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The Old Man and his memories (a short story – 1331 words)

Authors Note: After building the little MOC “Don’t go chasing waterfalls” I built something a little larger. I wanted to write a story that worked with it – I hope you enjoy it.

2015-04-05 09.27.00

The old man walked carefully over the rocks as he climbed and stepped down to the cliff edge. His bamboo sandals were well worn from years of constant use, but they fitted better than the most expensive shoes he had ever owned. But his body, his feet, had shrunk over the years and whilst comfortable the sandals were now loose, posing a further challenge. But he did this every day, to sit amongst the rocks, listening to water as it tumbled over the rock face and splash down below, into the clear pool that carried all the hectic jumble of water froth that was so prevalent in the water’s descent. Here, the old man could sit and meditate – or concentrate to remember when he was younger, when he had more vigour, when… well, when he didn’t see the point in just sitting and remembering.
Jin watched the old man from the top of the edge. The old man was one of the older teachers in his school and was referred to as Sir, Sensei or Master depending upon whom it was who was addressing him. For Jin though, he was the old man that walked slowly along the corridors muttering to himself. He’d never seen the old man actually teach anyone anything – it was as if the school had kept him on because they felt it would be too hard on him to just retire him. He lived in the school grounds and although his accommodation was small it seemed to satisfy the old man – after all, no-one had ever seen him in jeans, or using a mobile phone!
“Are you spying on me, boy?” asked the old man – and Jin felt the colour drain from his face, before flooding back, making him blush.
“Err, no sir?” he replied – playing that game where everyone knows that you’ve been caught, but hope you can bluff your way out of it.”
“No matter – you can help me back up. It’s a little windy and some of these rocks are a little more slippery than I’m used to.”
Jin helped the old man back up to the top – then thanked the old man for letting him help him. He wasn’t really sure why he did that, but something about the old man sparked something that made Jin feel that he had provided help.
“What’s your name, boy?” asked the old man.
“Jin, Sir… Sensei… master…” said Jin.
“You’ve been watching me a lot, haven’t you? You think because I’m old that I can’t get down those rocks without slipping and falling?”
“No sir… but you did look a little … err… less stable.”
The old man smiled.
“I tell you what, Jin” said the old man. “At 11am on a Tuesday morning I like to drink a bowl of water down there. Why don’t you bring a bowl of water and join me tomorrow?”
Jin agreed. The old man waved him away and Jin ran off to his classes. At lunch he tracked down his teacher for the next day and explained what the old man had said. The teacher smiled, nodded and agreed, adding the words “make sure you take a full bowl of water with you.”
The next day, Jin saw the old man sat amongst the rocks. There in front of him was a bowl of water – full to the brim, so clearly not one drop had been spilled. Jin poured the bottle of water into his bowl and set off. As soon as his foot stood on the first rock, some splashed out – this continued all the way. Before he had got six steps down, Jin’s bowl was empty. When he finally got down to the old man, he was holding his bowl loosely.
“Where’s your water?” asked the old man. Jin pointed back up the cliff side. The old man nodded.
“Yes, that happens” he said. “Happens to me a lot these days too. I used to be able to carry it all the way down without spilling a drop – but that took a lot of training. Even now” – and his hands moved beneath his robe – “I carry a water bottle with me. I’m surprised that you didn’t do that, Jin.”
Jin felt a little foolish – he’d just assumed that this was the lesson he was to be taught.
They sat and quietly for a while as the old man drank his water. Eventually he finished and Jin helped him back up. “Same time next week?” asked the old man. Jin agreed.
Over time, Jin became better at carrying the bowl of water down the steps. He always had a bottle of water with him, but eventually he realised he was carrying it for no purpose at all. As they sat, the old man introduced Jin to meditation, calm and clear thinking.
One time though, the old man turned to Jin and asked him if he was taking carpentry. Jin shook his head. “That’s a shame” said the old man. “I rather hoped that you would build me something that I could use to provide a platform for my memories.” But rather than just shrug, Jin replied “I will go to the carpentry teacher and learn. It will be my pleasure.”
So Jin found the carpentry teacher and learned how to make a cabinet. He learned how to fix the wood together without the use of screws and glue and the final result was a cabinet to be proud of. Jin took it round to the old man’s room and presented it to him. But the old man’s room was small – and there was no space for the cabinet – even though it was very slim. Plus of course, apart from a couple of books the old man had no trinkets to put on the cabinet.
Jin was confused and decided to go back to the carpentry teacher and ask. The carpentry teacher just shrugged and said “well the old man is getting on a bit.” Jin wasn’t happy with the response, so sought out his first teacher.
“Where were you when he asked you for the construction?”
“We were the cliff edge” replied Jin.
“So… do you think it could be something for that spot?”
“Oh…” said Jin – and suddenly he understood.
Jin took the carpentry teacher to the cliff edge and explained what he needed to do. The carpentry teacher then spoke to the principle and between them all; they built a wooden stairway down to a newly built wooden platform – all within a few days.
At 11 am on Tuesday morning, the old man left his room and made his way to the cliff edge. Jin was waiting there with him, along with many of the older teachers and the principle.
“I’ve built you a platform for your memories” said Jin. “I hope it will take them all.”
The old man smiled and nodded. His eyes, pale as they were, now danced with reflections as the filled with happy tears. He took each step slowly, carefully, and with reverence as he made his way down to the wooden platform that overlooked the water pool.
“We have also made you a small stool that you can leave down here along with a table that you can rest your water bowl on.”
No one had seen the old man smile as much as on that one day. As he sat, looking over the waterfalls, he turned to Jin.
“Do you have a stool?” he asked.
“Not yet” said Jin. “You haven’t asked me for one.”
The old man smiled and nodded. “Then I will need a second stool” he said with a smile.
All the assembled guests went back to their jobs and chores and the old man and Jin sat on the wooden platform.
Jin realised that sometimes, the greatest lessons that anyone can learn are those we teach ourselves and the greatest teachers are those that show us where to look for those lessons. And he smiled.

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