Tommy’s eyes opened.
He knew it was the middle of the night, or early morning, but he was afraid to look at the clock, for fear of seeing the hour.
At least I didn’t remember my dreams, he thought. I’m grateful for that.
As soon as the word ‘grateful’ came into his head, he realised that he was awake and had not yet said his prayers.
He was afraid of what his mother would think, God rest her, and knelt by his bed and prayed. Then he looked at the clock.
That’s desperate, he thought.
He dressed and made himself tea, and waited for the sun.
At sunrise, he went out.
Everyday, off to the same pub to have another cup of tea, and read the newspaper. You have to know what’s going on in the world, he told himself. But he was always afraid of reading the paper for fear of what he’d see; things had changed so much, and so quickly.
“Hey there, Tommy,” the barman said. “Cold enough, ain’t it?”
“Will you want something stronger than tea to warm you?”
“No thanks. Swore it off years ago.”
Same conversation, everyday.
One of the things that he missed the most was sitting on a bench outside the play park, watching the kids; it made him happy in a way; but times being what they are, he couldn’t find fault with mothers being concerned about a strange man watching their children play; he was afraid of being labelled as one of those sick people he’d read about in the papers, the ones who did terrible things to children. Still, he walked by the park on his daily stroll; eyes front.
“Hey! Tommy! Tommy! Over here!”, the kids would shout.
He just kept walking.
A little girl crossed his path and said, “My name’s Emily. What’s your name?
“You shouldn’t talk to strangers,” Tommy said, and walked on by her.
He looked over his shoulder and saw a hurt look on her face.
And he kept walking, just as he always did. He walked all day, until near nightfall, and then went back to his flat.
He knew he should eat, but wasn’t hungry, so he made some more tea and read the paper again.
Soon, he fell asleep.
He bolted awake when he realised he hadn’t prayed that night, but just as he was beginning the rosary, he heard a knock at his door.
And he became afraid. No one ever came to visit; there was no one to come and visit, not anymore.
But he opened the door.
Standing there was a smiling young man; he looked remarkably familiar to Tommy.
“Do I know you? I recognise your face, but I can’t seem to remember your name.”
“Yes, we knew each other, a long time ago. Remember?”
Vague memories came to Tommy’s mind; bits of unidentifiable debris washed ashore by the tide; interesting things, riddles not to be solved.
“I do remember you!”, Tommy said. “My God, you haven’t aged a day!”
“No, I haven’t,” the visitor replied, still smiling. “Care to go out for a bit?”
Tommy was afraid again, and confused.
“A stretch, that’s all. It’s much warmer outside than it was this morning. A walk might help you sleep.”
Tommy’s visitor went out first, and Tommy followed. He didn’t bother to lock his door.
On the way downstairs he began to notice things; the scent of damp plaster; it smelled lovely; the chipped green paint on the rails of the stairs; so beautiful, he thought. Such a little thing.
Outside, the air was fresh and clean, the streets purified by rain and shining from the street lamps.
“Where are we going?”, Tommy asked the young man.
“That depends. Are you still afraid?”
Tommy smiled. He’d forgotten what it was like to smile; it felt like a sunrise in his heart.
“No, I’m not. There was never anything to be afraid of, was there?”
The visitor smiled back. “Only one thing. But you don’t have to be afraid of that anymore. You can have a look back, if you’d like.”
Tommy looked up at the window of his flat and saw himself standing there, looking down into the street. He waved. The figure in the window did not wave back.
Silly, he thought. Who waves goodbye to themselves? And why would anyone wave back?
“So,” he said, still smiling, “where shall we go?”
“Forward,” said the young man. “There’s nowhere else to go.”
Tommy’s eyes opened.