I was drinking a pint of beer in a pub, sitting near a window, resting my elbow on the window sill. The view outside the window was calm. The sound of a stream lightly cascading mingled with some willow trees rustling in the breeze.
Someone was walking towards me, I could hear the creaky floorboard behind me. When I turned to look, I saw an old man holding a stick. He was approaching me.
“Would you mind if I join you?” He asked.
I was stunned for a few seconds by the unexpected interruption. After I recollected myself, I replied politely.
“Of course, you can.”
The table had two seats, the old man took the right seat. He sat down and placed his stick against the window sill. He had a bald patch on his head and a few strings of hair hanging across his forehead. From the way he combed his hair, he had certainly put an effort into making it (look tidy). He did not say anything after he sat down, just a warm smile. I expected him to say something as he was the guest who asked me for permission to join my table, so I waited.
However, the smile he gave showed no sign of him starting a conversation. The silence had a sense of awkwardness. He just kept looking at me with his amicable expression. I was searching for words to break the awkward silence.
“The weather is dreary today, but very quiet. It is a nice day to sit near the window and enjoy the view,” I made an attempt to break the silence.
“Yes, young man,” he replied with a smile revealing his teeth.
“How are you today, sir?” I asked. His concise reply left me no choice but to ask the ubiquitous question.
“I am fine, kid. How are you?” he asked. He had a baritone voice, with a tinge of northern accent.
I nodded and gave him a smile out of politeness, trying to conceal the uneasiness from our conversation.
After our brief conversation, he also rested his elbow on the window sill, looking out of the window. The pub was quiet enough for me to hear his breath swishing through his nostril. His high-pointed nose nearly touched the window while he was gazing at the view outside. I was peeping at his contemplative expression. His wrinkled face and glowing blue eyes seemed to reflect a reminiscence of his young adulthood. I did not talk, there was a fleeting moment of tranquility that I did not want to break.
“Young man, do you know how to play cricket?” he asked without moving his head.
“I am sorry, I am afraid this field has not really grabbed me. I understand it is a shame for an Englishman not to understand cricket,” I replied apologetically.
I was never interested in any sports. Even though cricket gradually went out of fashion and was replaced by football in this country, neither of them held my attention since I was a child. However, the chances of someone starting a conversation about cricket and football in this country are high, therefore my lack of knowledge in this field is always accompanied by slight embarrassment.
He turned to me and said:
“Not at all, young man, but when I was your age, everyone worked in the pit played cricket. It is a wonderful sport. I was still playing it at the age of 70,” he raised his eyebrows while he shared his glorious past. I raised my eyebrows, surprised by what he said.
“Now I am just a senile old man,” he chuckled.
“You are certainly not, you look fine,” I replied.
“Thank you very much for your kind words. Yes, I am trying my very best to make use of my time. Now I am into photography, trying to capture every moment that might disappear from my memory,” he replied in an enthusiastic tone especially when he mentioned photography.
He took out his camera from his pocket.
“Would you mind if I leave for a moment to take some photos outside? The scenery here has been quite charming recently.”
He picked up his stick and tied his camera’s strings around his hand. When he stood up from his seat, his legs were shaking. He clearly had some pain in his knees, but his determination was strong enough for him to manage it. He plodded out of the pub with his wooden sticks and camera.
I turned back to the window. He was outside the window, standing near the stream. He leaned the stick against the dry stone wall. The dry stone wall was lower than waist level, so he needed to bow to position the sticks. He held up his camera teetering on his weakened legs, but he managed to find the balance to stop himself from shaking. He stood there and pressed the shutter button.
I watched him there for a couple of minutes. When I came back from the toilet, he had disappeared. I looked through the window and went outside to search for him, worried that he might had fallen. But he was nowhere to be seen. I sat on a bench by the stream and recalled the conversation we had.
It was ephemeral. The memory I had of him was like a thin papyrus floating on the surface of the sea. Soon the papyrus would dissolve into the seawater and be nowhere to be seen.
The old man was chasing his escaped memory while he was talking about cricket with me. His disappearance made me believe that he had surrendered to the vast sea like the papyrus.
I was trying to recollect what had happened just a few minutes ago, but the stream interrupted me, and so did the willow trees. I listened to the water hitting the rocks in the stream, and gazed at the willow trees that were swaying in the air.
Our memories had retreated into the sound that was orchestrated by the surroundings, gradually meandering away into the atmosphere.
Cover image by Z / Unsplash. The copyright of ‘Another Dready Day’ belongs to Wynn Chng.