And the young man awoke one morning and saw in his reflection in the mirror the old man that he wasn’t yet; and he saw in the lines that gave character to his expression the creeks that experience carves, and he saw in the black rings under his eyes not the consequence of a late night but the legacy of a life lived, and he saw in the drooped weight of his eyelids the distinct marking of failure, and he saw in the cracked skin that covered his lips the slow passage of unnoticed years. The time has come. A paused, croaky voice fills the air with learned determination. Eyes meet eyes in the deep surface of the mirror. I’ll never be an old man.
So the young man starts the routine that will become his ritual, and he whips his soap with diligence, and he spreads the foam over his face, and he shaves his stubble, and he washes his ears and his hair and his body; and he walks naked into the wardrobe, and he walks out of it invested in the best pin-striped suit he owns, wrapped in a dark blue overcoat; and he picks up his top hat, and he rescues the fallen walking stick, and he firmly pulls from the lapels of his jacket, and he buttons up the front of his overcoat, and he slaps his cheek with a heavy hand as he takes a deep breath and he walks outside, and he begins the tortuous journey up the desolate mountain that will destroy his laced brogues.
And the man reaches the top of the hill in a hurry, and the stick’s become a staff, and the overcoat a cape, and the top hat is no longer there, and the brogues show his callous feet, and the man shakes his right arm –staff in hand- at the skies, and his face has turned livid, and his countenance is devilish, and his movements show despair but his voice, measured and subdued, cannot reach the pitch of anger he tries to give it; and Death simply doesn’t hear it, because Death isn’t there to hear it, because Death agreed to come and take a man on the verge of ageing to save him from the misery of decrepitude but Death had not agreed to take a young man afraid of Time, and Death had certainly not agreed to abide by the caprices of a misled youth, and the young man still looks at the sky with an earthly passion, and the young man still points at the clouds with his frenzied staff, and the young man still shouts an invective diatribe with his dying voice, and the sun just hides, and the clouds amass, and the rain begins, and his skin grows pale, and his hair grows long, and his eyes get watery and his soul gets soaked in a mood of slumber that forces him to take pause.
And the young man sat as a young man who thought himself old on a rock at the top of a mountain, and he let his cape disintegrate, and he leaned his cane on the ground, and he folded his left leg upwards, and he wrapped his arm around his knee, and he placed his head over his arm, and he held his staff in his right hand, and like that –motionless, still- he waited. And he waited, and he waited, and he pondered as he waited, and he thought his time had come but the slumber didn’t lift from upon his soul, so he couldn’t act or react, and his cane remained still, and his face still looked at nothing, and his arm embraced his knee, and his grown hair turned grey.
Until one day, disillusioned, tired and –in all fairness- defeated, the young man got up from his stone and –barefoot, drenched, aged- he began his descent down the tricky slope. And his staff became the walking stick that gave him support, and his steps were hesitant, and the journey downwards lasted an entire lifetime longer than the climb up. And when the time had really come the rain just ceased, and the sun shone throughout the land, and the old man’s weathered body dried, and Death approached with intent but all Death found when Death reached the place Time had agreed for their rendezvous was an old man who could no longer be saved from any misery at all. And Death turned right, and Death turned left, and Death found nothing to possess but the tarnished body of a broken man walking away at a pitiful pace. And Death said to the fool, Fool, why did you not call for me before? But the tired ears of the tired man no longer heard the words that once had brought comfort with a promise, and as Death –equally disillusioned, equally defeated- turned away empty handed the wooden staff that served as walking stick to the old man split in half and sent the naked body of a young man turned old rolling down the hill, back onto Earth.
SHORT STORY PUBLISHED BY THE ANGUILLIAN 21/07/06.