THE MALL WALKER
He was moving quickly through the crowd of Saturday afternoon shoppers and browsers, his arms gesticulating as he moved about, at times wildly, yet carefully. He touched no one and no one had to get out of his way, although they did. His deftness of movement belied his size. As an ice dancer skates about the rink, so did he, around the startled shoppers.
I started following him as soon as I saw him. I wrote, occasionally, for the local paper, free-lance. I was a journalist when I was in the Navy. I never really pursued it though, when I got out; not enough money and not enough patience, and I found I was uncomfortable pestering people. My editor, a Lieutenant, told me I was too sensitive. But as I watched him I could see my by-line and the title: WILD MAN INVADES LOCAL MALL. A cartoon conductor guiding his imaginary orchestra, his long dark hair, moving, as if in a wind, his arms, long appendages, giving direction. Yeah, I was following this guy. This was a story.
I followed as closely as I dared, without overtaking him, actually leaning forward in an attempt to hear what he was saying. It was kind of funny. People were clearing a path for him. It was as if they knew he was coming before they heard him. I was very close to him when he abruptly stopped in front of a bookstore. I stopped too, several feet away. He stood there staring into the glass. I moved slightly closer, to try to see what he was seeing.
“Do you think He hears me?” he asked.
I noticed his eyes were red. I saw tears.
“Who? What are you talking about? God?” I asked quickly, with I’m sure some trepidation in my voice.
“I’m not going to stop until He answers me,” he yelled back at me as he turned and walked into the flow of shoppers.
I followed, staying further behind this time. He walked quietly for a short while. He wasn’t moving his arms, he wasn’t yelling. I thought it was over. I felt a little disappointed, but then he yelled out something unintelligible and stretched out his right arm, only just missing a young man. He hurried now, towards the fountain.
It seems like every shopping mall I’ve ever been in had a fountain. On the weekends the circumference of the fountain area is full of young people and wary eyed parents keeping an eye on their impatient children, but this Saturday the throng of people at the fountain dispersed en masse when the dervish with the long hair and swinging arms came close. I smiled at the scene.
Two men, I noticed, to the right, were fast stepping towards him. They weren’t in uniform but I assumed they were policemen, or, at the least, security personnel. They came up from behind, one on either side. They grabbed his flailing arms and continued to walk him past the fountain. He turned his head to each side, trying, I assumed, to see who had a hold of him – back and forth, straining to see who his captors were. He offered no resistance, and he was quiet now. Some people pointed towards the quick spectacle and talked to each other, and some were laughing. One man in particular, got up hurriedly from his seat at the fountain and, with an incredibly large grin, literally ran into a nearby store and stood, peaking from behind a mannequin, smiling from ear to ear, safely watching the capture of the wild walker.
He was taken, not as I would have thought, through some corridor to the security office, but directly outside to a waiting police car. An officer hurriedly got out of the car when the trio approached. He opened the back door and after handcuffing him – he offered no resistance – he very gently, but very quickly, placed him into the back seat. Then one of the security men said something to the policeman and they both smiled.
I walked up to them and asked what was to become of this guy. The policeman said he was going to take him to the nearest hospital, St. Joseph’s. He explained that he was familiar with him. There had been several encounters in the last few months. He lived with his sister, he said. He took him there after one incident at a convenience store. She told him that he was an ordained minister. He had a breakdown about a year ago and he was removed from his parish. He came to live with her after that. He was in counseling and he didn’t always take his medication. She told him that he was in a crisis of faith. Then he said that he’d probably be held overnight for observation and then released. “He’s harmless, just a lost soul now.” One of the security guards said that he’d seen him at the mall before, but this was the first time he got so rambunctious. The officer then turned to leave, and said, almost inaudibly – like a mumble – something about hoping he “kept the handcuffs on this time.”
I decided then not to pursue this, this story. His world belonged to him. He was having enough trouble. What would be accomplished? Why further embarrass him, or his sister? I felt sorry for him.
I watched the squad car drive away when I noticed he was all over the back seat, his hands flailing wildly. The car rocked back and forth as they drove through the lot. I wondered how he did that.