Robert was a rough-hewn character. He lived in a nursing home outside of Melbourne where I worked as a caregiver. We heard him before we saw him. He walked with a cane which he leaned into heavily. “Old injury from the war,” he explained, when I asked about the limping hip. The cane tapped a beat on the tiles on the floor and the metal on the sole of his shoe kept rhythm.
He wore the same shoes every day. “Worn ’em forty years, mate. That’s a good shoe right there,” he explained academically, tapping at the toe of his right one with his cane. “It’s been there for me through the good and the ill.” They were made of very old brown leather and he meticulously polished them every morning. Even the insides had a high sheen with a dark outline where his toes nested. His room had the distinct smell of the Kiwi shoe polish he used.
It was rough being an international uni student and not only having to work to fund my schooling but adjusting to culture shock as well. The job wasn’t much to speak of. A friend had recommended me for it and I’d decided to give it a go. I was grateful for it but it was certainly grunt work. The hardest part was thinking I spoke English but having to learn a whole new version here.
I tied Robert’s shoe laces, and chuckled as he told he about the ‘deadorse” and “wilted rabbit food” he was served for dinner last night. “Where’s the lamb around here? Or how about some roo for supper?” He complained. I liked this crusty man but would like him even better if he quit scratching his nuts in front of me. He did it every time he put his shoes on, “Only thing is, these shoes make me itch my budgies.”
He loved to talk about his wife. “We raised chooks up north,” he said, pointing to a grainy photo of her in her bathers on his old dresser. “She was always full as a boot on the amber fluid.” She was a good distraction while I helped him get dressed, otherwise he’d tell me to nick off. He called me a stickybeak and a perve when I first started.
I shook my head as I left to attend to a buzzer going off in room 24. “I’ll never get over this place.”
Robert loved to walk outside after brekkie. I’d been there about 4 months when he came clicking by the nurse’s station one day. I was enjoying my job well enough and getting a good handle on this culture. “How ya going Bob? Beautiful day out out there.” I said, replenishing towels from the laundry cart.
“There’s a dead duck in the parking lot,” he announced, adjusting his hat without looking at me. He kept walking.
“Oh dear.” I said, and went back to my towels, thinking it was a good thing the garbo would be here tomorrow.
All of a sudden, my cart was pushed by a nurse of larger build in a tight uniform, running faster than seemed possible for her size. I was thrown against the wall like a rag-doll. She was yelling orders as she ran outside and my fellow off-siders were running behind her in pandemonium, dodging wheelchairs and their occupants. “What was going on?” I asked after I caught my breath, frantically looking around and wondering if I should run or hide.
Turns out a female resident had fallen in the parking lot and Bob had saved her hide with his announcement! So much for my cultural competence…