As I write, I fear that my 70 year old next door neighbour is lying dead in her apartment. That in two weeks time someone will call the police to report the suspiciously revolting odour seeping from under her door. Or perhaps, tomorrow morning I will see her outside on the landing, tutting and muttering expletives under her breath while spraying an entire can of cheap men's deodorant into the air in an attempt to chase away the smell of tobacco coming from upstairs.
God, I hope so...
Mrs Seffarde, the lady who lives next to us, is a very energetic woman for her age. She can often be seen out taking a walk 'to stretch the old legs' or getting on the bus to go to the swimming baths. She is also very 'with it', totally up to date with life and age doesn't seem to have dealt her any forgetful/confused/senile cards. Not yet anyway. In fact apart from her moaning and groaning (of which she does rather a lot), she doesn't really fit in with the stereotypical old woman.
Which was why FP and I were both shocked on Saturday morning when we answered our door to find a dazed and confused Mrs Seffarde slurring her words and hanging onto the door frame in order to stay upright.
"I-I-I'm sooo tired," she said in French, "I need your help."
Immediately I knew something wasn't right. It couldn't just be fatigue that turned a normally very proud and with it old lady into a slurring mess, could it? I stood back, startled, before realising that she was about to fall. FP and I raced forward in unison to steady her tiny body.
"Why don't you come and have a seat while you explain what's happened?" FP said, guiding her gently into our untidy living room. It wasn't a question, I realised, it was an order. I rushed ahead to clear the clutter from the sofa so that she could sit down, embarrassed at the state of the place. But she didn't seem to notice.
After that we didn't get a lot of sense out of Mrs Seffarde. She talked in her slurred words about her daughter, and then about some medication. But nothing added up.
"What's happened to you?" FP asked for about the millionth time. He pronounced the words slowly and loudly, as though he was speaking to a child.
But she insisted, "I'm jusht tired a-a-and ill, that'sh all."
"What can we do to help you? I asked, remembering the purpose of her visit. "Do you need us to call someone? A doctor?"
"NO!" She cried loudly, making me physically jump. "Don't call the firemen again, whatever you do."
"But we haven't called anyone, Madame."
"I just need you to get my shopping for me. I have a list." I nodded my head and said that of course, whatever we could do to help her we would do.
"But while we do that, you need to go home and rest because you really don't look well atall." Said FP, making a good point. Mrs Seffarde was still slurring her words, her hands trembling, her voice high and confused. She often repeated sentences only mere seconds after finishing saying them for the first time, and uttered something about drugs and doctors.
And just as she was going to go home to get her shopping list, the somewhat confusing and jumbled truth came out. She admitted she had just tried to comitt suicide, that she had 'abusé' her medication in order to die. She didn't want to stay if her daughter didn't stay, didn't want to live if her daughter didn't live. The news silenced FP and I. What were we to say to that? We didn't know if her daughter was alive and perhaps very sick or already dead, but we knew this was too big for either of us to handle on our own.
The first thought that went through my head was to phone the emergency services, but when Mrs Seffarde left to collect her shopping list, FP told me that she'd already seen the doctor that morning. She'd said so, but I hadn't understood, what with my dodgy grasp on French melanged with the old lady's arabic accent. So if a doctor had seen her already, should we be bothering the emergency services to come out and see her, perhaps making them too busy to answer a life or death call?
FP said to wait and see what she was like when we got home from doing her shopping.
She stumbled drunkenly back to our apartment with her list and purse. While she went through the list with us - and let me tell you it wasn't just the bare necessities that she wanted us to get, it was the full works; sponges, bleach, five packets of family sized crisps and incontinence pads - I couldn't help but watch her and think about what her life must be like.
On the surface she came across as a bit of a moany old cow, actually. But also she was an energetic woman who seemed to take pride in taking good care of herself. However in reality the poor woman must have been living a nightmare if she felt bad enough to try to end it all.
Mrs Seffarde interrupted my thoughts by handing over her credit card.
"Don't you have any cash on you?" FP asked, sounding more and more concerned for the old woman. She shook her head and pushed the card into his hand. She wrote her pin number on the shopping list.
Now, this was a woman who we had only really had one proper conversation with. All other forms of communication between her and us were restricted to bonjours and bonsoirs in the corridors and of course the frequent "shhhh!" she would shoot from her door anytime we made too much noise. And yet here she was giving us her credit card and her pin number. It was official, the woman was clearly very sick.
We trotted off to the supermarket, FP on his crutches and me trailing Mrs Seffarde's trolley behind me, and tried our best to buy everything on her list. Even the incontinence pads. When we got home I think we were both relieved to see that she was still alive, but terribly concerned when we saw that she was still slurring and unsteady on her feet, still talking jibberish.
Once we'd unpacked her items and put them away in her kitchen, we left and that was the last time I have seen her. I've knocked on the door a few times, but no one has answered. I've heard noises from her apartment, so perhaps she is ignoring us...
The question is; how much do I involve myself? Do I call someone? Or do I wait another day or two? She begged us not to tell anyone, so if we do call out the police and they arrive to find that she's fine, she will forever hold a grudge against us. And yet, how could I ever live with myself if she is, you know...no longer with us?
Answers in the comments box please!
UPDATE : It's all okay, she's alive and well. A normal, less slurred version of Mrs Seffarde came knocking on our door late last night to complain and accuse us of taking a cardboard box which belonged to her. Obviously we didn't take it and it pissed us off that not only did she not utter a word of thanks for the help we gave her the other day, but that she was actually really angry and accusing us of stealing something that belonged to her.
Well I suppose everything is back to normal then.
Monday, November 24, 2008