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The Storyteller

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I glance over at the wrinkled old man for the hundredth time and set my coffee cup down on its saucer. He is out there every day no matter the weather, though at what time he comes and goes I’m not sure. He sits there, on those worn stone steps with a bright wool blanket thrown around his shoulders. His skin is sun-browned and creased with many wrinkles and lines; although the lines are a map, leading to where I don’t know, and it seems as if his skin is not so much wrinkled, but folded over in gentle creases, as if his very skin is enveloping the soul that shines out from large, dark eyes.

I started coming to this café during my lunch breaks and then when I couldn’t stand it any longer and needed to get out of the house. How many days have I sat at this same tiny table and watched him, surrounded by a flock of young and old alike, spinning a tale out of nothing but the air between his hands and the music of his voice? I try to watch the people as they sit, enthralled, and see what it is that keeps them paused in their busy lives and listening. The business man with briefcase in hand doesn’t look at his watch or answer the phone once. The pregnant woman who works at the bakery across the street stands with her hands on her stomach and a smile on her lips. I watch as they walk away-children skipping back to parents already retelling the story. People shake off the hold the story had on them and continue on their way, but I can still see traces and glimmers of it following them wherever they go. Sometimes, people remain long after the tale is finished, talking with the old man. Sometimes they just sit there together on the steps in the sun and watch the pigeons.

Today, there is no one about to listen to an old man’s words. I trace the rim of my coffee cup with my finger, staring at the white ceramic bottom. It’s empty now, finished. I feel myself standing up, leaving the table and the mug and my purse, and walking slowly across the street to those stone steps. I see the old man watching me as I have often watched him. He strokes the bead necklace around his neck and puffs on his pipe. I am standing before him now and taking a deep breath I ask, “How do you do it?” But even before he answers I can feel it starting to take hold of me; those unspoken words forming in the air between us. I can see them reflected in his eyes, though I know they shine there from a deeper place. But what is more, I know I need to hear them and that they need to be heard.
He takes his pipe out of his mouth just long enough to say, “Want to hear a story?”





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