One of our tenants, Ian, has been with us for more than 10 years. Over the years, he has aged and gradually deteriorated in self-care. The story goes that for Ian, in early 2000s, life was full on. He lived with his mother in a small, rich borough in Harrogate. Thought they had each other, she failed to pass on the basic life skills to Ian.

She took care of him at 60. He earned his living by selling vinyl records. They had a small semi, full of happiness in their small private world. Around 2004, the internet boom destroyed his vinyl business.

It always amazed me that universal changes (like the internet boom) often brought opportunities for some and demise of the other. Within 12 months of that, his mother passed away. He sold the semi and moved into our flat.

Let’s fast forward this story to the year 2020. The residents from the block had complained (to the management company) that Ian’s flat was constantly smelling. Therefore, I visited yesterday with our house help, Liya, to investigate, and clean the place!

Yes, the stench was unbearable even from the communal stairs! On arrival, I saw Ian sitting on an old study chair with torn leather. His trousers had dry wee marks. The flat was filthy beyond description with stacks of old pills, magazines, and food marks everywhere. He had taken out the smoke detector which beeped periodically.

He was stumbling on his own words, talking fast to hide his fear of eviction. Ian submitted to my polite and firm request that he allowed us to clean the place! I left for an hour in between the cleaning to get some food for all of us. Poor Liya persevered with the cleaning throughout the entire episode.

Between the two of us (Liya and I), we cleaned it to a liveable standard.

Within casual conversation he revealed so much;
·      At 75 now, he was diagnosed with a prostrate cancer
·      Would wish to continue living in the flat
·      Missed the previous janitor (Jean) who always helped him with chores whilst she was alive
·      He makes regular visits to the parking downstairs, for his ciggy breaks (thus the smoke alarm had been tempered with)
·      Finally, he would pay for the redecoration of the flat with monthly contribution from his benefits.

Through all the above, I held a tight grip on my emotions. I made a list of things he needed and suggested that we did a spot check in one month. Once back home, I had a shower. After that my emotions were raw! All sorts of questions were criss-crossing my mind:
•       How can someone live like this?
•       How could his mother not pass on any life skills to him?
•       Why he still wanted to cling to his sense of belongingness in the flat, when he is clearly struggling to look after himself?

After sometime, I streamlined my thoughts as:
·      No professional cleaners till Ian lives in the flat. Our visits will allow him to have some comfortable, much-needed small talk (with Liya and myself)
·      I need to buy him some stuff in case he forgets it (towels, hand wash and a small bin)
·      I must make time (within my full-time job) to visit him monthly and show my commitment as I do care, and
·      I must pass on all basic life skills to my child since money can’t buy that. It certainly is not doing much for Ian!

Yes it was pure filth everywhere but Ian taught me so much about life yesterday! I am grateful for the modesty his lonely existence instilled in me. It was really humbling for me to go and clean for him. Seeing Ian’s sorry existence, the very sadness that gripped me also evading many insecurities about life. The whole interaction with Ian was humbling, it was his reciprocity unbeknownst to him!