The Old Man

I've decided to slip some nonfiction prose with my short story collection. I hope you enjoy the read.

 

 

There was a faraway look in the old man’s eyes that seemed to tell of both wisdom and a deep sadness which drew you in and made you want to politely look away at the same time. Lost in deep thought, his mind lay hidden behind the vacant stare in his pale blue eyes, framed by wrinkles that blended into his sun-kissed skin. He pursed his lips as if he was forming words that would spill out at any moment; yet, not a sound escaped. His shoulders rounded forward into a comfortable slouch and fine, Italian leather shoes with the soles worn down peeked out from underneath his blue jeans. A sweatshirt enveloped the old man in warmth.

 

After a brief lull, the wind freed leaves from a network of branches above. They swirled in circles around him and glided down, only to again be swept up and away. He gazed wistfully after the orange, yellow, and red waves. There was something about the change of seasons that reminded him of fond childhood memories: of riding his bike under the shade of trees, growing anxious at the sound of the barking dog beyond the fence, and of walking home from school to watch the black-and-white tube while his mom brought him soup for lunch. He thought of ballgames and museums, and of his father who had been his best-friend.

 

Wind taunted him with leaves, and then blew them away. The corners of the man’s lips had faintly turned up in the hint of a smile, but this too was fleeting; as he blinked again, it disappeared. With a heavy sigh, he left the park bench as he found it—empty. God’s work was to be done and he was the servant to deliver it. More specifically, he was a “prophet.”

 

***

 

A young couple huddled close together to escape the chill blowing in off the lake. They studied the bus schedule, anxiously awaiting the Express Way. The old man was more patient and stood there, head tilted, mentally rehearsing his speech. He knew the bus would arrive when God commanded it to do so. In the meantime, he stepped forward.

 

Innocently, the couple smiled at his light-hearted jokes. Their grins faded when he tried to indoctrinate them with his teachings. From an innocuous manila envelope, the old man pulled out a photocopy of his writings, one side neatly typed out in English, the other side accurately translated into Spanish. As the words freely flowed from his heart, the couple nodded in cursory agreement, secretly wishing the bus would soon arrive. Mistaking this for genuine interest, he continued on, earnestly imploring them to heed his advice, “Remember, everything--next world, world without end, and this world--follows from reading, believing, and doing the writing!”

 

The hissing from the brakes offered the couple their escape and they greedily took it. After swiping their passes, they snickered and maneuvered their way towards the back of the standing-room only bus. The old man, a bit offended by their ungratefulness, decided he would rather walk and catch the L-train this morning. Besides, he thought smugly to himself, they did take the writing with them and perhaps they would read it, believe it, and do it yet.

 

His well-toned muscles moved in perfect formation, evenly gliding him along the winding path. Briefly looking up at the cloud-covered skies, he gave praise to the Lord for this day. Pain suddenly shot through his chest, catching him off-guard. Only pausing to exhale, the twinge subsided and he thought to himself that perhaps he should heed the physician’s advice to improve his diet, reduce his salt intake, and cut down on saturated fats. He exhaled that silly idea and inhaled in the belief that if he kept faith in God, all things would work out. Besides, it wasn’t his time to leave this world for the next. “That time will come to pass,” he thought to himself, “but it won’t be here, it won’t be in this country, and it won’t be now.”

 

Quickening his pace, as he had become accustomed to walking miles a day, he reached the intersection just in time to watch the pedestrian sign light up, signaling him onward. What perfect timing, he happily thought to himself, because God made it so.

 

***

 

Continuing onward in a thoughtful silence, his mind was miles away from the city noises which surrounded him. At the Red Line station, he walked upstairs, two steps at a time. On the platform, heat radiated from the overhead heaters in waves. Either his ears were being toasted by the uncomfortable dry heat or being chilled by the drastic switch to cool air. There was no happy medium.

 

Morning commuters sat on the benches and stood around, giving the impression that they were all oddly there together. A young woman in a black wool coat fidgeted nervously with her watch because her personal space was being invaded by the old man. He thought about striking up a conversation, but sensed that she might pretend not to hear him. So he walked past her and settled next to another attractive, young professional. She was busy chatting away on her cell phone. So many people gathered solitarily in their separate worlds.

 

Near the edge of the platform, he bowed his head to listen for the train. Having been here hundreds of times before, he could tell when the train was coming before he could hear it. He could feel it through the smallest vibrations that even the daily commuter might miss. He sensed the air contracting to make way for some beast, and the wooden planks beneath his feet shook ever so slightly. The track twittered in anticipation as the train approached. The whole building shook, announcing the incoming arrival. This combination of loud noise and trembling was as effective as a double shot of espresso first thing in the morning.

The doors hissed opened releasing handfuls of people and accepting more in return in a game of give-and-take which would be played out thousands of times day after day.

 

Sometimes, the train would be forced to take more, trying to close its doors in protest, other times the train doors seemed to linger open, attempting to lure any would-be-riders in for the ride. The old man was no fool and didn’t politely wait around for anyone; he pushed his way on, squeezing in just before the train doors swooshed closed. Seeing a seat open in the front of the car he navigated through the crowd touching the metal bars overhead to keep from falling over as the train jerked and rocked. Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. The rhythm of swaying could calm or lull him to sleep if he let it.

 

Commuters were busy looking busy so as to not be bothered. Some were on their phones, others reading the Tribune, or tapping away at their PDAs. Many stared blankly out the window, watching the train pass by the brick buildings, coming literally within inches of colliding into the windows and walls, but always missing them. Riders became hypnotized as the red bricks blurred into one another. Other commuters mastered the art of looking out at nothing at all as a way to deal with being uncomfortably close to so many strangers.

 

None anticipated the awkwardness of the situation unfolding before them, but then again, every day on the train could bring a new story to discuss in the break room at work.

 

Just as the old man reached the empty seat, it became apparent why it was still available. The stout white-haired elderly woman in the seat next to it had assigned her large handbag to its own spot, rather than politely clearing the way. She stared off, oblivious to the world. The commuters couldn’t have cared less and opted to stand instead. Not so, for the old man. With anger rising up to his cheeks, his muscles stiffened and the small hairs on the back of his neck bristled. Gritting his teeth at the woman’s selfishness, he abruptly pushed her purse aside and sat down in protest. He crossed his arms defiantly and leaned back, still fuming.

 

Humiliated, yet helpless to do anything about it, the weary old woman grabbed her purse and placed it on her lap, maintaining a dignified composure all the while. The commuters took notice of this and punished the old man with angry, horrified stares. Initially the old man was quite taken aback by this, as he thought his actions were admirable and that she, not he, was in the wrong. His surprise was short-lived and replaced with disdain.

 

Without so much as a second thought, he forcefully flipped his fisted arm straight up against his left arm which was held down in defiance, in essence telling them all to fuck off. “This city is full of a bunch of ungodly assholes,” he thought to himself with disgust as he shook his head.

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2017 © Amanda LaPera