Thursday, May 26, 2011

The day of the hungry kittens

I was hurrying down Van Ness, on my way to the Civic Center BART station. I was taking care of two orphaned kittens and I was anxious to get home and feed them. Cutting down a side street, I noticed a man sitting at a table at a sidewalk cafe. He was wearing a pair of shorts and a nylon windbreaker, strange attire for a chilly San Francisco afternoon. However, what struck me most about the man was not his unsuitable clothing; it was the fact that he was dead.

There were other people sitting outside the cafe, eating pizza, drinking coffee, talking on their cell phones. They didn't register that the man was dead, but they knew something was amiss and they were starting to grow restless. His head was tilted back and his eyes were open and staring fixedly. What is the last thing a dying man sees? What is the last thing he hears?

There was no need for preamble. "This man is dead," I said. Just to make sure, I put two fingers on his carotid artery, the way I was trained so many years ago. Some things you never forget. His skin was still faintly warm, but he had no pulse. "Call 911," I said. And then what did I do? I started to walk away.

"Wait," one of the onlookers said, "Aren't you going to -- I mean, don't you have to...?" A couple of other people were fumbling with their phones.

There was nothing else to be done. "I have to go," I said. "I have kittens to feed."

I felt bad leaving the dead man alone with those people, but his life was over and the kittens were hungry. As I trotted toward the train station, I heard the ambulance, siren howling, hurrying toward a man who wouldn't be hurrying anywhere, ever again.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

No one noticed!? Or, no one wanted to do anything about a dead man nearby? How are so many so oblivious?

Heather H.

CJGallegos said...

Here's the deal as I see it. It was not a natural death. Everyone at the cafe has been interviewed. A police sketch has been distributed. An APB has been issued for a woman on the run, a kitten feeder, they say.

Sarah Thompson said...

Tai!!!! I've missed you! And I love me some kitties, I would have done the same thing.

The Querulous Squirrel said...

Oh, look at that sweet kitten face full of the hunger for life. Of course you made the right choice. They were only eating pizza. Who could have an appetite after that? They had plenty of time on their hands, too.

smartz said...

A striking telling of a story that must be played out daily in many, many places. I appreciate your ability to focus on what you could do, care for those who depend on you. PS so glad to see you back again.

bloglily said...

I'm with Heather H. -- how could it be that no one sitting near this man noticed? And that you, with your kittens, on a mission, did? I'm glad you did, by the way, and glad too that you went on with your mission. xo

euthymic said...

This sad slice of life was very compellingly told. We like the way you are sparse with your adjectives. Nice piece of writing! One cannot leave this piece and feel indifferent.

Emma said...

omg! what a story! and look at little floydy!

Mel said...

You certainly do know how to make a re-entrance into the blogosphere.

Pants said...

Hey Tai

Of course you did the right thing. You reminded the people who were around the poor man that one of the most important definitions of humanity is that one takes responsibility for strangers in peril unconditionally. You ordered someone to call 911 and someone did. Well done you!

xxx

Pants

Tai said...

Many people have asked me how the patrons at the cafe could have been so oblivious to the presence of a dead man in their midst. My theory is that most people have little personal experience with death and many have never seen a dead person in situ. While on some unconscious level they may have realized that their fellow human was dead, the situation was so far out of the sphere of their experience and comfort level that their conscious minds refused to acknowledge it. Thus, the only option left to them was to ignore the man.

This is a classic case of denial used as a defense mechanism. The brain says: This can't be happening -- so it isn't. Even after I pointed out that he was dead, there was still a delay in their comprehension; they were like divers who had been so deep underwater that it took a while for them to rise to the surface.

trashmaster46 said...

They didn't notice he was dead, but they expected you to do something about it?

Anonymous said...

Great story. - Mikkel