As Stephen and I come to the top of the supermarket escalator and step off, an old man is right there, shuffling onto the top step of the down escalator with a small paper grocery bag and a cane. Very slow and very unsteady. Starting down, he sags into the side, balanced against the moving handrail.
Then tips backward.
Then he's gone behind the thick steel armature of the escalator. Behind me, Stephen's voice does a little barrage of, "Oh, oh, oh!"
Now I'm hurrying down the moving steps and the old man's laid out on his back below me, sprawled, carried along toward the bottom. I don't know what to do. I stop stupid in the middle of the escalator. The way he's lying there, his head toward me, both of us moving, I feel more like someone who might hurt him than someone who might help him up.
From behind and above me comes a young woman, smaller than me, long black hair, wearing a Fred Meyer badge. I do the first smart thing I've done since this started. I get out of the way.
She goes past me and down to the man, crouching over him. His cane clunks along beside them. It's painted in big random swaths of bright color. I try to at least retrieve the cane but I can't reach it. They come to a stop at the bottom, bag and cane a clatter onto the floor. Together, they start to rise, slowly, slowly, the woman asking if he's OK, her hand on his arm, lifting him, and suddenly I'm at the bottom and there's nowhere for me to go but right into them. I start back-stepping.
She's helping him up, getting the job done, and I'm an idiot on an escalator, running in place, backward, in slow motion, trying to keep from knocking them both back down.
I do this for what seems like a very long time.
Then it's over. He's shuffling off toward the parking lot and she's stepping back so I can get my feet on the ground.
She smiles at me. "That's so scary," she says. She looks very young. East Indian, with a faint orange dot in the center of her brow. "Last week my boss fell down those steps." Chatting away as we ride together, back to the top.
My body feels like a sandcastle after the tide's washed in. But I did my good deed for the day. I kept out of the way.