The Lamp Post

June 10, 2012
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It was an odd sight, the two of them.

Before the sun had even risen, on a worn bench the two sat, each on opposite sides. The young man, perhaps in his late twenty’s, was hunched over and looked to be deep in thought, pained even, and the older man’s facial features seemed to be set in a deep scowl, permanent it seemed. Behind them, an olive tree’s trunk supported the bench that would otherwise topple over. It felt like one of those scene’s out of movies where the main character would meet some random person who was supposed to offer some kind of epiphany.

The young man glanced at the old grouch beside him with the ever-present frown plastered on his face. Why so serious? The younger joked bitterly to himself, but he was in no position to laugh and joke around. The old man’s physical appearance seemed to mockingly represent the younger’s inner state -- he’d been through enough already this week.

Maybe thats just how your face becomes when you reach one-hundred, he thought, or maybe thats just this particular old man’s normal, everyday face. It was a worn one, one that looked like it had been through the thick and thin of it. Well, that makes two of us. He looked to the wrinkled left hand and saw there was a marriage band, it was odd because he thought he recognized something about it.

Whack! The old man’s cane flew seemingly out of nowhere to greet the younger’s shin in a rather unkindly fashion.

“Staring is rude, boy.”

Not intensely in pain, the younger rubbed his shin where there was a dull ache,“Was that really necessary, sir?” Adding the sir because as much as he wasn’t in a wonderful mood, he never forgot his manners . . . much to his dismay.

Then again, weren’t all old people supposed to randomly offer you cookies or something, and give warm hugs not whack you with their walking cane?

Realizing Gramps had been talking and that he’d been staring too long, he quickly apologized and reverted his gaze to the lamp post in the distance.

Old people.

His dad.

So often he’d look at an elderly person and wonder . . . just wonder about what it would’ve been like. Would his dad look like the old grouch if he had even met his own father? Is that how he would be?

Perhaps, but the young man would never know.

He’d never met his father.

He was thinking too much again. It wasn’t that he was emotionally damaged as a child, no, he was always cool-headed in any sort of situation. Rather, it was that a father was unknown grounds to him.The mere mention of the word “father” always left a dull pain in his mind that seemed to burrow itself deep into the nooks and crannies of his brain and stubbornly stay put.

Focus on the lamp post, focus on the lam -- would his dad have been an angry old man or the type to pat him on the back with a “Good job, son,”?

Lamp post. Think about lamp posts.

He continued to stare furiously at the lamp post, as if doing so would release him of certain memories.

Lamp post. Such an interesting object.

Lamp post. It is a black lamp post.

Lamp post. It has four light bul --- Are you kidding yourself?

Lamp po --- “ Eh, you don’t happen to be Odo Seus’s boy do you? Spittin’ image and everything, you’ve got that calculating look of Odo’s I’d recognize anywhere.”

Lovely. The old man who had thwacked him with a cane and was still in possession of said cane wanted to converse with him -- not that he had anything against elderly people, it’s just that the topic wasn’t anything he’d brought up with anyone before.

He decided to be a gentleman and at least acknowledge Gramps, and to be truthful, the old man intrigued him. What could he possibly know about his father? If he never knew his own father then perhaps he could get some grasp on what other people thought of his dad.

“I don’t have a father, sir.”

“I’m sure you know how we all got here, boy, we’ve all got a father.”

“Sir, I’m not an idiot.”

“I never suggested such a thing, son,” a genuine smile spread on the old man’s face.

“Biologically, he is my father, but---”

“But not the father you had wanted and needed,” the old man interrupted and was now looking him eye-to-eye. An old man was reading him like an open book, was he really that predictable? He could’ve guessed anything, and yet he had guessed the truth --- the truth he did not want to acknowledge.

The younger man looked back to the lamp burning brightly in the distance, and decided to count how many crevices of lines going down it’s length he could possibly see.

Thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty seven . . . .

He was squinting now, and the old man interrupted him once more with a cane to his shin, “That lamp post there, son, is an inanimate object, my boy, it ain’t gonna uproot itself and come tell you to quit staring at it.”

You’re such a silly old man. Of course I know that, the younger thought sarcastically.

The old man kept rumbling on, something along the lines of “ youth these days” and “lacking intelligence.” The younger man ignored the elder one and continued his counting. It relaxed him to focus on something, and slowly drifted into a steady mantra.

Forty-two, forty-three, forty-four . . .

Sighing irritably, “Son, that lamp post has got fifty-four lines, fourteen little mini-steps on the bottom, and no voice. I know what life is and does to a person. You’re old man isn’t who you think he is.”

Now the younger man knew himself to be cool-headed, but who did Gramps think he was? He doesn’t know my story, my life, he doesn’t know me, the younger man thought. The old man didn’t know who he was, what he was going through. His wife was ill, and a young orphan boy from the hospital he’d been doing humanitarian works at --- a mere eight year old he’d grown accustomed to love --- had recently passed away because of cancer.

He was suddenly regretting coming out for a jog to clear his mind, and very much regretted choosing this particular spot for a break. It seemed as if fate had plotted this exact moment and doomed him to encounter a crazy old man who thinks it’s acceptable to whack him with that cane and talks like he knows things.

Because, really, he thought, what if the old guy is right? What if Grandpa does know what he’s talking about? Then again, what if Grandpa’s just bored and only wanted to talk to him for the sole purpose of entertaining himself?

The young man got up to leave and continue his jog when the old man stopped him, only this time without that offending wooden object but with a gentle hand on the shoulder. It caught the young one off guard and an odd feeling washed over him making him suddenly feel like a small boy.

“There are things,” the old man gave him a reassuring squeeze, “ you can’t run away from, because everything that has happened in your life happens for a reason.”

The old man was standing now, leaning on his cane with one hand, the other on the younger’s shoulder. The younger could’ve sworn he’d seen the elder’s eyes twinkle, it was subtle but it was there. Great. He was imagining things, he was hallucinating, and imagining things.

“Thanks, sir,” said the younger’s slightly bitter, slightly sincere voice albeit with a tinge of sarcasm, “but I don’t see how any good comes from not having a father figure. I don’t see how any good comes from a father who left me.” The last statement sounded rough, and spiteful, wounded almost, raw.

“Odo I know very well, that man of twists and turns, he did not leave you by choice.”
The old man said sounding melancholy and profound, and turned to face him, “You are who you are now because of your past. ”

The younger man stayed quiet a while. It could’ve been ten seconds or ten minutes, he couldn’t tell, but those words hit him hard. No one had ever talked to him like that. Actually, no one had had the courage to talk to him like that. He may have subconsciously known it was the truth --- that nagging voice in the back of his mind --- but no one has ever told him face to face. It surprised him how hearing it from someone else made him feel angry, relieved, and comforted all at the same time.

The old man was right. If it wasn’t for his past and his sufferings, he wouldn’t have ever thought to do humanitarian works for orphan children. He wouldn’t have ever grown to love that fatherless boy and become a father figure for the limited time the boy had lived. He wouldn’t have met his wife who works for the same cause. He wouldn’t be who he is.

“Fate,” the younger said quizzically, “ you’re telling me, happens for the better.”

It was the old man’s turn now to stop and contemplate, and the younger could almost see the gears turning in that old head. It wasn’t a question, more like a statement the younger needed reassurance on. He waited for an answer.

“Do I look like Allah to you, boy?”

“Stop talking, old man,” the younger joked good-naturedly and let out what seemed to be a combination of a half-smirk and half-snort.

“What I mean is,” the man with the cane gave him a pat on the shoulder, “your father was gone and so you stepped up and became who you are today.”

“He’s proud of you, that I know.”

There was a silence as if the whole world had decided to stop and listen, anticipating this moment. The younger one hadn’t realized the sun was rising already, but he did realize something as he took a closer look at the ring on the old man’s left hand. Images flashed as his memory reared back and replayed itself in black and white, flickering in his mind like a vintage film. One particular memory was so crystal clear he felt as though he had gone back in time to when he was a boy. It was of his mother holding his hand while he toyed with the ring around her finger, a ring with a similar inscription as the one on the hand on his shoulder right now.

It became brighter and warmer as the sun began to rise. A sunrise for a new beginning, and it was a new beginning.

“Hey, old man.”

“Yeah, son?”

“Tell Odo that he counted wrong, there are exactly fifty-five line contours on that lamp post.”

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