Initially, the state intended the geriatric clinics for those who find it difficult to live alone and take care of themselves but in fact it has become a place of captivity. Getting old here more resembles agony. Such homes of elderly people have remained unchanged since the last century and have from 200 to 300 people in residence each. All the days here pass like one meaningless Groundhog Day. Morning wake-up, breakfast, morning toilet, lying in bed, lunch, sleep. Minutes flow smoothly into hours, hours into days, days into weeks, weeks into months. Old people here feel like broken old things thrown into the attic.
I’m walking down the narrow and dark corridor of a former hospital which was turned into a nursing home for elderly people. There are Soviet, hand-painted posters with appeals against smoking on the wall. There is a smell of aging and slight madness in the air.
I go into a small stuffy room – old people, like silent shadows, sit or lie on their iron beds. They are immersed in themselves, staring with a vacant look… A ribbon fully covered with dead flies hangs on the wall.
Next to the old man’s bed, who has some difficulties with walking, there is a wooden chair with an unevenly cut out hole in it. And a plastic bucket underneath. This is a typical situation for such types of institutions.
Suddenly, I’m pulled out of thoughts by an unexpected touch to my hand. An old man, lying on the bed and completely covered with a blanket, peaks out with one faint eye which was not affected by cataracts and says in a hoarse voice: ‘Come closer, I want to say something.’ I sit down next to him and look at his exhausted face. The old man lowers his gaze, remains silent for a while, as if he was choosing whether to do something or not, and then suddenly he hands me folded up money and says in a voice barely above a whisper:
‘Son, buy me a coffin, I’ll die soon. I don’t want to go into the damp soil. Take the money, you will not deceive.’
I was numb from this unexpected request. I could not take his money, I could not fulfill his death request. I was torn from within by conflicting feelings – confusion, desire to help and fear not to meet his expectations. I was ashamed that I refused and could only say at a loss: ‘Unfortunately, I can’t help you with that.’ I felt so helpless that I looked away and didn’t even ask his name.
A few days later, he was gone.