I have been writing poems and short stories for years, some of which I have published independantly. I also blog. Writing is a loved hobby.
Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.
— Marie Curie
For many years, I had these fear of Old Man Red.
Seeing adults giving him a wide berth whenever he made his rare outings in public certainly did not help to lessen this irrational fear I had.
And it wasn’t just me; all the children I knew then were frightened of the old man.
But then, something happened which shook the very foundation of my wary, fearful outlook on this presumably reluctant ‘figure of darkness'.
I would not be melodramatic about recounting the event, but it was life-changing for me, at least in how I then started to perceive Old Man Red.
The incident happened at a particular time, quite some time after I was first brought into unwilling awareness about the forbidding mystery of Old Man Red.
I was still in my late childhood years, barely a teen even and still having childlike needs, when I went to the local store with my brother.
We were tasked by my mother with the arduous responsibility of buying sugar, when we would rather be playing in the shallow river behind our house and catching shrimps for snack. My sisters had the foresight to be out of sight and out of mind.
Anyway, parents would be obeyed.
So it was, that we both dragged our whining selves to the store.
Once at the store though, we both perked up. I liked looking at all the things on sale, the many packages and tins of food neatly arranged on the shelves. I especially loved the colorful toys and trinkets found all over the store.
My brother promptly disappeared to parts unknown, presumably to locate the elusive sugar at another aisle towards the back of the shop.
I was admiring the many lovely colorful rubber balls in a small glass jar near the counter and wistfully wishing for them, when I heard the jingle of the door opening behind me.
I didn’t turn around, considering that I was in a shop and obviously customers came and went. I heard someone’s footsteps coming towards me, and then stopped directly behind me.
There was the sound of strained but controlled laborious breathing, as if that person had a long, hard walk or work behind him and was simply too weary to move anywhere but had to anyway.
Like the child that I insisted I wasn’t, I kept admiring the rubber balls and took to counting them under my breath, when Mr. Bin the store owner came walking behind the counter and asked politely, “Is there anything I can help you with today, Mr. Red?”
The name didn’t register with me for a few seconds, but once it did, I gave a startled jerk and turned around with a gasp.
There, standing just a couple of feet behind me, was Old Man Red.
Wearing his usual worn outfit and a frown, Old Man Red didn’t look at me, even after the loud gasp and fearful startled look I gave him.
I stood rooted to the floor, imagining horns on his head and tail switching behind him, ‘seeing’ claws on his fingers, and smoke coming out of his nose, and I thought his red eyes were glaring at me.
Are his teeth sharp and pointy, and would he eat me?
Only acute fear made me stay where I was, it was a wonder I did not faint on the spot.
Old Man Red conducted his business with the attentive Mr. Bin; all the while I was staring at him fearfully with wide eyes and open mouth, standing rooted as I was near the counter.
It was rude of me, I know.
Right before he left, he suddenly turned and looked at me.
“Do you want these?”
It took me several precious seconds to realize that he was in fact, talking to me, and in his right hand he held three rubber balls of different colors.
I stared at his hand, at the balls, then back at his face, dumbstruck.
His gaunt face expressionless, Old Man Red repeated his question, louder this time, “Child, do you want these balls?”
At the counter, Mr. Bin cleared his throat. I turned my head to look at him, and he jerked his head towards Old Man Red in that familiar signal meaning, “Go on then, answer him.”
Dumbly, I turned back to look at Old Man Red who was still patiently waiting, his hand which held the balls still stretched out towards me.
I nodded ‘yes’, but didn’t reach out to take the beckoning, colorful rubber balls in his hand.
An unreadable look on his face, Old Man Red walked the short distance to the counter, murmured something to Mr. Bin, placed the balls down near the cash register, picked up his purchases, nodded his head at the store-owner, turned away and left. He didn’t look at me again, still standing there silently but with an unfamiliar feeling roiling around in my stomach.
Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
© 2022 Lynne Samuel