It has been more than ten years now but I could still remember him clearly, the old man who lived two units away from ours on Park St, Melbourne.
We lived in a studio apartment across the Royal Park in Melbourne. It’s a small studio but cozy, just like a typical size of “Kos” here, a name we call for the student boarding house here in Indonesia,
We started our family life in this modest unit. The location was second to none. Woolworths and Coles are both accessible within a walking distance, and tram stops for Tram 19 and 55 were not far either. I think the tram has changed to Tram 58 now. Going to Victoria Market, Melbourne CBD or to Melbourne University was just a tram ride. I used to walk to Uni or hopped on my push bike.
The studio was located in a quiet neighbourhood with a big park , Royal Park, right across the road. Oh and there is a zoo. Yes, Melbourne Zoo is just 10 minutes walk from the unit. I still remember taking a walk in morning or in the afternoon just to clear my mind and see flocks of Australian Galah or Magpies in the park.
I never knew his name, the old man who lived at the other unit. When I saw him, I got scared a bit. He was quite tall, had a long ruffle hair. His clothes were faded, torn in different places and it looked like he had worn it for days. He didn’t wear any foot wear at all. One of his feet was swelling, he was suffering from Edema.
At first I thought he was a homeless guy wandering around our neighbourhood scavenging for food. But no, this was Melbourne and the sight of a beggar or homeless people going around neighbourhood should be quite rare indeed. I found out later that he actually lived two units away from ours.
I had been working on my paper for a few days straight. In fact, I hadn’t been out of the unit for two days already. I couldn’t stand looking at the laptop screen anymore.
“Let’s go to Coles? I need some fresh air”, I said to my wife. It was around 2 or 3 PM.
As we came out from the unit and locked the door, a distinct smell hit us immediately. A smell we had never known before. We looked at each other, confused and worried at the same time. I noticed a swarm of big flies flying everywhere. As I followed their flying path, they all came from the old man’s unit. We both then walked past by his unit and, there it was, the flies were coming in and out both from the top and bottom part of the door. The smell was unbearable. We walked to the Park Street. I then called the building management informing about the incident, anticipating a worst possible scenario. I left my phone number if in case it was needed by the Police. We both continued our walk to Coles.
When we got back after about an hour, from across the road we saw a Police car was parked with an Ambulance. My mobile phone rang and the lady from the building management called me back and informed about the finding. The old man had died for more than a few days. Sadly the Police couldn’t find any contact of his relatives.
The whole process took about less than an hour for the police to check the unit and retrieve the body. It was quick and didn’t attract any crowd at all. I couldn’t imagine if it happened in Indonesia. The whole neighbourhood would flock and made the work of the Policy and Emergency personnel difficult.
Melbourne is a beautiful city but it gets lonely at times if you live alone. I know this because before my wife joined me, I could go by for a few days without talking to anyone at all. It is a sad realization that the old man had to die on his own, leaving no family or relative that could be contacted.
I thought this incident would scare my wife, but she took it very calmly. A few weeks later, I had to travel to Canberra to do a presentation for a project bid and she wasn’t afraid to be alone in the unit. Even now if I asked her, she seemed confused why she had to be scared of.
A few years passed and I found myself in a similar situation. I had to fly back to Melbourne to attend a friend’s funeral. Just like the old man, Brian our good friend, also a person of a senior age, had to die alone at his home in Bayswater, a suburb located east of Melbourne. It also took more than a week before his younger brother found about his death.
My friend was in a better situation than the old man. He had people who knew and loved him, including my wife and I to mourn his passing and missed him dearly.
Rest in Peace, old man of Park St. Apartment.