The night was cold, a perfect night for talking and walking. Too bad there was no one to talk or walk with. So, he just walked. And walked. And walked. Sometimes he would talk to himself, but most times he would be silent.
We would always watch him from our window, ever since the first night my brother and I snuck out, we saw him walking past the park bench. He would pace back in forth in the moonlight, looking at the stars. Whenever he talked to himself, the rare amounts he did, I could overhear him.
“Julia, oh Julia,” he said one night. “Where have you gone, young Julia?”
My brother and I were not at all good children: we were foster kids, see, and were used to moving around. We could not simply stay still. So, my brilliant brother came up with a brilliant plan. Let’s prank the poor old man.
I naturally went with my brother’s plan, because I thought it would be fun to have fun with a crazy old man. Who would it hurt? Certainly not us.
We contracted a hit-man, an eight-year-old Foster boy named Timmy. Timmy wasn’t an actual hit-man, since he was eight, but he was an expert with a sling shot and water balloon.
Before we went with the operation, I decided it would be smart for me to scout out the park for any problems. That was the night that the old man came and started to talk again.
“Julia!” he cried. “Julia, where are you? I can’t continue looking. My knees are tired and I want to go home.”
I found this interesting, and started to listen to him. I don’t think he knew I was there, so he just kept talking.
“My love, where are you?” he cried again. “I’ve been waiting for you forever. Are you never coming back? I made pancakes for you, since it’s your birthday…”
I realized at that time that he was still looking for this Julia person, and I wanted to go out and help him. But there was no point in it; I needed to prank him.
“Oh, what’s the use!” the old man sat on the chair. “Curse my life and yours! What little faith I had in you is gone, you wretched witch!”
A witch? Who was this man?
I didn’t really think, stepping out of the bush I was hiding in. The old man turned to me, a bright smile on his face. When he realized I was not the Julia he was looking for, he turned his head down and began to cry.
I noticed his hunched back and the wet sobs he kept gasping out. Hesitantly, I came to sit next to him with a hand on his back. He continued to cry and cry, until the moon was high.
“Mister, why are you crying?” I asked in my nine-year-old voice. The man took a deep breath and sat upwards. His soaked cheeks were bright red from the constant stream.
“I can’t find my honest Julia,” he choked. “It’s been an entire year and she hasn’t come to see me.”
“You’ve been waiting an entire year?” I asked him. The man nodded, and pulled out a small box from his pocket.
“I wanted to give this to her,” he smiled, opening the lid and revealing a bright silver necklace. It was diamond incrusted, with red light burning in the center. It looked expensive, to these nine-year-old eyes.
The man looked down at me, his tears almost gone, and smiled a deep and powerful and bright smile. I couldn’t help the smile that I felt I gave him.
“Do you know what love is?” he asked, looking back at the necklace. “The powerful connection between people?”
I didn’t know how to answer that question. I had a brother, so I guess I loved him, but I don’t think if ever developed any feelings for other people.
“I think so,” I said.
“You think?” The man laughed. “What does that mean?”
“Well, it’s just me and my brother,” I told him. “Our parents didn’t want us, so he and I went to find another home. And another. And now I’m here.”
“You live in the bushes?”
“No, no! I live in a foster home.”
The old man laughed, and scratched his hair, as if there were bugs crawling around in it.
“Listen, little girl,” he said. Usually when the words ‘little girl’ came out of an old person, I got angry and wanted to call them ‘old grandma’ and run away. But when this man said it, I remembered that he didn’t know my name.
“Love is a powerful connection,” the man said. “You can feel it around you when you walk through a park, or talk to a close friend. Love is when you can tell secrets to someone and know that they will not lose that secret.”
“I thought that was trust?”
“Ah, but love and trust must come together,” he looked back down at the necklace, which he was fiddling with in his hands. “That’s the thing about this life. When you do not love, you find something else, whether it be religion or money. Many people choose those two over love of someone else.
I, on the other hand,” he chuckled with a deep accent. “Am here for the love between people! Yet my love has been rejected yet again.”
“Again?” I asked him. “You’ve been in love before?”
“That’s another thing about love,” he told me. “I guess you could say it’s like this bench. You and I are sitting here, having a conversation, but it is late and we want to go home. So, we get up and we walk away, saying our goodbyes. But the next day, I could come here and you could not. Someone else will sit with me and we will develop a relationship.”
I sat for a second, thinking about that.
“So, love isn’t forever?”
“Well, that depends,” the old man snickered. “I could continue to come to this bench like I do every night, and you could choose to never come back. But, as I said before, we could both come back and talk every day. Or we could choose not to.”
“What if you don’t have a choice?” I asked him. He shook his head and looked to me again.
“You always have a choice, young one,” he smiled and looked down at my pocket. “You just pray that you make the right one.”
“And if I don’t?”
The old man on the park bench looked up at the stars and sighed.
“Then by tomorrow, I will be soaking wet.”