me this whole story a minute ago. Nevertheless, I decided to sit and listen to her. As I did that, I looked around.. her apartment was huge (by New York City standards), spacious, and very clean. I heard the faint sound of a doorbell across the hallway (perhaps at my door), and remembered that Tammy was coming back to my apartment after an audition. I asked Mrs kaplan if she would excuse me, ran to my apartment, and sure enough, Tammy was ringing the buzzer. I buzzed her in, waited by the Elevator, and took her to Mrs Kaplan’s apartment.

Mrs Kaplan asked us both to sit down and then after exchanging pleasantries, she started ” You know, I stepped out of the building, and I almost wanted to pass out”…..

I listened to her narrate the story again. She said ” So this other lady .. I cant remember which floor she stays on, she helped me get back in”. I said ” 6th floor, right?”. Mrs Kaplan looked at me ” How do you know? “, she asked
” Well Mrs Kaplan, you told me a few minutes ago”.
She laughed it away, and then continued ” I was a veteran of World war 2. My husband was wounded in the war. At that time, the Mayor of New York approached Medlife to build this apartment complex for World War 2 veterans. And in return he promised a tax relief for 25 years for Medlife. Now you see, that’s a big thing for a corporation like Medlife. So they built it, and we were both the first people here.”

I looked at Tammy, as she keenly listened to Mrs Kaplan. The poor girl had another audition to go to. But she looked like she didn’t care about it. I said ” Mrs kaplan, have you had enough water to drink? “. She pointed to a bottle which was empty. ” Could you fill that up for me? “. I took the bottle and went into the kitchen, and as I was filling it up, i noticed a piece of hamburger cooking in her toaster oven. It was almost burnt. I went back, and told her that there is something cooking in her oven. She remembered… we went back into the kitchen, and she took it out.

” You know, my husband and I were world war 2 veterans. It was 1947 when we moved in here. You kids were not even born then”… She repeated the story again.

It was Tammy’s turn to speak. ” Mrs Kaplan, where are your sons? ”
“Oh they are both doctors. But one of them passed away. You know, its a sad thing for a mother to see her son die. So I drank and I drank to get rid of the pain. Then , when I remembered that I had another son, that I loved, I stopped drinking. I have been sober for a few years now.”
Tammy proceeded ” Can you not move in with your son?”
” Oh, he lives in Maryland. And he is married with kids. I don’t want to indulge in their life. At some point of time, I remember mentioning to his wife that I wanted to move in with her. But you see, she said it might be wiser to move in near her, but not with her. I don’t blame her. I said the same thing to my mother in law, years ago!.”
She continued ” Besides, I have been here in this building for 60 years. This is like my home. And I have so many things here. Who would be willing to pack this all up for me , and help me move them all down to Maryland? “. Nevertheless, I told my daughter in law to look for an apartment near their house.”

Tammy said ” I am so sorry that one of your sons passed away at such a young age”. I interrupted saying ” Well Tammy, Mrs Kaplan has been here for 60 years”
…” Dont give away my age, young man”… Mrs kaplan said , laughing.

She turned to me and said ” So you live with Angelina? I remember, she has a sister too. Two beautiful little kids. I used to talk with their mother a lot. How are those kids now? ” I answered ” Well Mrs Kaplan, her mother Nancy has moved out. And Angelina , and her sister Antonia are not kids anymore. They are my age. Antonia is in Florida. And Angelina stays with me. ”

” Wow, they are big girls now. Time has passed”. There was a moment of silence there, and I could see Mrs Kaplan rolling her eyes up and thinking of the past.

Then she said ” You know, I stepped out of the building and I almost wanted to pass out. Then I saw this woman who lives in our building. I know her by face, you know”… Tammy and I looked at each other. Tammy had this feeling of concern on her face. Once Mrs Kaplan finished, I said ” Mrs Kaplan, we have to leave. Me and tammy have a bit of studying to do. ”

I told her to call me or buzz me if she needed anything. Then Tammy and I went back, and we spoke nothing about her. In fact, we spoke nothing at all for the next few minutes, because all we were thinking, was about Mrs Kaplan.

Caroline and Me

Posted On Jul-27
IIt was just another sunday evening. I was at the pool, doing my laps as usual. Now, on sunday afternoons, my gym combines 3 out of their 4 lanes into a family swim area…the remaining 1 lane is available for lap swimmers. I usually make it a point to go for a swim during this time because I get the whole lane to myself.
Today was no different, I reached there at 5pm…and I had done about 30 laps.

As I did a flip turn, I saw the lifeguard waiting at the edge of the pool, leaning over a bit, as if she wanted to tell me something. I broke my lap and asked her what she wanted (in an annoyed tone). She said that a woman called caroline was coming in to split my lane, and she was over 80 years old…-I nodded, and before she could say another word, I slid into my next lap.

A few mins later, I saw the guard leading caroline into the pool, and as I looked at caroline, I immediately understood the reason for the guard’s concern. Caroline appeared to be a charming faced, elderly woman, in her late eighties…completely blind. She stepped into the water, I leaned towards her and whispered “Hi, I am Ajay. Is it ok if I split the lane with you”. She nodded, smiled, and said “Well son, I can’t see anything .I’ll stay towards the divider so I can feel it as I swim. My name is Caroline”. I agreed. Instead of swimming, I decided to watch caroline. I was impressed to see the grace with which she did a backstroke…gently feeling the divider with her left hand, as she propelled using her right…not a bit of fear on her face.
I have had several swimming instructors teach me advanced swim techniques…but in the few minutes that I observed caroline, this blind 80-year old taught me somethin I had never learnt before. She taught me the power of faith and determination. Often times, I put things off…or simply give up on certain things because other things get in the way. If caroline could swim, despite being blind…..wow….I felt like a total loser.

I leaned over “Caroline, you are an amazing woman”, I said. Once again I saw the same charming toothless smile. “Oh, thank you sunny. I can’t see you, but I’m sure you are a handsome man”, she replied.
I paused for a second, wished her a good night, and left.