The man was already on the ground when I biked by. I later learned that he had fallen, missed a step, while walking down his stairs to salt them and the walkway.
I almost kept going, not wanting to crowd the scene. There were already three bystanders trying to help. Then I remembered I do have first-aid training, and might be of use. I leaned my bike on a sign and walked up to one of them, and asked do you want me to call an ambulance? The man was on the ground still, now on his knees, leaning over the bucket of salt like he might be sick. He said something I couldn’t understand. She looked back at me shaking her head but not saying anything.
Out of the man came moans of pain that struck me. Twisted my gut. He wanted to get up. He was getting up, determined, saying no and I want to stand up. English was not his first language. I asked him what had happened, and where he might be in pain. He told me he fell, that he missed the step, while salting the stairs.
When he rose, he rose slowly, painfully, triumphantly. I asked him if there was anyone at home with him. He said no. My heart sank. We stood around him as he slowly moved through the pain, began to move himself again. I was lucky, I was lucky, thank you for your kindness he said, several times. That was the sign. We started to drift apart. I turned to get on my bike, and met the face of the woman. She was beautiful in the way strangers who are pulled into each other’s lives for a brief moment are, then gone, unlikely to cross paths again.
"I’m going to be back this way in a minute, I’ll check in on him."
"Oh, thank you" she said, earnestly.
I turned and left.
When I returned he was moving around his house, a stranger puttering about their front yard, someone I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. He was still carrying the bucket, maybe continuing to salt the ground to prevent future falls. I stopped and asked how he was. Better. I asked if anything felt wrong. He shook his head. He flexed his knees as if to show me things were ok. He mentioned something about his back usually being a problem.
I wanted to offer something but there seemed nothing I could do. I said I lived around the corner. Thank you, God bless you, he called out, as I biked away—thinking, this is the closest I’ve felt to my neighbours, my community, in the year and a half I’ve been living here.