He parked in the best disabled parking spot, straight across from the right side automatic doors. And if anyone has ever deserved such a spot it was him. In his early seventies, obese, he is slow to emerge from his car. He swings his legs out. Two canes come with them- two things like high-tech walking poles, and he rises to his feet on their careful support.
He rests. Then he begins his journey.
Each step is a slow struggle. Each cane has a heavy turn. Step, plant, step, plant, pause, breathe, step, plant, step, plant.
In the time of his walk from the car to our front doors I help five people. It is not complicated help. And I am not busy. And in between I watch him. Step, plant, making his way to the library, a small bag hooked on his shoulder, struggle in his every movement.
By the time he is in the lobby where I am working he is breathing hard. He is exhausted. And when he hits our smooth, hard tiles, one of his canes slips on him. He groans in pain and maybe partly out of sheer frustration. He huffs and puffs and looks up at me.
"Not happy." He says, referring, I suppose, to the slickness of our floors.
He tries to catch his breath. He can't. He unslings his little bag and takes out one small hardcover book. He returns it in the automated slot. The motorized belt whisks it quickly away.
I think surely he will head on into the library to pick up a hold, or maybe he has a computer appointment. After all, to simply return a single book he could have so easily used our drive up. But just as I'm about to ask him if he needs help it is clear he is turning to leave. His job is done here. He was indeed here just to return one book.
He's a long time heading out of our lobby, and it is a complicated process for him going through the double automatic doors. While that's all happening I get busy with a couple more people. When I look up again he is just outside, not twenty feet from his car, but that last stretch is too far for him. Breathing heavily he sits on the bench near our entrance, drained.
I help a few people. I read and write a bit. I engage in a conversation here or there. And then, outside, he is ready to go. He climbs to his feet, struggles across the tiniest, narrowest bit of our parking lot, and makes the hundred small, careful, difficult moves to fold himself and his canes into his car.
And then he drives away.