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The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories

Old Photos
Lacy Lalonde
Somewhere in the world an old man wakes up. He feels the warmth of the sun shining through the window, and he knows it is morning. He removes the covers from his body, lifts himself up, and sits on the edge of his bed. He runs his hands along his face and picks the sleep out of his closed eyes.

old man

He knows where he is and he knows where everything is, he is okay. The old man rises slowly, leaving the edge of the bed pressed against the back of his  bare legs. He takes a few steps forward and finds the wall of his bedroom, he knows that five steps to the left will take him to the bathroom.

The old man lays out his clothes for the day. He takes great pride in looking his best, he carefully does up each button on his shirt, making sure that they are even and correct. His old hands work slow but efficiently. He runs his hands up and down the front of his shirt to make sure it was done right. He tucks his shirt into his pants, as is customary for the men of his generation. He glides his hands along the rim of his pants, ensuring that the shirt is not bunched up anywhere. When he is done he finds his keys and camera on the table by the door. He feels the back of the camera and slides the latch that opens it up. He places a fresh roll of film in the camera and an extra one is his pocket. Then he heads outside.

It is still early in the morning when the old man steps out his front door. He can feel the cool morning air and wishes he wore a coat. He can hear the vendors setting up shop, putting their goods on display. Soon this street will be noisy and full of people, but now it is calm and roomy. The old man stretches out his hands as he walks down the road feeling the absence of people and objects. He walks straight, one foot in front of the other. He doesn’t know where he will go and that makes him feel good, like he is on an adventure. It reminds him of when he was a boy, running through the market places in the busy cities of Japan. He listens to the chatter of the vendors and early morning shoppers. He lifts up his camera and snaps a shot of the things that lie in front of him, click, and to both sides of him, click click. With each shot, the old man would stop and wait for the camera to spew out the photo, which he would stuff into his pocket. Every now and then he gives a greeting to a familiar voice. He has a good ear for voices. The old man is a regular site through these streets, and well liked. The Japanese are very respectful of their elders and some are overly generous to the old man with the camera, shoving goodies and food into his hands.

The old man would venture for a few hours. Snapping his camera at random times, click, or in the direction of an interesting sound, click. Eventually he would get lost, as he never kept track of where he went, whether he took a left or a right or two lefts and then one right. Sometimes he could find his way back by himself. But usually he would have to stop and ask directions. People would lead him into the direction that he should go and along the way the old man would keep asking for directions, to ensure that he was on the right track back to his house. 
He always knew when he was on his street. The road was different than most. It was made of cobblestones. It rose slightly, so he could always tell which way he would be approaching his door. On this day, the road drew down, he would be coming to his door from the east. When he thought he might be close, he would feel along the front of the houses. He knew he was close if he hit a fence. He knew was home when he felt his mail box. It was made into the shape of a rabbit. When he had mail, the ears would go up and rabbit would let out a sound, notifying the old man. His daughter had the mailbox made especially for him.

Once inside the old man removed his camera from around his neck and set it on the table with his keys. He found his favorite chair tucked in the corner of the living room and sat down. His feet were sore from the walk, but the old man felt great. He enjoyed his daily walks, taking all those photos, being able to capture the world in a photo. It is a special thing for someone late in life to feel excited again. He dreaded the day when he would not be able to do it any more or be too old to take care of himself and have to rely on others. He hoped that would not happen for a while. The more photos he took each day, the more he documented his life, and more importantly, the greater the legacy he would leave behind. When you are close to the end, you want to be remembered.

The old man had a daughter who had a son. They visited him every day for supper. His daughter would cook and he would get to spend time with his grandson. His grandson was a good boy with a good heart who often had to humor his grandfather the way grandsons some time have to. As the boy got older he had learned not to be afraid of the scars on his grandfather’s face and neck, that they were not going to hurt him in some way. Every visit was the same, but the boy did not mind all that much. He would help his mom set up for supper, and then he would sit on the floor in front of his grandfather in his favourite chair. They would chat together for a while. The boy still found it strange talking to someone who did not look at you, even though he knew his grandfather could not. His grandfather would turn his face to the direction of the boy but he had no eyes to make contact with. He would study the burns on his grandfather’s body and would want to ask him about them. About the war, about him being a soldier, about the bomb. He knew only what his mom had told him, that his grandfather had been a soldier in the second World War, and that he had been stationed in Nagasaki when the United States dropped the second atomic bomb. As a result, his grandfather received severe burns on his neck, back and part of his face from the thermal radiation, which also caused his eye balls to melt out of his head. The boy wanted to know what his grandfather remembered, if he had felt a lot of pain, if he ever got sad about not being able to see anymore.

It sounded terrible, the scars and empty eye sockets looked terrible, and he imagined that it would have been very painful. But the boy could never ask his grandfather those things, he seemed happy, and the boy didnt want to ruin that. Instead he would watch, as he always did, his grandfather dig into his pocket and pull out a the handful of Polaroid photos that he had taken that day. The boy would take the photos, being careful not to disturb the order. He would  then go through each photo and describe them to his grandfather. The first few photos were usually all the same, early morning vendors setting up shop, a shot of a side of a blue house, cobblestones and part of a curb. The old man would now get to see all the people and shops and houses that he had walked past that day. The old man knew  he would never see again, but he still wanted too, and this was the only way he could think to do it. He wanted to know about all the pictures he had taken, in the greatest detail. He wanted to know what colour the cart was, or the dog or the houses. He wanted to know whether the people were fat or if any were particularly beautiful. Sometimes there would be a photo of someone giving his Grandfather an obscene gesture or shielding their face from the camera. The boy would just describe the surrounding scene, leaving out the parts he knew would not make his Grandfather happy. On more than one occasion his Grandfather handed him a pile of black photos. The old man hadn’t put in the film correctly, or had let them get exposed too soon. The boy would have to make up things to describe to his Grandfather, not wanting to tell him the truth. When he had finished describing all the photos, the boy would put them in an envelope and write the date on it, and put the envelop in a box with other envelopes of days past. Every time the boy would wonder how many more times he would do this, and what would they would do with all those photos after his grandfather had died.
© Lacy Lalonde April 2011

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