1 Old Man

The old man rocked back and forth in the corner of a doorway of an abandoned house. People walking by, left and right, along the narrow alleyway, one of several that connected the two main market roads. The alleyway was too narrow to set up a stall, just enough width for two people to pass, a central channel for water and household discharge, sided by high walls with gates serving as back entrances to courtyards, many permanently locked. An alleyway between places, never a place to be for its own right. And here, the old man sat, pressed against an old wooden door, both grey and faded.

A boy stopped beside him and looked down at the disheveled old man, his stringy thin hair, his gnarled hands hugging himself. He didn’t say a word. Adults passed by, navigating round him like he was an obstacle, one glanced back and swore. The boy stood over the old man and waited.

The old man continued to rock back and forth, but noticing the boy’s feet and legs, he lifted his head. The boy looked down on a face ravaged by age, skin wrinkled and stained, eyes rhuemy and crusted, matted dirty beard.

The boy reached out his hand, the old man eyed it, seeing it empty, and returned his gaze to the face of the boy, rocking back and forth.

The boy opened his mouth to speak, but couldn’t bring himself to wording. He sighed, tears in his eyes. He dropped his hand, and after a while turned away and walked down the alleyway, the old man’s eyes following him until he was out of sight. His head dropped and he continued his rocking back and forth.


The old man shook his head. He sat for a moment dejected, crumpled in his rags under a cart. He had tried to find a space under the bridge, but it was taken by several others, younger and stronger than him. There were few places to offer shelter from the rain. The cart was temporary of course, and the owners could move him on at any time, or if they were less generous, harm him for staying there in the first place. He had gathered plenty of wounds during his time on the streets.

The old man shook his head. He sat for a moment dejected, crumpled in his rags under a cart. He had tried to find a space under the bridge, but it was taken by several others, younger and stronger than him. There were few places to offer shelter from the rain. The cart was temporary of course, and the owners could move him on at any time, or if they were less generous, harm him for staying there in the first place. He had gathered plenty of wounds during his time on the streets.

It didn’t matter what he tried to do, it never worked out. There was a tendency for his mind to roll over the same old things in his head, the stories of his youth, the intentions lost, relationships gone, over and over in his mind. That was just an undercurrent, while his surface thoughts rolled over how even seeking shelter hadn’t panned out. It was remarkable how little food was needed to keep him alive. He might be lucky to get food from the same person over a few days in a row, but mostly it was about doing the rounds. There was no expectation when he appeared at the shopkeeper’s doorway, the servants entrance at the back of a rich house. If food came, he ate, and when it didn’t, he wouldn’t. Enough had come for him still to be alive. That was all.

The boy had approached him again. Nothing in his hand. He shook his head. It didn’t make any sense. The memory rattled around, dipping below the vacant stretches, churned through childhood memories of his own, what had gone wrong with his friends, and the bitter taste of disappointment — his mind rejected those. Such memories had been rich with anger, frustration, but over the years they had given out all their passion, and all that were left were bitter seeds, not seeds but stones, grit in his mind which he ignored like sand in fish skin he had picked from the dirt.

The boy. What did the boy want? What did the boy want from him…?


“Help me boy,” said the old man.

The boy knelt beside him. It was a dry day, and they sat in the shadow of a townhouse.

“Do you want to help me?” asked the old man.

They continued to sit together. The boy drew shapes in the dry dirt of the road. The townsfolk continued with their busy daily routines, oblivious to them. The shadow lengthened into late afternoon.

“If you are not here to help me…” said the old man. “What do you want from me?”

The old man shook his head, incredulously. Tears welled in his eyes.  He rubbed them, grime smeared on his cheeks. Didn’t make any sense. There was nothing he could contribute. He didn’t even know why he was living. HIs life consisted of long stretches of absence. Hadn’t received eyecontact for so long he had disappeared. Without reflection, and aspect of him had vanished. Thought was as continuous as an animals. The thought was thinking him. Memories, sensations of hunger, aches in his joints, the pain in his head, literally the hole in his gums. His movement instigated by the time of day, weather, hunger, the need to shit and piss. He was alive, but barely. This boy, the presence of this boy, appeared in his mind sporadically, but it had no movement to it. It was like a boat on the current of the sea, tossed around, not part of him, no imperative to it. So when it surfaced, there was nothing to it, no historic reason or future purpose. If anything, his memories would trigger, his nephew, the responsibility he had for him when his sister’s partner had been taken. Of her three children, he was responsible for one of them, but he had failed him, and so he would sink into another soporific trance.


“I have tried,” said the old man, to the boy, to himself. “I have tried. But each time I try, things go out of reach…”

He searched for his words. His mouth had forgotten how to form words. His tongue pressed against the two teeth remaining. The slurred sound that came out didn’t sound like words. Like a broken flute, a torn drum. His head ached, his knee throbbed, and again he was into the swamp of his memory, the injury to his knee when he was young. His job was to climb through a venilation tunnel, and listen to what was said on the other side of a grille. And as she shuffled his way backward in the tight shaft, he would have to navigate a corner, and thump, he’d hit is knee. And then later with some boys, fighting, thump, the same knee.  

Nobody would know about his knee. Only him. His life, all gone. Nobody paid attention at the time, except him, and even him barely. Life was just lived, like he was living it now. Nothing more to it. And yet, he had spent years trying to reach beyond himself. When meeting people, something always… beyond reach. Friendship, work, partners… never enough.

Its happened again, he thought. He puffed out some air, a wordless expletive.

Nothing will come of it. He was like an old dried leaf, abandoned, discarded, tossed around the street, nowhere to fall, no soil to add itself to the mulch. Just here. Just….


The old man opened his eyes weakly. His breath shallow. He hadn’t eaten for days. His body was numb, his heartbeat like a throbbing ache.

The boy was sitting beside him. His spirit rose, enough for the faintest smile, a slight upturn to the corner of his mouth. His spirit faultered, sadness, his heart rate rose, his breath ragged, and his left breath left him. His chest did not rise, his eyes rolled back relaxed, and he felt himself go, falling to sleep knowing it was for the last time, the anxiety in his body mixed with excitement. A memory, not reviewable, a passage of his spirit had come this way before, in his formation. He did not know it, but it was his awakening during birth, the rise, the fall which accompanied the experience, coming into this world. With excitement, with fear.

The boy whispered beside the old man, rolling a grain between his finger and thumb, breathing over it. It was not the words, for they went unheard. It was a formula which triggered associations in his mind’s eye, a formula he was solving concurrently as the old man passed. The grain between his finger, the seed of a garsu crystal.

The spirit rises, the spirit falls. And between them, there is a note, a spiritual note. The boy had heard this note in the old man. He rolled the garsu crystal in his fingers and held the note of the old man’s spirit, rising, rising, whispering, with tears in his eyes, rising.