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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1814092-The-Old-Man
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Romance/Love · #1814092
This is a short story that captures the emotions and may leave a few tears by it's end
         Everyday, as the children walked home from school, they would see him there; he sat silent, alone, smiling on the wrought iron bench in front of the drugstore. He was old, very old. Some of the children would guess at his age as they passed by, the guesses ranged from seventy on up to one hundred, but nobody ever knew his true age, except him. His skin was dry, tan, and laced with lines and wrinkles, much like an old piece of leather, his silver hair hung thin and limp. He was very thin in the face, although most of it was hidden behind a tangled, snow white, beard. His gaunt cheeks, however, rose up out of the snowy hair, their dark tan color in contrast to the white of the beard. Yes, to see him sitting there was almost like looking at a thinner, older version of Santa Claus; but this is not what caught the children’s attention. Nor was it his worn, thread bare, clothing that hung over his stooped frame like rags, or his scuffed and tattered shoes, or even the old, stained, and ragged, wide brimmed hat that shaded his eyes.

         No, these are not the things the children would notice as they walked by, nor was it what they remembered about him now, so long after he passed away. It was his bright eyes and his ceaseless smile that they noticed and that they remembered so long after his passing. The old man had the deepest, sea green, eyes that I have ever seen, and, oh, how they twinkled and shimmered; it was difficult to believe that those emerald green eyes were sightless, that they no longer saw the world around them. There was a fire that burned in those blind old eyes, and it matched the smile that he always wore on his face. I often found myself wondering what memories fueled that fire and kept the smile upon his thin old lips.

         What did that dried up, broken down, blind, old man have to smile about? I mean, he was totally alone in the world; nobody ever came to visit him and he never went anywhere other than to the old bench out front. He was poor, dressed in old ragged second hand cloths; he lived in a cramped, sparsely furnished, two-room apartment above the towns garage. Hell, he was so full of arthritis that he could hardly manage the steps that led up to his home. He had nothing, left alone in the world to live out his life on the charity and kindness of strangers. The old man should have been miserable; he had absolutely nothing, no health, no sight, no money, and no one. So, why the sparkle in his eyes? Why the smile on his face?

         He hadn’t lived here in this small town for very long, only a couple of months. No one really knew him or where he was from, but then how could anyone, the old man never talked to anyone. Oh, he’d say hello or talk a little bit about the weather or local news, but never a word was spoken by him about his past, or where he was from. His life and memories, they were his, and his alone, and he guarded them like some deep dark secret, or valued treasure. It was no wonder that most of the people thought that the old man was a little crazy or that most of the children were afraid of him. Since he refused to talk of his past, the locals, especially the children, made up their own stories about him, where he was from, and what secrets his dark past held. Most of the stories and rumors were just too far-fetched to be believable, but some of them weren’t. It was because of these stories and rumors that most of the children were afraid of him and tried to avoid him like he had the plague or something. It was too bad, too, because the old man seemed to really like children; he didn’t really show it, but I could tell. There seemed to be a brighter light in his eyes, his smile a bit wider, when he heard the children as they walked home after school. Sometimes he would even laugh, a deep throaty sound that seemed to originate directly from his old heart, when he would over hear the stories some of the kids would tell the others about him.

         I knew these things, because I knew the old man. Not personally, although I tried to befriend him, but because I worked at the drug store and I would watch him almost every day, as he would sit silently lost in his memories. When he first showed up, I tried numerous times to spark up some conversation with him, but as I already stated, the old man had very little to say. Even when he talked, he seemed so far away, like his mind was off, some place else far away. Sometimes, at first, I too, thought him a bit crazed; sometimes when I asked him questions, he would absent mindedly answer, his mind still off in another place and time, with something so unexpected that it was difficult to think him sane. I remember, one time I asked him what he had done when he was younger. “I used to be a knight, serving the most beautiful, most wonderful, princess in this whole world.” He answered. I was totally caught off guard and said, “What.” He turned his blind eyes directly towards me, almost as if he could see, and said, “I have done many things in many places.” He never stopped smiling, however, for this day, our conversation had come to an end, he just didn’t say any more.

         No, I didn’t learn a lot from our conversations, if they could even be called that, for it was always me who did most of the talking and often it seemed as if the old man were so far lost in that other place that he didn’t even hear me. I learned the most about him just from watching him for the few hours he would sit there most every day. He would always show up around one o’clock, sit down, and lower his head. At first, I mistook this as a prayer, but later learned that he held something in his stiff old fingers. I watched a little more closely after this and discovered that it was a photograph. He would cradle the old worn photograph in his gentle hands, tilt his head forward, and look at it for about an hour. This made me wonder if the old man could see, but upon closer examination, I could see that his eyes never really fixed or focused on anything. I asked him once what the photograph was, he just quickly tucked it back into his pocket, and said, “It’s just a picture of a dear old friend.” I couldn’t help but to ask him why he would sit and look at something he couldn’t even see, and about how terrible it must be to be blind. Still smiling, he said that his blindness was a blessing, for he could not see how empty his life had become, but rather forever was focused on how full it had been.

         Another time, I saw him take an object from his pants pocket; he lifted the object to his face and nuzzled it while I watched, then he slowly lowered it to his chest where he held it tight against his chest, right over his heart. I asked him what he had there, and he replied, “It’s an old gift from my very dear friend.” When I asked him if I could see it, however, he clamped his fist around the object and shoved it back into the pocket he had withdrawn it from and replied, “It really isn’t anything.” He never revealed to me, or anyone else, what the object was, but I had seen enough of it to tell that it was a necklace of some sort. As far as I ever knew, these two items were his only possessions in the world.

         Yes, he was kind of a strange old man, and I never did learn his name. But, then, I never really learned a lot about him at all. I could tell that he had once lived a full life and that he had been very happy, happy enough that it kept him smiling to the very end. It used to just about drive me crazy trying to get him to talk, to recall his past, but finally I understood. It was his past and his alone. Only to him did it hold anything special, only to him did it have any meaning. Every thing else in life had been stripped from him, but not his memories, these were his riches, and he guarded them always, so that no one could ever belittle his precious treasure.

         He showed most every day around one o’clock. First he would “look” at the photograph of his old friend for about an hour, then he would hold and relish the necklace gift from that friend for about another hour, finally, he would put everything away around three o’clock and wait for the children to get out of school. Once the kids were gone, he would stiffly pick himself off of the bench and hobble back to his apartment above the garage and stay there the rest of the day. Luckily, our town had a meal program that brought one meal a day to the elderly. This was the only thing that kept the old man from starving. They sometimes brought him used cloths and it was rumored that he washed them in his sink and dried them by hanging them over chairs. Me, well I asked him if there was anything he needed, that he could “charge" some of these necessities at the drug store. Of course, I knew he wasn’t able to ever pay of the charge, so I would pay for the few items he purchased at the end of each month. He never asked for much, a few things, such as soap and similar toiletries and once in a while a bottle of Stetson cologne. He said that it was the kind he used to wear and that his friend always told him that it smelled so good on him. He chuckled, and said that she used to tell him that he was the most aromatic man she had ever knew, and he would like to continue the tradition in her memory.

         He continued to show up throughout the long winter, and into the spring, but late into the spring he stopped coming by. After a few days, I asked around about the old man, and learned that he had died in his sleep a few nights back. The cause of death was a heart attack while he slept. The people who delivered his meals to him found him, still in bed. They said that he was lying there so peaceful, with that big smile still on his face; at first, they thought that he was still sleeping. They soon found out that he indeed had passed on, they also found a piece of paper and an envelope on the table. The piece of paper had instructions for his funeral; and stated that he had a life insurance policy over at the bank in a safe deposit box. The old man had written that anything left after the cost of his funeral was suppose to go to some local charity. The envelope had my name written on it, and so it was turned over to me. I was a bit surprised when I opened it and found his precious photograph and the necklace he had cherished so much. He had written me a short note that said that he didn’t know any body else that he could entrust his cherished treasure to and if I would be so kind as to look after these two items for him, he would greatly appreciate it.

         I went to the cemetery to visit him, to say my good-byes, and to leave some flowers on his grave. As I walked towards his grave, the tears filled my eyes, but when I read the words engraved upon the simple marble stone that marked his final resting-place, a smile began to grow upon my face and a feeling of well being begun to spread throughout my heart. I finally understood him, for this was not some poor, blind, bitter old man, this was a person who had lived and dreamed. This was a person who found the greatest thing this world has to offer, he found love, a special love that filled his days with happiness, a love so strong that just thinking about being with that special woman in the photograph kept the fire burning in his heart. Finally, I knew what he was waiting so joyfully for every day; he waited to join his friend once again.

         There was no name upon his stone; I will always remember him simply as, the old man. There were no dates upon the stone, nobody knew when he was born, and he didn’t wish for any one to know when he died. All that he had written upon his stone was this:

“This Golden Eagle has been freed at last
To fly for all eternity beside his
Beloved Angel”
© Copyright 2011 tj ~ endeavors to persevere! (callmetj at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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