Friday, 9 April 2010

The old man

There is an old man who lives in my street. He wears a hat and soft leather shoes with zippers and braces to hold up his trousers. He drives an old Morris and owns a little white dog named Scotty.

The old man is very quiet. He keeps to himself but he is always polite. When I walk past with my baby, and he is in his driveway waxing his Morris, he will turn and lift his hat. I smile in reply. The old man never smiles, he just stares with his wet green eyes. This undermines his apparent friendliness somewhat, but I suppose it is just his way.

There are stories about the old man that I refuse to credit. Well, I flatter myself. I do not consider myself "above" gossip; rather, I prefer to ignore it, and if I cannot ignore it then to hope that it is not true. Accepting the stories as true, even approximately true, would require rather too much... rearrangement.

I do not know anything - not one thing - about the old man's past. Nor, I might add, does anybody else in this neighbourhood. People can say what they like about him because there is no contradictory evidence. We do not even know the sound of his voice.

People distrust surfaces. They want to know what is going on underneath, and if they cannot know then they will invent something to please their perversity. In all likelihood the old man who lives in my street is just that: an old man, and harmless with that. We mustn't judge people based on innuendo and hearsay.

I smile at the old man when I walk past with my baby. He turns and lifts his hat. When I get home I lift out my baby and hold him. He is so small, so vulnerable. In the silent house I begin to sing, softly, a lullaby to soothe my baby, and myself.

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