“So, it’s done then?” he asked.
I gave him a sideways glance and nodded.
“Yep. Another chapter closed,” I replied. A soft sigh escaped my lips.
“I suppose you learned a lot, then?” the older man continued.
“More than I could ever have hoped for. Although I am a little bit sad that it all had to end this way.”
My gaze moves over the lake. Its surface is as smooth as a mirror. The only sounds are coming from insects, small birds and the two of us talking.
The wooden bench we’re sitting on is old, but functional.
“In my experience a lot of things never really end the way we hoped they would. It’s just that the way things are and the way we hope things are that aren’t aligned most of the time. But when they do, it’ll be a moment to cherish and never forget,” the old man says as if the latter rarely happened for him.
I look back at him. Deep wrinkles, especially the ones close to his eyes, tell me that he has had a live full of laughter, but when I look deep into his emerald green eyes, I can see there’s more than meets the eye. Wisdom and a sense of great calm. Something I have been aiming for myself and hope to achieve one day.
I had met him some time ago when I first discovered this place right in the middle of our village. An almost hidden path along the lake with lots of trees. Perfectly hidden behind a street. When I first came there I hadn’t expected to see anyone else, but there he was. An older man, sitting on this very same bench where we were speaking now. He had invited me to come and talk and we had done so from then on.
“So, why are you sad, then?” the old man asked, breaking the silence that had been there for some time.
“Well, it’s just the way this all ended, I suppose. I mean, I know that I came out a winner and that I’ve grown this last half year, but it’s just that I had hoped for something more.”
“Like what, cake and a pat on the back?”
I suppress my laugh, but a strange snort comes out anyway.
“No, nothing like that. It’s weird that I haven’t heard a single word from my colleagues after I left. Nor from one of my bosses. Not a single word. Don’t you think that’s weird?”
He looks at me with one raised bushy eyebrow.
“Do you think it would have mattered if they had said something? Wasn’t that the whole problem all along? The fact that they never included you, that they let all your talent go to waste? Let me rephrase the question… Would it have had any worth to you if they had said anything?”
I stay quiet for a while to think and look across the lake. When you’re sitting here, enjoying the quiet, it really does put things in perspective somehow. I look back at the old man again.
“I suppose you’re right. It wouldn’t have changed a thing. If they would have thanked me for my efforts, it would’ve been empty words, based on nothing but lies. Maybe I was just looking for some kind of validation, or closure.”
“Heh, closure… Now there’s an odd thing, if you ask me. And just like those cherished moments I mentioned a moment ago, it’s something you’ll rarely get. There will always be unspoken words and unanswered questions. Those are just facts of life, son.”
Although I’m not really his son, the word does comfort me. Ever since we met he told me I could discuss anything with him, but we never told each other’s names and don’t expect anything from one another, except the company we share from time to time at this spot. A very odd relationship, perhaps, but those were the old man’s terms and I agreed to them.
“So, now I move forward,” I say to no one in particular, or perhaps mostly to myself. As some words of encouragement.
“It’s the only way, really. Can’t go back and change things. Time can be a real pain in the arse…” the elderly man says with audible pain in his voice. Or perhaps regret.
“Do you have regrets?” I ask carefully.
The old man laughs heartily for a moment.
“Don’t we all? But mostly regret for the things I did do, not vice versa. I learned that a long time ago. Sometimes you have to get up and do something, even though you might regret it later. Especially when you feel it’s the right thing to do. Like telling a friend the truth. You know it will hurt them at that moment, because sometimes the truth hurts and people would rather avoid it. But when you’re true friends, you tell the truth. When you’re lovers, you tell the truth. Or well, perhaps not always…”
I frown at him.
“No, not when your girl has taken hours to choose what to wear and prepare for a fun night and she asks you if you like her dress, or make-up and you both kinda know it could’ve been better. Honesty has a very important place, but so do little white lies. Trust me.”
“I would trust you about as far as I can throw you.”
“That’s reassuring,” the old man retorts, “Anyway, I digress. We were talking about moving forward. I think too many people are stuck in the past. I see it everywhere around me. All those old people I’m stuck with… all they ever do is talk about their past, because they feel they no longer have anything to look forward to. So they start looking back. A lot. So much it becomes really bothersome. That’s why I sit here, where it’s quiet,” he says, making a gesture to our surroundings.
A couple of birds chase after each other through the trees and fly off into the distance.
“What is it you are looking forward to, then?” I ask my old friend.
“Normally I’d tell young fellas like you to stop bothering an old man like me with questions like that. But I’ll indulge you, since I like you.”
“That’s oddly friendly…”
The old man gives me a toothy smile.
“I am oddly friendly, aren’t I? Well, like I said, a lot of people my age, all they think they can look forward to is their deaths. They look back at their lives and most of what they see is the good moments and a whole lot of regret that they wasted so much time on a useless job, or people who didn’t deserve it. Once you see that it’s a big waste of time to be stuck in the past, you can start enjoying your life, even at my age. I have a lot to look forward to. It’s in the small things, like going to a cafe and ordering a cup of coffee. Enjoying the sun coming in from the windows in the morning. Sitting inside when it’s stormy outside and reading a good book with my cat on my lap. And meeting you every now and then and talking about life. Giving advice, even though you solve most of your problems yourself and you don’t even know it. I’ll happily take credit for it, of course,” the man says laughing. I join his laughter, then he enters a coughing fit. I help him by patting him on the back and before too long, his breathing seems to be back to normal.
“Thank you, lad,” he says.
“I think you’re on the right track, you know. You seem to have good grasp on life and the things that truly matter by now. Try to hold on to that.”
I smile at him.
“I will, and perhaps one day I’ll be the old man giving advice to a stranger on this bench.”
The old man fixes his gaze on the water and the corners of his lips curl up in a warm smile.
“Try looking in the mirror again in thirty or so years. And maybe you’ll find me there,” he says.
I smile back at him and get up.
“Hopefully,” I say, “Have a nice day, sir.”
As I continue my walk, I turn back and look at the bench, only to find that it’s empty. A comforting warmth covers me, along with a deep feeling of gratitude. I smile and walk on. Time to move forward. It’s the only way time goes for us.
Copyright © 2020, Jeffrey Debris