Janelle Edgar

The Oldest Man

I walked through the garden, noticing the blooming flowers. Drops of rain were stopped by the round glass dome that encompassed the large, green space with bursts of colors. I turned the corner, stepping lightly on the pale, pink stones. In the distance, I could hear the sound of waterfalls and streams curving through the garden. Around the corner, I took in the new sights. On the edge of the path, an old man sat quietly on a stone bench, observing a couple of hummingbirds.

He had a loose, blue, button down shirt tucked into a pair of black jeans. His white hair was short and sharply kept. His cane lay near the bench, purposely leaving the plants undisturbed. He carried a shiny black thermos. I couldn’t tell what was in it.

I continued walking and sat next to him, attentively watching his calm manner. After a minute, he looked towards me. He didn’t speak, just stared at me.

“Ah, Freya. You’ve come. I’ve been waiting for you.” He turned away from me and began. “My child, be wary. Love comes with tiny chance. If you’re lucky, life will be like this garden, alive and breathing despite the rain overhead, for people are flowers. Make sure to stop and observe every flower. And I don’t mean every type of flower. Oh, no. Every single bud.” He paused, opening and closing his mouth before speaking again.

“Even the aging, brown ones. For each flower, each petal is.” He paused again. “Different. One might have a spot on its color, or a part missing from a hungry green bug. Nonetheless – they are all beautiful. And they all contribute to the garden of life. Every single one – it has a purpose. Don’t you forget that.”

A couple passed the bench we sat on, blissfully unaware of the conversation they had intruded upon. After they passed, a lady hurried after them, calling a girl’s name. The old man sighed, watching the lady catch up to them and yelling at the girl before they disappeared along the path. He returned to our conversation once more.

“Some, while strolling through, will snip the flowers’ stems and take them with them. But, because of their carelessness, the flower they once thought beautiful will wither and die. And they will discard it without thought, because who would keep a dead, lone flower? Those people never learn, and they will never find lasting love.” He paused again. His voice faltered as he began anew.

“Now, some might find a favorite flower that they, if they love it enough, will take home with them. And I don’t mean snipping it from its stem like the people before, no. These are different, more soft-hearted people. They will carefully dig around the plant, taking time to feel each and every root before uplifting them. Slowly, they will incorporate the plant into a pot they have brought. They will take it home with them, being cautious not to hurt it. And once it is home with them, they will grow together, taking care of one another, bringing life to one another, for the plant will provide the oxygen the human needs to live. And until they wither, not alone, but together, they will extract the most from life. And that, my dear, is love.”

He finished speaking. I couldn’t find words. I sat in silence, listening to some of the birds that had found themselves taking shelter from the rain. How lucky they were, living their life full of freedom. After a long time, the old man shakily stood up. I watched his hands grasp for his cane, arthritis evident in his fingers. Then, he slowly disappeared down the path, using his cane for every other step.

I didn’t get up and leave, or follow him and ask him to elaborate. I just sat there, listening to the birds. The wondrous, free birds.

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