The Unchangeable Man

What is the most changeable part of an old man? His hair, surely, but definitely not his mind. The hairs on his head rework, thin, and disappear, but his mind will never reform.

So what is it with the old man who lives next door? He sways on his deck-swing every morning while smoking his pipe. I’ve grown to memorize the tobacco he smokes just from the times I’ve rode by while on my bike on the way to school. And each morning he raises his stale eyes from behind his round metal glasses just enough to peep at me as I pedal by, then grumbles to himself. He lives in routine.

Last night I sat on my roof overlooking the trees that flourish over the land across from my house, and I saw him. His metal framed glasses reflected against the dim streetlamps as he silently swayed into the woods. Afraid the old man would get lost or had dementia, or something, I followed him.

He took the route along the creek and didn’t trip over a single rock. His feet knew their path as if they’ve done this 100 times before. I stumbled behind as I followed the glow of his flashlight and kept my distance to not be heard or seen. When the old man stopped, so did I. When he turned around to check his surroundings, I hid. When he took in a breath I mimicked him, paranoid my breathing was competing with the creek’s gentle flow.

Soon he stopped, faced towards the creek, and reached into his pocket. I found a thick tree to hide behind and peaked my eyes around it just enough to take in the strange man’s movements.

He pulled something out of his thick wool jacket. It was round and small and glimmered under the flashlight’s rays. The old man stepped towards the creek and stood between two trees that leaned in towards the water at a peculiar angle. I saw the old man lift his head, take in a breath, glasp his hands together, bring them to his mouth, then fall to his knees and weep.

I turned around and redirected my eyes away from the old man, the man known for throwing rocks at teens for egging his house. Instead, I now know him as the old man who cried along the creek, an unknowing side to the man who shut his front door in my little sister’s when she tried to sell him Girl Scout Cookies. Now, he’s the old man with a story not written across his face.

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