“Okay, I will stay, but don’t try anything funny with me I can look after myself old man,” she warned him sitting back at the table for two. He nodded and smiled again before moving over to make tea. “Tea,” he asked her?
“What kind?” she enquired. It was years since she had drunk much of anything except water.
“Honey tea, it’s a rare brew, I have never met anyone who didn’t like it.” He said picking up a kettle he hadn’t boiled and pouring steaming tea into two cups. He brought the cups over to the table and carefully placed one before each of them. Again he looked at her this time the smile was in his eyes instead of on his face.
“You said you had a story for me, but how can that be when we only just met?” V asked him then she took a small single sip of her tea. The warmth running down her throat to settle with a tingle in her tummy.
“Wow this is good tea,” she told him looking at him waiting for her answer.
“Yes I have a story for you, just for you and I had hoped I would find you in time to tell it to you.”
“What do you mean find me, and what do you mean in time to tell you?”
He looked her straight in the eye so she would know he wasn’t lying and proceeded on.
“First I must tell you that I am days away from dying…”
“What are you dying from and why are you telling me this?” said V a little concerned and a little curious.
“I am dying from the good death of old age. The most anyone can hope for is to live a long healthy life and that is what I have done. Now the story, it’s like no other story. It has consequences so I need to know are you willing to hear a story that will change your life forever more.”
V broke his gaze and looked into the fire for a moment giving her a chance to take it all in. Though she didn’t know the old man she didn’t like the thought of him dying and especially here alone. She didn’t really think this story would change her life except maybe her outlook or something. But she took the time to look at her simple life of survival and knew she had nothing to lose. So instead of going back to her own cold frozen world she stayed with the old man in his little warm house and sipped deeply on honey tea. The combination of the fire and tea had her warm inside and out and she turned back to the old man and nodded her head before she said.
“Okay tell me this story, I am willing for my life to change.” She took another sip of the warm liquid.
“Okay good, good, now where to start and how to begin. First let’s talk about my death it will be a day from now and I will pass in my sleep, so don’t fret for me child.” V was listening his voice quite soothing over the crackle of the fire, until he called her child that is.
“What is this child business… I am a young adult of seventeen.” She interrupted.
“Compared to me you are a child but that makes you no less capable human being as you have already showed tonight.” He said shrugging his shoulders and ending with a smile.
“Now may I continue as I was saying, where is the perfect point to start with?” he asked himself out loud. V again saw a flash from her peripheral vision and could have sworn the old tea-pot moved for a second. It was strange there was nothing for the light to reflect off that could have caused the flash and tea-pots don’t move on their own. She put it down to tricks of the fire light playing round the room and turned back to the old man. Who was again watching her, the same smile on his lips’.
“Okay, okay, I know, I know,” he said like he was talking to someone other than her.
“Now are you settled and ready for a story like no other?” Silhouetted by the fire he didn't wait for her reply. V watched the fire light play on his life worn features and wondered at their strange meeting and how she came to be sitting in his house on a snowy cold night. She found she wanted to hear this story and know more about the old man she had only an hour ago pulled from a foot deep snow.
“Once upon a time, no, no that’s not how I want to start, this isn’t a fairytale, well, I suppose it is but its real not make-believe. So let me try again...” he cleared his throat his eyes still on the fire.
“A long time ago, say sixty years ago, there was a young man who loved nothing but to travel the world. To see as many places as he could before he would settle down and take a wife. He had always been the good son writing and sending home parcels with presents from exotic places to his family. This young man was good where it counted, his parent’s had brought him up well. The young man however was untried and untested and so he neither knew of his own depths nor that he was pure of heart. He never saw himself as anyone except his parent’s child, a normal everyday dime a dozen kind of person. So the young man went through life never ever being aware of his own oncoming destiny or the special role he would play in keeping balance in the world. He didn’t think he was special so why would he ever consider for a moment his life would be anything other than normal. The young man turned twenty-three just four days before his life would be changed forever. He was in Singapore in the slum streets on his way back from market and he had gotten lost finding himself in the slum district. All of a sudden there were cries of help from up a head. He could see smoke billowing from the roof of one of the makeshift buildings that made up the slum. The young man’s feet started running to try to help and when he arrived the back part of the building was on fire.
“There’s a man in there, he hasn’t come out he is in there, the old man he is still inside,” she said clutching at him as she spewed forth the words.
It didn’t even take a second the young man put down his backpack beside the hysterical woman pulled his t-shirt up over his nose and mouth. Then headed into the smoke and fire riddled building in search of the old man. The first room was empty and he kicked the door to the next room down. He found the old man coughing in the corner just shy of the growing flames. The young man jumped over a line of fire and grabbed the older man slinging him up across his shoulders preparing to jump back to the other side. For a minute the smoke in his eyes makes it hard to see and know which way was back. Then he saw a little flash and decided that was the direction to go. He took a leap this time and made it barely, all the while the flames were licking up the walls and crackling in the ceiling above them. It took him a second but he found the door and was back in the front room. Which was now more than half a light, though there was still a clear pathway to the door. Smoke threatened to overwhelm him and he began to waver, the old man suddenly heavier than before weighed down on him. He was starting to struggle and had to dig deeper than ever before to get the old man and himself to, then out of the shacks front door and into the smoke ridden night. They were both coughing and to his relief he saw a chain of people bucket water to put out the flames. No ambulances came, not to the slums. No fireman came they just did it all themselves and the sense of community expanded around the young man as they fussed over them both. People he didn’t know washed down his face, dressed and bandaged the burns he didn’t even realise he had on his hands. The older man miraculously didn’t have any burns not a one, and had stopped coughing but still wasn’t standing up yet. People were talking to the young man but he couldn’t hear them and when he didn’t respond they realised he had gone into shock. A rather large shot of brandy was literally poured down his throat. The liquid burned its way through the young man’s daze as it’s heat lit up his insides. He shook his head a couple of times and finally speaking.
“Is he alright?” he asked nodding in the older man’s direction
“Yes, yes, he be okay because of you, you are a hero!” Said the now calm before hysterical woman he had first seen when he reached the scene.
“Anyone would have run in and helped,” said the young man trying to shrug off the praise and title that was too big for him.
“No, no, you brave young man, very, very, brave,” she said to him offering him a blanket.
He went to say no shaking his head and she wrapped him in it anyway. The young man remained where he was and took in the humming scene around him. Not only had the people put out the fire they were now replacing the burnt bits of his hut with scrap metal from all the surrounding buildings. Right before his eyes they were rebuilding the old man’s shack. It took them about twenty minutes if his time guess was right. Even the doors were fixed, the young man felt kind of guilty for kicking down the other door in his rush to save the old man’s life. A couple of old camping cots appeared from nowhere. Women with buckets and rags began to clean the soot from the grimy surfaces. Another fifteen busy minutes passed before the people declared the old man’s shack habitable again. The young man thought it was time to rise and be on his way but the people had other ideas. They took him inside the newly restored shack and sat him in a chair by a small pot fire. The older man sat in a matching chair faced like his at the fire in the small burning pot. Their eyes met and though the old man said nothing it was written clearly in his eyes he was grateful. There was a hint of something else in the old man’s eyes but the young man was not wise enough to recognise it. Had he been able to read it maybe he might have run. He couldn’t so the moment passed and the women fussing over them feed them broth and watched on carefully as they swallowed down honey tea. The women that weren’t watching them fussed round the place putting everything back in its spot. The cot’s could be seen in the second room through the open doorway were made up with sheets, pillow and blanket. The young man felt a deep warmth, spreading throughout him and he tried to rouse himself so he could make the trip home. He reluctantly went to rise but the old man finally spoke and said a clear “No stay, Pedro, we have much to discuss.” It startled the younger man when he said his name, he couldn’t remember telling anyone his name. It sounded an alarm bell in him and he decided again to leave. “Please,” said the old man “I have nought to give you this moment but a story that will change your life. Will you stay and hear it?”
V’s eyes were heavy, her limbs comfortable and liquid like, she struggled against sleep not wanting to miss any of the story. The old man stopped his story eyeing V.
“Enough girl, go to bed, we will go on with my story tomorrow.”
It took another couple of minutes for V shake off the sleepiness in her body and mind. She had to replay his words in her head till they made sense.
“What about you? Where are you going to sleep if I am in your bed?”
“I will sleep in the rocking chair but I am not sure I will sleep this last night. There will be time to rest when I die. Till then I have things to do so off to bed with you.”
V rose and made her way over to the bed in the corner,
“Just pull on the curtain and you will have privacy and I will see you in the morning.”
“For more story, right?” V asked him. She hadn’t thought she would be so interested in some old man she hardly knew’s tale, but in truth she was quite caught up in the story.
“Yes, V, for more story. I need to tell you till its end. Sweet and splendid dreams.”
V yawned gave him a last wave pulling down the curtain and creating her own little room. Which was mostly bed but it felt like a little slice of heaven for V who hadn’t slept in a bed for nigh on four years. She didn’t count the cots in the shelters as beds. This was a real bed, a queen size she thought as she spread out her arms and legs. She had stripped down to her long johns and was now sandwiched between sheets and fluffy blanket. Warm, cosy, sleep...snore.