THE MIRACLE MAN- by Anshul Gandhi
I am Jamie Cambell, 24 years old, but you donít have to bother about me. This ainít my story. This is the story of two men Ė Jerry Perito and Joe Hatcher, and their magical relationship, unlike anything I have seen or heard before.
It happened this summer, when I happened to enroll myself as a volunteer at the Boston Memorial Hospital, where I was supposed to spend 3 hours, twice a week.
My work was to tend to the patients in the ward that I was assigned. Every ward has about 15 patients at one time. It was just something I had to do to get into med school. I never thought much of the job except that it was a formality. But all that was about to be changed.
I can never forget those two people. Their story will be with me for as long as I live. It was just something about that whole summer that I canít dare to forget. It changed me. And it would change you too had you been in my place.
People say miracles do happen. You know what, its true. Miracles do happen. But they need not always be events, you know !! They could be in human form too. Thatís what I have seen with my own two eyes. We used to call him The Miracle Man. This was Joe Hatcher, but he always told us to refer to him as Uncle Joe. He was too sweet a man to be denied such a small request. You know he was one of those tall, dark and saintly person who you would actually look up to when you had some trouble. A kind of peacemaker maybe. I am sure he must have been one of those church people, who take every man as he comes and treat everyone alike. He was like a grandfather, any day. He had this white beard all over his face. Not very thick though, just enough to say, hey, I am still here. I ainít leaving your face. There was just something about him that commanded . . love.
Mr. Perito on the other hand wasnít that sweet when he came. God, he was a nuisance. He was a miserable man. He never listened to anyone, not even his doctor. Dr. Wallace was assigned to him. Now this man, Dr. Wallace, was as young as they get. He was more of a child prodigy. He was just 26 and he was great. He was my idol at one time. Heck, half my class aspired to become like him one day. There was just one problem. When he heard that his patient Mr. Perito was a former mob guy, he got very nervous. Well, most of us were, but Dr.Wallace was getting very scared. You should have seen the look on his face when the nurses wheeled Mr. Perito in. He tried to keep his composure and tried his best to keep a good smile on. As they wheeled Mr. Perito by him, Mr. Perito raised his left hand so as to signal the nurses to stop. He then spoke, without looking at Dr. Wallace "They tell me you are a good doctor. I really hope you are son. Otherwise, take my word, you will never grow up to be one ". Wallace couldnít open his mouth. The fear on his face was evident. He just stood there even after Perito was taken into his room.
Mr. Perito was a short and stout guy, with very small eyes. He had a rather round face, that went well with his round figure. He had very few hair on him, both on the head and on his face. But he had wrinkles all over. They kinda hid his face from the world. And when he frowned, you could hardly see his eyes among those wrinkles and lines.
He was no beauty to look at, this I can tell.
You see, as a volunteer, I had to help out all the patients in the ward. I couldnít tend to anyone in particular. But I did stay mostly with Mr. Perito and Uncle Joe. They always had stuff to talk about that I loved to hear. I would sit next to Uncle Joe, opposite to Mr. Perito. I actually feared Mr. Perito myself back then. They wouldnít bother much about me while they spoke. I was just like a spectator. Their talks were always laced with emotion. It was mostly about Mr. Perito. Uncle Joe was more of a listener. Like I said, he was saintly.
It was around four months back that Mr. Perito was to be bought into The Boston Memorial Hospital. But it took a whole day for the medical team to bring him down.
"Damn you people !! You think you know who I am. I am not going to see any doctor and thatís that !! I hate these white coat people. Who do they think they are. Gods. They canít do anything. They never could. They are only good at consoling people !! ".
There was a reason why he said such things. He had just one bad story in his life. Just one. Otherwise, he was an ace at his work, though it wasnít work. He had fooled the cops on numerous occasions but finally, his job got the better of him up. It was all over the papers. It was in the winter of 1991. Perito was well known to the cops for his numerous illegal dealings and proceedings but they could never get a clean warrant on him. His lawyers were too good. And he paid them well too. But on that particular day, no one could help him.
The cops say that they were his own clients. He had fooled them in a stock transfer. The only mistake he made was that he didnít find out who they were. One of the guys was the nephew of Carlos Muero, the Mafia head in the Boston region. That was it right there. Had he known about it, I am sure he would have kissed the guyís boots and would have left the business forever. But as I said, it was the only mistake he ever made. He didnít need to make another mistake again.
The Mafia put an X on him (targeted him for murder) and sent a hitman after him. This hitman, The Animal, was a real pro. He never left any deal unfinished. He would always get his man, however long it would take. But Perito was the only exception.
The hitman got hold of Peritoís carís number plate and planted a bomb under it.
It was a Sunday. Perito, his wife and his son were in the car, taking a trip to the restaurant. He took the car out of the garage and went into the house to get his wallet, which he had forgotten in the hurry. That was it. Just as he emerged from the house with his wallet and as he moved towards the car, Boom !! His world collapsed, right there. In one moment, all that he had in his life was gone. The medics came over and moved them to the hospital. He knew it. There would be no tomorrow for them.
Nurse Marie was there when they were brought into the hospital. She told me about it , "They were in a bloody mess. Most of us knew that it was over for Mrs. Perito. But we thought we could save his son. The docs came out and told Mr. Perito that they couldnít save his wife, but they were sure they could save his son. I still remember the look on his face. His mouth was wide open. His hands on his head. He just fell near the wall and clutched his heart, waiting. We tried to help him but he didnít even want to move. He just pushed us away. It took two hours. Then the docs came out. Dr. White knelt on one knee beside him, put a hand on his shoulder and said "I am sorry Mr. Perito. We tried our best." . He just got up and ran like hell. The cops traced his down eventually and bought him in for some questioning after that. Thatís all I know ".
He was charged with multiple accounts of fraud and looting. He could have stayed quiet and let his lawyers handle the stuff again. But, somehow, he confessed. And because of that, his sentence was reduced. He still had to do 12 years in prison. That was his term.
I think he did much more than that. They say even in the prison he used to stay quiet and shout at anyone who would try to come close to him. God knows how he spent 12 years there.
Before writing all this down, I tried to get as much details as I could on Mr. Peritoís life, especially his life after the incident. The jail guards told me that he was always involved in fights, and he would get very violent whenever anyone tried to talk with him, especially about his job. They thought he would get better, but it only got worse. He would stick to his schedule Ė breakfast, clearing the corridors, lunch, work in the open wastelands and then some time sitting alone in his cell, and eventually he would doze off. One peculiar thing about him was that he wouldnít eat his dinner. He would doze off before that. The other inmates say they sometimes saw him lying down while others were dining.
I asked the guard to help me further on the situation, and this guard, Dan, was one nice person. He infact took me to the cell where Mr. Perito stayed his entire term. It was empty now. They didnít have to fill it up.
You all must be thinking as to why I took all these pains, but once you go through the entire story, youíll blame me for not trying further. Iíll keep trying for some more time though, at least until the inspiration stays with me.
So, I was allowed by Dan to talk to one of the more gentle inmates of the jail. Jacker, he was called. He looked small, bent and kinda had this look of a caged animal, those really harmless ones. But once Dan left us, he was very good to talk to, though he did kinda sporadically look around as though someone was spying on him. I first thought that he was afraid of Dan, but then I got to know that he was afraid of someone who he thought would come someday to kill him. I didnít bother much about it. Dan had already told me about this behavior of his. Scary Jacker, thatís what Dan called him.
"He was a very quiet guy. Yes siree, very quiet. I Ďave been here for a lotta time now you know, but I ainít ever seen myself a sinner as quiet as him. Some people say that he used to sleep a lot. He he . . , they never knew him, thatís what they did !!. ", said Jacker, rather excitedly.
"What do you mean ? ", I responded.
He put a finger on his lips so as to signal me to keep quiet. "Hush, hush". He then peeped out of his cell, turned left, then right and came back.
"They can keep trying to get to me but I tell ya, youíll never get Jacker you . . ", and then he kind of regained himself.
"You see young man, he would lie down and face away from the cell bars, so as to look away from others. But no, he never slept more than others. "
"How do you know that ?"
"I could hear him crying. . , for hours sometimes. He used to whisper to himself. At least thatís what I could hear from here, from across his cell. He used to cry and then sometimes, he would sleep off with tears still rolling outta his small eyes. I pitied him, yes siree, thatís what I did. I pitied him !!".
I just sat there, staring at the empty cell in front of me.
"What you seeing at young fella".
"The cell, so very empty. "
"He he. . , you know what. It seemed a whole lot emptier while he was in it. An empty man in an empty cell. Thatís what he was. I sure do pity him. "
I couldnít take it anymore. The whole place started to look depressing. I just got up and left, even without thanking Jacker. I did remember to thank Dan on my way out though, but not before asking him a few more questions about Mr. Perito. Nothing significant.
"He never broke the rules, except for fights. ", added Dan.
Mr. Perito was quite a big gun amongst the Mafia guys, but he never killed people. That wasnít part of his job. Deception and fraud, now that was his game.
I donít know much about these people but I do know this. The only three things they care about is their family, their money and the organization. Surprisingly, they have a very strong brotherhood amongst them and they will almost never give up on their close people. Sure there is a lot of deception and all but its only between those that have never been on terms with each other.
Mr. Perito talked a lot about his gang. There was always some pride in his voice. He would always look out the window and recollect his old days and say "You know kiddo, back in those days . . ". He never told me that he was happy about what he did, but he never expressed hatred either. It was almost like he was talking about some other guy. Someone he just knew, nothing more than that.
After his term in jail, Mr. Perito moved into an old part of he city and worked in some crates industry. The people there tell me that though he was old, he was strong enough to work and would generally do odd jobs to earn his bread. "He never complained. He actually never talked much. Only when he didnít understand the job. There was always some sadness in his eyes. When I found out about his old life, I panicked. But then, he did his term. He had a right to earn his bread by working for us. I didnít fire him. He was a very good man as long as I knew him. Sometimes, I pitied his condition. " said the supervisor of the industry.
I went down to that place a few days back. Itís a huge place, but very empty. Just the odd crates here and there. I met up with a guy who remembered Perito.
"Sometimes, he would sleep here itself. He never had any excitement in him. It was as though someone had taken the life out of him. This is actually a pretty decent place. They pay you well. The only other place I know he went to was the cemetery. "
Mr. Perito had a strange disorder. Itís a mental condition. Its when your anger and restlessness takes over your appetite. You become weak and you refuse to recover. Itís a kind of depression. Common among the elder people. Its totally curable though.
The problem comes when someone does not want to recover. Itís a problem in all forms of depression. And Mr. Perito had the same problem. He didnít want to recover. He just didnít listen to anyone, anyone. . except Uncle Joe.
Mr. Perito, after arriving at the hospital, started to get even more restless. The one consequence of his restlessness was that he used to shout a lot. It was actually good. He at least communicated. But when he was with Uncle Joe, he was almost always calm. There was just something about Uncle Joe that could calm anyone down.
I donít know why I exactly Uncle Joe was in the hospital, but they said it was nothing much. Just old age.
They always told me that he would be out soon. He was a very careful man, and very patient and co-operative. Nurse Marie dealt with him. You know what, he would give her a rose every week. God knows where he got those from. He said it was from his garden. Nurse Marie never believed him. But she always took the rose. She was fond of flowers, and actually she was fond of Mr. Hatcher too. Donít get me wrong here, but he was such a gentle person. Always caring and so very sweet. You would feel like you have known him for years.
Uncle Joe came to the hospital a week after Mr. Perito and he was in the same ward as Perito. Nurse Marie told me that he wanted to be in the same ward as "that grumpy stout person". When Nurse Marie asked him whether he knew Mr. Perito, Uncle Joe responded "I saw him a few times at the crates shop".
One thing about Mr. Perito was that he never spoke except when he had to shout or scream at someone. In the first week, he was getting very restless. I was to help him and take care of him, but I would always stay away from him. Whatever you did, he would find a fault with it. Just like some old people do sometimes. He would even threaten you sometimes, in that old mob fashion. He would just stare at you with his cold brown eyes. That was enough for me. I would just run out and act like nothing had happened.
But then, when Mr. Hatcher came, everything changed. Uncle Joe was always more involved with how others were doing. And he took a special intrest in Mr. Perito.
The first thing he asked me was "Whatís this guy here for. Is he crazy ?? ".
I just grinned and told him "No Mr. Hatcher, he has a kind of depression. Irregular eating habits. Its an aggravated mental condition. "
"Will he be fine ?? "
"That depends Mr. Hatcher. The way he co-operates, I donít think he will be out soon. He needs to be patient and cool. Only he can help himself out of it. But he doesnít want to."
"Can I do something ?" said Mr. Hatcher.
"I doubt it sir, I doubt it. "
"Thank you son, oh and one more thing. Please call me Uncle Joe from next time. "
He had this huge smile on him. It was contagious. It spread to everyone.
Everyone except Mr. Perito. He was happy to be with Uncle Joe, but he never smiled. I never saw him smile the entire time he was at the hospital.
The first time Mr. Perito and Uncle Joe met was a great moment.
" They tell me you are crazy and that you are gonna die soon ", said Uncle Joe.
" What !! No one talks to me like that. Who the hell are you ??"
" Your friend. If you accept my friendship that is. "
" Hmmf. Friendship. You talk as though you are a small kid. "
" Can I help it. I am a kid inside. Well, everyone is. So are you. Donít you feel that sometimes ? ", remarked Uncle Joe.
"Ahh, someone take this man away. He will kill me before my time !! "
"Uncle Joe, I am surprised. How did Mr. Perito talk to you. He generally doesnít talk much", I said.
"You see, I slipped in some wine in his medicine. Oh, donít worry. I asked Dr. Wallace and he said it was alright", grinned Uncle Joe.
"Well, you better be careful Uncle Joe, when he finds out, he is gonna be mad as hell".
"How dare you !! Who the hell are you to intoxicate me !! Do you know who I am. Ahh, you wonít be able to stand it !! ", shouted Mr. Perito.
"You know what, I really am sorry. I just thought you needed some action in your dull life. Well, hereís a rose for you, as an apology if you wish. I will take it back from you the day you forgive me".
"Thatís gonna be far away. You remember that old man, very far away. ", snarled Mr. Perito.
But slowly, they got very close. Actually, somehow Mr. Perito opened up to Uncle Joe. We never thought he would talk to someone for so long a time as he did with Uncle Joe.
"Peri, I think there is something thatís holding you back. What is it. You can tell me now. I am a good person you know, maybe I can help you".
"No Joe, its nothing. Its just that . . ahh, forget it. "
"You can do better than that Peri. C'mon, do this old man a favor. "
"You know Joe, back in those days, I was a bad man. A real mean, selfish person. But I never gave up on Kelly and Sam. They were everything to me. I would come home everyday to her sweet smile. Sam was mostly asleep by then, but it was so wonderful just to sit by him. I wanted to give him a different life. I didnít want him to become anything like me. Never. Infact, he was good at school too. We used to go out and play baseball every Sunday. Even if I had work, I would give that up on Sunday. I donít know what went wrong. It was all going so well. Sam would be in high school soon. By this time, he would have been all grown up, and maybe married too. Kelly would be so happy. If only. . ". He broke down right there.
"There there Peri. Itís ok. Thatís the way things are sometimes. You canít give up now. You can still live and give some meaning to your life. They are watching you from up there you know", responded Uncle Joe.
They both used to talk for hours at length. I could see that Mr. Perito was getting better. The thing was, he had this thing buried inside of him Ė the guilt. It was killing him. He didnít want to live. He just wanted to let it go.
"What can I do Joe. What can I do. Its all over. There is no use. I tried to kill myself in prison. But I wasnít brave enough. And I knew I had to do my term. That was my punishment for all I had done. I couldnít go without completing my term. After prison, I tried again, but I was just too scared. Too scared. I donít know of what, but. . I was too scared. Maybe I wasnít ready to face Kelly and Sam yet. What would I say to them. I was the reason for everything. I am not yet ready. Maybe. . , I never will be. How will I face them Joe, how will I face them ?? "
"Peri, you must live. You must live to do all you can to help others and maybe wash off a few of your sins. This is your chance Peri. Donít lose it. Look at me. I was a spoilt guy once. Never a care in this world. I lived like a King. But then, I realized I was all empty. I had done nothing in my life. Thatís when I thought I should help others. I put all my money into helping others and I joined the Humanitarians. You should do so too. Its good you know, helping others. It helps you too. Maybe you should try Peri "
"Maybe I will. Maybe I will Joe"
In the days that followed, Uncle Joe extracted all the past from Mr. Perito. He removed all the sorrow from his heart. I remember seeing Mr. Perito cry throughout the night. But that was the only way he would improve. He had to accept the facts. Thatís how it works sometimes.
To break this man was no small work. It would have taken a team of psychiatrists a month to improve his condition. But this man, Uncle Joe, took just a week. The thing was, he always made Mr. Perito see the facts. He helped him back to reality.
"Why did it happen to me Joe, Why ?? "
"Peri, donít say that. You should be happy that Kelly and Sam had a good life while they were here, with you. You cared for them and you always put them before yourself. And that is a big thing Peri, believe me. I know its unfair, but life is like that Peri. Its not always fair. Who said it would be ? You still have time Peri, you can fair things out. Improve life for others Peri. It will all be fair at the end, you will see. You have done your term. Maybe you can start a new leaf. "
In someway or the other, he infused in Mr. Perito a reason to live on. A reason to fight. Thatís exactly what he needed.
The next week, on a Tuesday, it was the day of the year when the incident had taken place.
"Will you come with me to the cemetery Joe ? "
"I canít Peri. I am not feeling too well. But do this. Take these roses. Put them for me "
I went up to Uncle Joe after Mr. Perito had left, "Uncle Joe, are you feeling alright ? "
"I wonít hide it from you Jamie. I try to be strong in front of Peri, but I am only human. I try not to break in front of him, but I donít know if I would have been able to do so today", and then he turned his face away from me. "You know son, I never had any family. So I donít know how it is to lose someone very close to yourself. But when I look at Peri, I feel it was good that I never had any family. I donít know if I would have been alive today had I been in Periís place. I would have killed myself long back,. . I know that".
Thatís the first time I realized that this man wasnít as strong as he portrayed himself to be. It kinda came as a big shock for me. Sure he was only human but, I never thought of that. He always seemed so. . higher up than others around.
Whenever I used to listen to their conversation, I would mostly end up in tears. Thatís the way things were. It was too shady a picture. But Uncle Joe, he never cracked. He always held himself and made sure that Mr. Perito felt a little lighter after talking to him.
It was because of Uncle Joe that Mr. Peritoís condition improved. Within one week of Uncle Joeís arrival, Dr. Wallace confirmed that within two or three days, Mr. Perito would be discharged.
"You hear that Peri, you hear that !! Dr. Wallace says you will be out of this place in a couple of days. I always told you you would do just fine"
"But, what will I do Joe. What will I do ? "
"Aww Peri. Donít say that. They are watching you from up there. Live for them Peri. Do something good. Lots of people could use your help Peri"
"You are right Joe. You are right. But, when will you be out. Dr. Scott. . "
"Well, actually Mr. Hatcher here, sorry, Uncle Joe is quite alright. But he insisted that he wanted to see you out of this place before he moved on. So, I guess you will both be off together", responded Dr. Wallace.
"Oh Joe. You never told me. I wonít even ask. Thank you so much. You know what, maybe we can work together. What say you ? "
"Umm, yeah, yeah. . why not. Sure. We could do that. Sure, sure".
The next day, Uncle Joe was taken in for some tests.
"Hey, where are you taking Joe, Dr. Scott ? "
"Oh donít worry Mr. Perito. Mr. Hatcher said he was feeling a bit restless, so we just thought we will check him out a bit. Just to make sure everything is alright. "
"Ok Dr. Scott, but do get him back soon. We still need to decide where we are gonna stay. "
It was just old age getting to him. Uncle Joe was a weak man. He looked ok but he tired too easily. The day after, Mr. Perito was discharged from the hospital. Uncle Joe was still there. Dr. Scott said he wanted to make sure that Uncle Joe was alright and wanted to keep him under observation for a few days.
"I will be waiting for you Joe. We will work together. "
"Ah, wish I could come right now. But Dr. Scott here says he wonít let me go till another few days. Says he wants to make sure. Well, I canít argue with him, can I ? ".
"I will see you soon Joe. I will try and see if I can find some place where they need a person like me".
"There are lots of people who could use a man like you Peri. Go on, you will find your place"
Mr. Perito found an orphanage where he decided to live for the remainder of his life and help the kids with whatever he could.
After three days, he came back to the hospital.
"Hey kiddo, whereís Joe ? "
"He. . he ainít here Mr. Perito. ", I responded.
"Where did he go. I even told the people at the orphanage that I will be bringing up my friend to help them out soon. Did he tell you where he was going kiddo ? "
"Mr. Perito, . . ". I just stood there, helpless. I felt a certain helplessness all around.
"What,. . what happened ? What is it ?. "
"He died the day you left, Mr. Perito", said Nurse Marie.
"What !! No. . . . , no. How could this happen. He was going to be discharged soon. What happened"
Dr. Wallace always used to say to Mr. Perito that depression can be easily cured. All you need is a cool head. Uncle Joe proved him wrong. After Mr. Perito was discharged, Uncle Joe went into a comma. Dr. Scott never understood what happened. The next day, the reports showed signs of depression and mental anguish. Dr. Scott never could understand how Uncle Joe ended up like that. It was all so . . surprising.
"I feel as though he took my death away from me. He took it onto himself. It is because of him that I am alive today, but. . he is not here anymore. Strange are the ways of the Lord. Jamie, . . could you take me to his grave ? "
"I havenít been there, but I know the place. Some of his friends came the other day to take care of him. They said they would bury the body. I will take you there Mr. Perito".
It was half a mile from the hospital. It was cold. Though it was summer, the day was quite cold. There was a strange silence all around.
We moved towards his grave. I remember it all too well.
Mr. Perito bent down close to the grave. "May you rest in peace my friend".
I closed my eyes in prayer.
I then heard him shout "Ahhhhh. . . . ".
I was frightened. "What happened Mr. Perito ?? ".
He had a white face, full of fear. He was breathing very heavily.
"What happened Mr. Perito. Are you all right ? "
His one hand was at his chest, the other, he tremblingly pointed towards the epitaph.
I looked at it. On it was inscribed Ė "Joe ĎTHE ANIMALí Hatcher".
I froze right there. It all came back. All those memories of the two talking in the hospital, laughing together, sharing the moments, sharing the sorrows, sharing every bit of their lives, sharing the joys, . .
Mr. Perito just sat down there, his head in his hands.
He then did something that I will never forget. He reached into his pocket and took out a rose. I identified it immediately.
"I forgive you my friend, I forgive you". He put the rose on his grave, looked towards the sky, gave a smile (now that means a lot) and, still with tears in his eyes, he said "Who am I to judge you Joe. If this is how the Lord intended it, this is how I will take it". He then got up, and ran.
I just stood there. Still trying to take in all that had happened right in those few moments.
It never sank. I still canít digest it.
I went down to the orphanage to meet Mr. Perito one day.
He was doing pretty well at the orphanage, helping out the kids there.
"Its not my job to decide whose fault it was Jamie. When I look back at all this, all I can say is that strange are the ways of the Lord"
Before I left, he told me, "You know Jamie, from that day onwards, I have always felt as though I wasnít working alone here. Its like, thereís someone else with me, right with me".
Uncle Joe could never forgive himself after the incident with Mr. Perito. The guard told me that every year, some old guy used to come down to the prison to see Mr. Perito. But he would only take a few steps and then return. It happened every year while Mr. Perito was there. The Miracle Man, thatís who he was.
Uncle Joe not only lied to Mr. Perito, he also lied to me. He told me he didnít have a family. The truth was, he had a wife, but no kids. But after the incident, he never returned to her. I am just coming from his house. Mrs. Hatcher said she knew that he was into something bad, but she never questioned him.
"But, when he left that afternoon, I didnít know that he would never return. I just wished that wherever he was, he was doing well. But. . ". She couldnít stop herself. I tried to console her, but with what ? There was nothing I could do.
The people who came to collect his body were his friends from the old days. They were in the same business of killing people. Thatís how they knew him, The Animal.
I wonít call him a coward. He did the bravest thing of all by helping out Mr. Perito at the hospital.
I know that Uncle Joe never served his punishment but can you imagine what he went through everyday of those twelve years that Mr. Perito was in prison. He did more than twelve years in those twelve years. He even used to go down to enquire about Mr. Perito at the crates industry. And he still lived to do one last thing. He saved Mr. Perito. Maybe Mr. Perito could have survived without Uncle Joeís help. But he would never have been able to live the life that he is living right now.
Miracles do happen. They always do, believe me.