There is an old man who walks in my neighborhood. He has a cane, and walks slowly through this world. He walks past blue doors and white doors and yellow doors but never looks at them. He probably knows what’s inside: a woman making coffee with her wedding ring strung on a necklace; children with their entire lives in front of them; a dog barking for its owner; a flower pot growing all the petals and never enough love.
He dresses smartly, and has a scarf of every color. He mumbles to himself, not in an insane way but like a walking novel in constant thought. I wonder what he thinks about. I wonder what kind of images his pupils have ignored and what newspapers have collected at his slowing moving feet with words he has read a million times over. Has he loved? Has he lost? Is he envious of fast walkers or does he know that walking slowly will get them to the same place, if only a few minutes or hours later?
I had a cup of coffee in my hand today when he strolled by the café window. I finished half my cup by the time he passed the glass. In the time it took him to go out of view I had thought of hundreds of scenarios: he was on his way to see someone he had forgotten; he was on his way to buy flowers for his grandchildren; he was on his way to the next minute of his slowly moving life; he was on his way to find a nice seat under the sun that had finally emerged from its resting place behind the clouds; he was on his way to buy my first novel; he was on his way to compose the greatest monologue with a moving mouth whispering the greatest of sentences; he was on his way to buy a new suit; he was on his way to feel like he was on his way…
I thought about what it’s like for him to see the world stretch with technology and shrink conversationally. The ebbs and flows he must have witnessed; oceans thick with oil; sunrises fuming like the heat of the radiator or like the sizzling mirages found in deserts. He has seen wars and heard liars and played out his life like Bobby Fischer, classically maneuvering his grandmaster bones as if they were the spiraling roots of a life lived in soil. Has he watered himself wet, or dried himself dry? Is there a family he walks home to? Does he find strength in motion, the next step forward more vital than the last? Has the television rendered him thoughtless? Has his memory lived thousands of lives and is there one memory he loves best, or cannot forget, like a lost letter from his first love, or the last letter from his lost love?
And what of his pacing day? What of the sky falling in blue or the night rising in black? Does every day and night melt into meaningful prose, or paragraphs he can thumb though dexterously? The books he must have composed- imaginary, real, non-fiction living in fiction. He imprints the concrete with brown boots, and smiles if the light turns green, like all the colossal speed of cars must finally wait on him.
This man is a wonderfully interesting old man. I’ve never heard him speak. Maybe he has lost all his words. He could be a mute, who has to write all the things he wishes to say, in hopes his words will become discussion points in a college classroom that a college professor poses to students on what it means to live a long life. He is a river, with dodgy banks and sturdy falls, conforming to everything around him, like when the rain falls he opens his arms or when the thunder comes he closes himself into a ball of slippery mixed emotion.
I have come to expect his daily walks. I observe him and find inspiration in his watered-down pace. Perhaps I’ll introduce myself to him one day; perhaps by doing so the mysticism in him will disappear like it does for astronauts who live in the stars and find them less intriguing. He might give me profound wisdom, or profound despair. He might look at me and ask why such a young mans wears such a heavy demeanor. I wouldn’t know how to respond. Maybe I would tell him about the things that hurt me and he would understand. Or maybe I would speak positively to him, of the optimism I always wear, even if it’s buried beneath a canopy of clothing.
Until that day, I’ll continue to cross silent paths with him, with all the questions burning in my head and all his answers quietly tied to the shoelaces of his slowly walking boots.