The Old Man and the C-Word

He was an old man who gambled alone in a pub next to the shops and he had gone eighty-four months now without making a friend. It was a Tuesday, so he needed to visit the bank before commencing his daily routine of playing poker machines and drinking lager until he was sleepy. He left his one bedroom unit and crossed the street. There was a pedestrian crossing nearby but he didn’t use it; he never did. He expected drivers to stop for him no matter where he crossed, and abused them when they didn’t. The short, winding footpath from the street up to the shopping centre car park was lined with blooming levenders, swaying in the wind like a girl twirling her dress for an admirer. Their dancing was wasted on the old man, whose gaze remained downward and mind stewed elsewhere as he walked by. Through the car park he took a direct route towards the bank, once again defying designated crossing zones. He shuffled his way behind a row of cars and then turned to walk between two parked SUVs. As he did so, the front passenger door of one of the vehicles swung open. The old man was startled, and stopped just in time to avoid being hit.

A woman in her twenties got out of the car. The old man looked at her with disdain and unleashed a torrent of abuse, using one word in particular that was most offensive. Perhaps in his younger days the word might have been more commonly used, but that didn’t make it any less degrading. The woman’s eyes widened, she gaped and stood motionless, not sure how to respond. She had only recently arrived in the country, and though she was aware of that word’s existence and occasional use in movies, she had never heard it uttered in real life, let alone been on the receiving end of it. The old man paused his tirade for the woman to offer him an apology, and when it didn’t come he took to questioning her intelligence in the vilest terms he could conceive.

The woman’s husband had heard the old man’s filth from the driver’s seat of the car, and got out ready to defend his wife’s honour—with his fists if necessary. He rushed around the front of the vehicle to the passenger side, fuming. When he saw the old man, he just looked him up and down and shook his head. He closed the car door and held his wife’s hand as they walked over to the shops. The old man’s indignant display had been cut short in the most humiliating fashion: with the shake of a head. He would have preferred the young man to punch him.

The old man was infuriated; he couldn’t understand this disrespect. That wasn’t surprising. For almost eighty years wisdom had offered itself to him, calling out to him, but he had passed it by every time, preferring to be feared. He prided himself on his “toughness”, but had never looked close enough to discern the difference between being tough and just being angry. He refused to change; he wouldn’t give others the satisfaction; they didn’t deserve it. It never occurred to him that change was not to benefit them, but to help himself. So while others he had known developed the wisdom, and sweetness, and love that old age can reward, that old man shrunk further into himself, and drifted further away from others. Steadily his sight dimmed and his strength faded. No one came to him for advice. Nobody looked to him as a role model. In sadly contented bitterness he continued to drink and gamble and brood away his remaining time.



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