Thursday, September 26, 2013

Life in the Eyes of The Old Man: "All That Withers"

I've never posted anything quite like this. 

I wrote this piece when I was in high school for a creative writing assignment and it was probably my favorite piece I've ever written. 

The following is fictional, and is in short-story form. I write from the perspective of an old man, a widower, describing another morning in his daily life.

I hope you find value and purpose in reading this story. It was an amazing experience to write and imagine myself in the psyche of an old widower. I hope the story engages you in the same way.

All That Withers

Always a beautiful morning watching the sunrise hiding behind the willow tree.

This bench has served a symbol of my adulthood, withered by carcinogenic moss and children’s inscriptions still managing to stand, or seat for that matter, the test of time. It’s fought its own wars, bearing all the weight and sweat of the homeless, the obese, and the load that’s weighing on each of them. When all others have left, this bench remains – stable and stagnant.

The warm breeze is just enough to rustle and allow the attentive ear hear the weep of the willow. The elongated leaves, the slender branches, each carved with persona, an inexplicable maturity present and represented by its roots.

Quite serene when man takes time to listen to it.

It’s unfortunate that most folks these days seem to run right past, earphones drowning them into their own heads as if they haven’t sunk already. A stroll in the park with earphones in is as futile as a writer with a sword. What’s the use? Must we not escape the prisons of our idiosyncrasies?

Permit the air to cleanse our ears of obstructions more potent than wax. The thick bigotry exacerbated by these partisan media hacks, the gruesome screeches blasphemed by those who call it music. Ignorance of your beauty isn’t "what makes you beautiful”, recognition of others’ is. The more they clog their ears, metaphorically and literally, the more these kids feed pretentious obliviousness.

If only these kids felt the rhythmic intensity… those were the days, weren’t they? The Mamas & the Papas, The Lovin’ Spoonful, and even the Marvelettes. And to hear the very sounds from one of my childhood favorites, Otis Redding, abused by that man who said George Bush hates black people. No use remembering his name.

And Etta James ‘auto-tuned’, or whatever they call it; not only is that awful, but the man who created the atrocity has a name that is forcing children into a repetitive, disturbing mispronunciation of Florida.

It’s hard to be optimistic of a future when the present is so distressingly debased.

But - as my Pop always said, there’s always hope – “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise”. The scene would agree with Pop. Despite the air full of pollen and the din of sprinklers gunning water over the flowers behind me, the chirp of the mockingbird still sings. Merely that is enough music for these timeworn ears.

Yet, the reality is my old man is long dead, and my ears aren’t the only things that have changed since those days. They are forced to filter frauds on the television set. It seems like nowadays the only use for a newspaper is to stain ink on fingers of those selling them. I wonder why. With all the technological advancements we so graciously pride ourselves with; the newspaper still sheds ink when handled.

Perhaps it’s just the charm.

The only thing television news has taught humans is how not to read. How can someone sit for so long, spend so much valuable time, sinking into a television set? I still get the local from the poor woman standing on the bridge above the creek. She’s there every day. Nice woman. Never engaged in conversation, though.

I’m always afraid to put my peepers on to read the headline – some depressing news of corruption in Washington or another senseless crime here or there. To give credit, there are always one or two articles praising good Samaritans.

The rest, however, is just a spotlight for criminals. Black on gray hypnosis is what I call it – the sensationalism ingests us. The headline reads – ‘Boston Marathon Manhunt’. Alliterative journalism. Article reads, “The police and FBI have a single goal in the manhunt now unfolding in Boston: toss a law-enforcement lasso around the suspect, then slowly tighten it into a noose.” Alliterative and imaginative.

Yet, I can’t help but notice the sun stealing the words off the paper as it is born again for another day. A shadow has emerged on the page and I’m forced to look up. I didn’t even sense it, but his neon bouncing ball had rolled through the gap of my shoes and found its place under the bench. The young boy has a hint of innocent frivolity. As a young boy should, I assume. Five or six.

“Sorry”, he blurts out.

First time since I came to this park after Eleanor passed that someone has spoken to me.

Feels a bit peculiar as I usually enjoy my sunrise in the silence of my own head.

Eleanor would have loved this moment. He bears a striking resemblance to our grandson, Jacob – the adorable features of his father and the modesty of his mother. The ball is still between my feet; his hesitance is evident in the manner in which he taps his fingers on his chubby cheek; his pinky narrowly in his mouth.

I give him the ball and he runs away. A woman seeming to be his mother with another child in a stroller turns back to see if he achieved finding the ball before she finds him hiding behind her leg. She waves to me; a beautiful smile escapes her face – a window to show a heart is at home. I manage to part the sea of wrinkles on my face to share the momentary bliss in diffidence.

I didn’t need an apology. It bothers me that after six years since Eleanor’s passing, after six long years of me marking this seat, this territory on this bench every morning, that the first word ever uttered directly against my very presence was an apology.

Especially not from Jacob, or whoever that child was or wasn’t.

I left. No one has left me. This bench has suffered my weight – the weight of sorrow of leaving my own children for selfish mourning, and not being able to face my son only because his complexion bears similitude to Eleanor’s. Yet, who am I fooling? I wallow in loneliness patiently waiting for the next call, the next visit. It’s never too often, always too late. Warm hands, cold hearts.

 And like that, another day has passed. Another sunrise witnessed, another newspaper buried, another bench warmed – for the beauty is always transient.

Even the willow will one day weep its last cry, and the sun will pierce too deep.


  1. Great work, Aadil!...full of empathy and real feeling from the heart. I like the way you included the images to bring little slices of the old man's life into focus.

  2. I think the post was written with a lot of love.

    You took something ordinary and injected it with history. A bench.
    The average person would just run right by it and not give it much thought
    But you saw the bench as a piece of history, something that represented some of the greatest moments of peoples' lives.

    Then, you segue from the bench and start talking about the dullness of peoples' minds.

    How they choose to watch television as opposed to read.

    You talk about how newspapers are amazing, but then you talk about how you prefer to only scan the headlines because newspapers only talk about corruption these days.

    But, that it's still better to read than to sit and stare at some idiot box (television).

    You're talking about how people are dead, and that they've shut the world out around themselves.

    And that they choose to listen to their music than to appreciate nature.
    Really, this piece speaks to me as an ode to curiosity. curiosity is so important. it is the thing that compels us to truly read between the lines, to examine the philosophy behind even the most seemingly trivial things,
    to find beauty in even the mundane
    and to find triumph in the austere.

    Curiosity teaches us to live life deeply, to really look into the magic that surrounds us.
    - That is what I got from your piece.

    It was a bit difficult to read, it kind of jumped around, and it didn't seem to really stay focused on any particular thing. Except, at the very end, you brought it back to the bench.

    But, i think that was the point.

    That you wanted to dance around, waltz around different themes to just show us the power of curiosity and how important curiosity is at many intervals of our lives. And that most of us overlook it and never stop to appreciate anything.

  3. It reminded me of something I would write. The passing of time, the loss of loved ones, the increase of crime and global atrocities.
    I could be that old man sitting, thinking fondly of loved ones no longer with me. The things we could collectively smile or laugh about.
    Memories I will cherish, though bittersweet.

    When I was a little girl I could walk to the playground- everyone thought it safe. Few knew it wasn't safe for me after a while- but we didn't talk about things like that then.
    Now a days, children are either neglected and abused or programmed to be afraid of others.
    The news if one senseless tragedy after another...
    The simplicity I longed for has been replaced by technology, faster ways of doing things, less time for others .
    My misfortune has become my good fortune because I can take the time to talk to the woman on the bridge. I am no longer able to move so fast that I miss a flower in bloom, I stop and take a photo.
    I watch the world around me perplexed and disheartened by complicit government and hardening of hearts.
    I wonder how we got to this point... When the core of what we once believed is now the very thing that divides us.
    I grew up being told this was a great I got older, I watched it collapse.
    Each day I see my leaders reprimand and sanction other countries...who gave them the right to do so?
    I long to return to the homeland of my grandparents, where life is still very simple. The water is as clean as the mountain air. Riding bicycles are a way of life, not just for exercise or sport.
    I suspect the older man would understand much of what I speak of. He came from a generation of brave men and women who did what they had to do. Values were important as was raising their children.
    Children did not disrespect adults. If they did, there were consequences.
    I think of a similar bench I used to love to sit and those who were with me then. I returned to it not long ago as it was to be the memorial of a cousin who passed of cancer...
    My, have times changes. I miss my loved ones, yet adore their offspring. If I could give them one precious gift, it would be to take the time to appreciate all we have. I can not promise it will be here tomorrow.

  4. this is absolutely beautiful

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