The Old Man

I can still see, vividly, the old woman tending to her garden, carefully plucking out the weeds, watering her plants with the tenderness of a nursing mother. This old woman was the wife of the old man whom about a decade ago my mother called “the creepy old man,” as he used to stare at us as we passed by his house with huge, untrusting eyes — as if the 30-ish woman that was my mother and her little child that was me would suddenly attack him and rob him of what little he had possessed.

The old man, when I saw him recently, looked old (very old indeed), and his face had aged much since that comment of my mother’s. He looked particularly sad and lonely, while his eyes betrayed a sense of weariness, a weariness I suspect must have been great, for he had not even glanced at me as I passed by. He was at that time looking at his garden, which was now getting a little overgrown. A few seconds after I had set my eyes on him I wondered why he looked as he did — so sad, so weary — and I recalled what my father had told me recently, that his wife had just passed away.

I wondered if he recognised me, as I recognised him. As images of times long past flashed through my eyes, it dawned on me how much I have changed as compared to him. Through the act of puberty I would have changed beyond recognition, and I sometimes wonder if he even recognises in me the young child of yesteryear, looking at him looking at me.

I have never spoken to him before. Yet, he has left such an impression on me that every time I pass his house I’d think about “the creepy old man.” Though not quite the most flattering of descriptions to remember him by, I’ve always liked him in a quite inexplicable way. Perhaps it was his creepiness itself that endeared him so much to me.

Thinking about him led to thoughts about my childhood. I am lucky that my primary school was situated no more than 200 metres from my house. It has allowed many of my childhood memories strong anchors to hook on to. Even going for my routine run around the neighbourhood throws up memories, such as the time I followed my crush to a small shop nearby, feeling all excited and daring; the time I quarrelled with my friend at his house, and I left his house with him crying; the time I told my grandma (God bless her soul) to inform my tutor that I was not going home due to school remedial lessons (and how angry my tutor was), and other little sweet memories (even the bad ones were good).

Recently, Rachel wrote about her friend’s mother’s passing away. I’m not sure how old she was when she passed away, though I presume it wasn’t due to old age. Yet, these kinds of things remind us how fragile life is, how death is inevitable; whether it comes early or late, inevitable.

One day I’m going to die, and you’re going to die; my family’s going to die, and your family’s going to die; it may not be today or tomorrow, but eventually we all will die.

A decade ago I’d never have imagined myself as who I am today. In what seems like a blink of an eye, life just passes you by. One day, in what will seem like a blink of an eye, I’ll be an old man too, reminding others of the passage of time; or I may die, and remind others of the fragility of life.

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