The Old Man and the Little Boy

There once was an old man who lived in a rickety house at the end of a long, twisting lane. Not a particularly friendly old man, he didn't venture down that twisting lane very often. Even less often did anyone venture out to see him, but that was the way he liked it. The man's name was Tom, and he thoroughly enjoyed being left alone.

Tom only left his house when it was absolutely necessary. He hated the townspeople, and they hated him. It had been that way for decades. Besides, the only visitors he ever got were teenagers who played nasty pranks on him, and townspeople who wanted to buy his land. No one ever did anything nice for him, so he was never nice to anyone in return. Needless to say, Tom was quite content without the complications of human company, and he intended to keep it that way.

One sunny afternoon, when he and his cat, Mabel, were sitting peacefully on the veranda watching the birds, Tom heard something coming up the lane. It sounded like a bicycle, with playing cards taped to the wheel to make it sound like a motorbike. Tom set down his bird-watching binoculars and rested his hand on Mabel's soft, grey coat. He screwed up his face into a snarl, grabbed his cane that was leaning against the porch railing, and prepared to yell at whoever had dared to ruin his daily bird-watching. He definitely knew how to put on the 'grumpy old man' image.

Around the bend in the lane came a small boy on a bicycle, sure enough with the cards flipping and flapping every time he pedaled. The boy looked about eight years old, with curly blond hair, and a beaming, toothy grin on his face. In the basket in front of his handle bars was a large box. The boy was waving.

'Hello Mister Tom, sir! Happy Birthday!' he exclaimed.

Tom's well-rehearsed 'grumpy old man' exterior faltered. Not once, in the past three decades, had anyone addressed him so cheerfully! In spite of himself, he almost smiled. He had quite forgotten that it was his birthday, since it wasn't of much importance when you had no one to celebrate it with anyways. Come to think of it, he hadn't celebrated a birthday in years.

The boy brought his bicycle to a standstill and clumsily dismounted. He removed the box from the basket and let the bike fall over on its side, right into Tom's carefully-pruned garden. Tom scowled.


'I brought you some chocolates mister,' said the boy as he removed the box from his basket and handed it to Tom. His freckly face was beaming. 'I bought them just for you.'

There was a card on the box that read To: Mr. Tom, Happy Birthday! From: Thomas, but before Tom had anytime to react, the boy was talking again.

'Did you notice we have the same name?' he blurted out as if he couldn't hold it in any longer. 'They call you grumpy old Tom, and Tom is my name too! Only, everyone calls me Thomas instead.' He looked up hopefully at Tom, his eyes glowing. 'My mom said I'm the only Thomas in this whole town! Besides you, of course,' he added.

Something inside of Tom shifted. Yes, he definitely liked this boy. Maybe it was the way the boy looked at him, as if he were some kind of hero. The old man sighed. Then he smiled, something he very rarely did these days considering how much he enjoyed scowling and grumbling at the world.

'Well thank you very much Thomas for these chocolates. I'll eat them right up,' said Tom. He didn't know why he was being nice to the boy. Hadn't he hated the townspeople for as long as he could remember?

But then Thomas's eyes got wider and his grin got toothier, and Tom couldn't help but smile again.

'Well I have to go now,' said Thomas. 'Happy Birthday again Mr. Tom!' he yelled as he mounted his bicycle and drove off down the lane, waving and smiling the whole way. Tom listened until the sound of the flapping cards grew faint and then he sighed once more.

As he sat there eating his birthday chocolates, Tom marveled at how the little boy had managed to crack a smile out of him. Years of spitefulness towards the townspeople could not be erased with one charming little boy, but it was definitely a start, and the short encounter had left him in high spirits. Maybe the townspeople weren't so bad after all. His old face was so used to scowling these days that Tom secretly thanked little Thomas for reminding him how to smile.





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