The elderly man that sleeps in a clearing among the trees a couple of stones throw away from our home must have an interesting life. His name is Keith, he is tall and slim, balding, walks barefoot most of the time, yet walks with a strong upright stride, never feeling the sharp stones or prickles that may be trodden on along the way.
He has chosen to live away from relatives. out in the open instead, away from the crowds, and embrace freedom his way. It is not a life the world would understand. He wears ragged clothes, selects from the spoils of garbage, may not talk for days, he is his own best friend. He gets barked at by neigbourhood dogs, talked about for leaving garbage around and ridiculed by those who do not understand his way of life. He does a lot of walking.
He has been in the same spot for over 25 years. Sometimes he disappears for weeks, then reappears, maybe shaven, fed and with fresh clothes. Usually in the rainy season, but I can’t be sure. He may hibernate then. Or he may be sick and nobody knows.
Keith has benefited from gifts from the passing food van lady, or from residents bringing him food, and he gets water from one of the ridge top garden taps during the night. I should not begrudge him that. He is seen wearing many varying shirts of different colours and sizes, some newish, but many old. Trousers in the cooler 20 degree C “winters” and shorts in the summer.
I am often convicted when I walk my dogs past his humble abode, and glance through the trees towards the clearing. I wonder, should I be doing more? He has only ever asked for Vicks and cokes. Vicks is for the right eye that he does not have, but I never give him that, instead I may clean the area gently with a cotton ball and water, and put a patch over it. I have not done that for a long time though.
Is my own vision faulty? Do I myself act like I have just a single eye? Explaining away to myself why the Vicks would not be good for his eye and yet not inviting him in for a shower and a warm drink of Milo, or better yet, an ice cold coke?
This morning while I walked and the dogs made noise up ahead, I knew it was the ‘Keith bark’; I found him sitting on the grass outside the entrance to his home putting on a new pair of sneakers. They were a perfect fit, and as I studied him, I may have detected a quiet understanding between us, a whispering that he is okay, don’t worry. Did I imagine it? Praying not.
Walk on, with or without your shoes.