the old man

Maybe it was the air, its soft touch on my cheek. Maybe the light, the morning sun shining from a hazy blue sky? Maybe it was the smell of damp grass, that made me think of him. How long has it been since I last saw him? A year? No, it must be longer, but I can remember him like it was yesterday, seeing him on one of his daily walks, coming up the slope through the bushes to reach the little road where the beautiful manhole cover is, the road connecting our neighborhood with the rest of the world. He was always carrying a thick wooden trekking pole that looked very heavy, very soft, and smooth like it had been used and loved a long long time.

I saw him many times the first year we were living here, but only a few times we shared some words. I am not sure he understood what I said, and I had great trouble understanding him apart from an hello and a few comments on the weather, but I got a warm feeling from him, and I believe I could appreciate how he was exercising his old body, caring for his health, trying to stay active. Somehow I started to take seeing him on his daily walks for granted, as one of those recurring events that gives a frame to life, a small anchor for securing some of the uncertainty in this ever changing unpredictable life. I always thought I would strike up a conversation about his trekking pole, getting to hear its story. I imagined I would have time to get a little bit less unfluent in Japanese before daring to talk about other things than the weather, but suddenly one day he was no longer to be seen.

I continued to think of him, looked for him, but gradually the memory of him faded away. Occasionally I would think of him when I passed the slope and the thick bushes he used to ventured through, but slowly I realized that I would probably not see him again. I wondered what happened to him – it was easy to make up the story, imagine that he was living in the care house down the road and suddenly one day he was just too sick to go outside any longer. But I have no idea what happened, and no one to ask. I wondered what became of his trekking pole, I could not imagine him parting with it for any reason in this world.

Then, the other morning when I was taking my son to his kindergarten, riding down the road on our bike, I felt the urge to slow down. By the bushes I suddenly felt like the old man was here again, just waiting to come up the slope. I miss seeing you, I thought to myself. I wish you a happy journey wherever you are heading.

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