The Ancient One
Here he came again, the same disheveled ancient gentleman. Every day just as the local office workers and shop keepers left the park and drug themselves back to cubicles, desks or cash registers. He would slowly amble into the park carrying the days folded newspaper under his arm and sit on the same bench for hours.
This had been happening for the last year. No one knew where he came from or where he lived. The old man was clean shaven even though his scraggly white hair showed from under the old fedora he always wore. His definitely out of style clothes were always clean if not freshly pressed. The oxfords he wore were well heeled and freshly polished but almost worn out. He himself was slight of build with wrinkled skin and the steel grey eyes had dulled with either age or mileage.
The Ancient one would sit on the bench, put on his spectacles and read the paper, work the puzzles and peruse the ads until the young mothers brought their young charges to play in the beautiful green park for a while. Then he would put the paper on the bench beside him and watch the children play. Later as the teenagers would start to roam around in their little groups or play football out in the grass the mothers with smaller children would start to disappear one by one until only the older ones and by now some adults were left. That was always when the old man would get up from his seat take his paper and put it in a garbage can and leave the park for the day.
After about the first week the park maintenance man had come over and asked who he was. He could tell that the man wasn’t a bum and wasn’t sleeping there but he was concerned as to why he kept coming back every day. A few days later the local foot patrolman had stopped and asked the man some questions, looked at his identification and decided that there was no reason to be suspicious. Just a lonely old man with nothing to do or friends to be with he had surmised.
Finally the ancient old man had become such a fixture on the bench that most people didn’t even pay him any attention any longer. Not that most of them ever had any way; most had acted like he was invisible. No one ever stopped or asked if they could join him and no one ever inquired as to whom he was or did he need anything.
The park wildlife though had grown so accustomed to his solitary, quiet, still presence that the birds would walk right around at his feet and the squirrels would come onto the bench close to him. That was when he started to bring seeds for his friends to snack on while he sat there. You could always see some doves and pigeons standing around at his feet pecking on whatever he threw out and the squirrels would eat right off the bench at his side, a few would even eat seeds from his hands. This only made the small children more interested in watching him and some of their mothers a little uneasy until even they stopped worrying about an old foul feeding birds and squirrels alone in the park every day.
Once a few months back the patrolman noticed that the old man almost came out of his seat when there was a commotion over at the playground when one of the little girls had fallen down, scraped her knee and started crying. But her mother had gotten to her almost immediately soothed her crying by holding her in her arms and the old man had never made it completely up before he leaned back onto his bench again.
A few times some of the children would get closer to him while playing chase or some game and one or the other of them would smile or wave hello. The old man would always wave back or smile and then the little ones would go right back to playing. But usually he would just sit and watch until the mothers with small children left the park and then he would walk out of the park until the next day.
Today was like any other or at least it started out that way. The ancient one came in and sat down in his usual seat. Then he opened the newspaper and started to read. Around middle of the afternoon the young mothers started showing up with the little children and the old one put his paper down folded up on the bench beside himself.
After about an hour one little girl with dark long curls came over and walked up to the bench and sat down beside the old man. She looked up at him and smiled, as he looked back at her he smiled back.
“Are the birds your friends?” She asked?
“Yes they are. Do you like birds?” He asked back?
“I don’t know I have never played with them before. I think they are fun to watch. They all seem to like you.” She said.
“I suppose, you are not going to get into trouble with your mother are you for talking to a stranger?” He asked her?
“I don’t think you are a stranger are you. I have seen you here for a long time. My name is Angela; mama calls me her little angel. What is your name?” She asked him?
“My name is Charles, but most people call me Chaz. You can call me that if you want.” He told her.
“Okay, I will call you Mr. Chaz, is that okay?” she asked him smiling broadly?
“You bet, Do you want to throw down some food for the birds?” he asked her offering her the little bag of seeds he had brought.
“Yes I would, can I for real?” she said almost giggling with pleasure.
“Sure you can here.” He said as she took the bag and leaned over drop some of the seeds on the sidewalk in front of them.
“Why did you come over here today, Angela?” Chaz asked her?
“Oh some of my friends were playing a game I don’t like and I was getting bored. You don’t mind do you?” she said and asked all at once. Her thoughts on watching the birds feed.
Mr. Chaz looked up and saw Angela’s mother was still busy with her smaller son and had not noticed that Angela was not still with her friends yet.
“Angela would you do me a really big favor?” Mr. Chaz asked her?
“Okay if I can.” Angela answered him still watching the birds.
“Would you take this letter to your mother please. She will know what to do with it. I wrote it for your daddy to read.” He told her as he took a sealed envelope out of his shirt and handed it to her.
“My daddy has been gone for a long time. Mama said he should be home soon now. I hope so I miss him an awful lot.” Angela told him taking the letter in her hand. A squirrel had come down a nearby tree and was sitting on the edge of the bench now and Angela was looking at it.
“Thank you I appreciate it very much. You’re a very nice little girl.” Mr. Chaz said sounding quite tired.
Angela had become even more interested in the birds pecking around on the ground below her feet and the squirrel on the bench close to her. She had asked the old man about the squirrel twice then but he had not answered. As she turned to look at him she saw that a very nice looking elderly woman was standing in front of her and Mr. Chaz. Angela had not heard her walk up.
“Hello my name is Angela, he is Mr. Chaz.” Angela told her.
“Hello Angela, I know Mr. Chaz, as you call him. I am his wife and my name is Angela too.” The lady said to her.
“I have never seen you before; Mr. Chaz did not say he was married. I have never met anyone else with my name. I said something to him but he didn’t answer, is he asleep?” She told her and asked after.
“I have been gone a long time waiting for him. Yes he is tired and resting. Do you like him?” The lady asked her.
“Yes I do he is a really nice man. He likes the animals here and they like him.” Angela told her.
“Honey do you know who that is walking up to your mama over there?” The older Angela asked?
“That is my Daddy he is home. Goodbye, please tell Mr. Chaz I will see him later. Thank you.” Angela said as she jumped down from the bench and ran over to where her mama was with her little brother. Her daddy was now standing there with her little brother in crook of his right arm and his other arm around her mother’s waist. “Daddy here I am, daddy, I am coming daddy. I am so glad your home.” She was yelling as she ran across the park.
.The older Angela looked down at her husband and smiled. But looking over at the loving scene where little Angela now was she turned back to the old man with a smile on her face.
“He is home Chaz it is time to go.”
Opening his eyes and getting up from the bench He smiled at his wife of many years. “Yes honey I am ready, I have missed you for five years and everything is done now. Are David and Pearl with?”
“Yes dear they are. They are waiting over there at the edge of the park. They didn’t want to frighten little Angela she had met both of them before, even though it was a long time ago and she was so small we were afraid she might recognize them and get scared.” She told him.
“That sounds like it was a good idea. I’ll be happy to see them.” He told his wife as they started walking in the direction of the other two he now saw standing at the edge of the park area.
Little Angela was now getting a big hug from her daddy. He was standing there still in his uniform. When he had got to their home, he read a note Angela’s mother had left on the kitchen counter for him, just in case he came home while they were away at the park and walked right over to find his family without changing his clothes first.
“What is that you have in your hand my little angel?” Angela’s father asked her?
“Oh, I forgot. That nice man on the bench Mr. Chaz gave this to me a few minutes ago to give to you Mama. He said he wrote it to Daddy but you would know what to do with it.” Angela told her mother as she handed her the envelope.
“Who is this Mr. Chaz angel?” Her father asked her?
“He is that nice old man who sits on that bench over there every day when we are here. He feeds the birds and squirrels. He waves back when we wave at him too.” Angel was telling her dad just before her mother interrupted.
“Honey this envelope is addressed to you. But there was no address or return address on it.” Angela’s mother told her father as she handed him the letter.
Angela’s dad took the letter his wife offered him. Looking down at it he saw she was right it was just his name written on the outside. He looked up at her then over where his daughter had pointed to where there appeared to be a very elderly man napping on a park bench. He was sitting up but rather slumped like he was sleeping. So he opened the letter as he looked back toward his wife quizzically. After unfolding the single sheet of paper inside he read this.
If you are reading this then I have passed on to join your grandmother. I got here right after you left for your duty overseas. You have a very wonderful little family. I have been watching them for you but didn’t let them know who I was until you would come home.
At the bottom of this is the name and numbers for my lawyer. He knows my funeral arrangements and what to do about my will and settling all my accounts. So you don’t have to worry about that.
Your grandmother and I are very proud of you, just as your mother and father are. Remember grandson we all love you very much.
Angela’s father looked up from the letter tears in his eyes. He looked at his wife handing her the letter and then turned in the direction of the park bench and looked at the sleeping old man.
“Chuck, how is this possible we haven’t heard from him since your mother and father died in that car accident when they were hit by that drunk driver three years ago?” His wife asked as she finished reading the letter as well?
“I know, that was just as two years after you had Angela on the same day my grandmother passed away. I thought he probably died and we just didn’t get notified.” Chuck said to her.
Chuck, his wife holding their young son and Angela started walking toward the park bench. When they got there Chuck leaned over to try and wake his grandfather. But before he could do so Angela was saying something to him and he turned to look at her.
“Daddy he is not here anymore.” She said to him.
“What are you talking about angel he is sitting right here in front of us.” Her father said but before he could turn around she spoke again.
“I know Daddy but he is not there. He got up and walked away with that nice wife of his who came up just before you got here. She said she had been waiting on him for a long time. I liked her too she seemed really nice and this is the first time I ever saw her come to get him.” She told her father.
“But angel he is…” her father started to say.
“It’s okay they haven’t gone quite yet they are all over there in front of the trees watching us. See turn around and look over there daddy.” Angela pointed to the trees at the side of the park.
Chuck looked up and to where she pointed and there just in front of the trees stood his grandfather, grandmother and parents. All of them were smiling at him. They all gave him a goodbye wave and then disappeared into the trees his grandparents walking hand in hand and his parents beside them.
“Chuck what are you and Angela looking at?” his wife asked looking toward the trees where her husband and daughter were looking. But she could see nothing but the beautiful trees.
“Us sweetheart, a very long time in the future. We will never be alone my love, none of us will ever be alone we are too well loved.” He told her.
A week later they were at his grandfather’s funeral and wept as he was buried next to his wife of many years.