There is an old man who stands guard at an intersection where a neighborhood road ends and turns onto the main street and every morning I pass him on my way to work. He wears a blue jumpsuit and a crossing guard vest and carries an orange baton, which he holds behind his back.
He’s a small man, short and stocky, and he stands with a slight hunch. His face is aged, lined with deep wrinkles that have set into his forehead and the outer corners of his eyes. He has a drooping face, wearied with time, but it’s gentle too and when he smiles his smile stretches into his cheeks, his eyelids turn upwards at the edges, and he looks almost like a little boy – a boy at the park, or at an ice cream shop, holding his mother’s hand.
In the span of several seconds, I approach the intersection where he stands, watch him greet the people passing – high school students on their bicycles, pedestrians walking their dogs – and then I pass him, smile, and he bows his head to me, smiles back, says good morning. Sometimes he’ll say “take care.”
One of these days, I want to stop. I want to pause at the intersection and ask him his name, where he’s from. I want to offer him a cool bottle of tea because it’s getting warmer out and ask him for his story – where did you grow up? what was your childhood like, your adolescence? who did you want to be? who did you become?
Maybe he’ll tell me that he was raised on a vegetable farm in a tiny village in Akita Prefecture, or Kumamoto, someplace far from the city. His father owned the farm and worked it himself and sometimes after school he – the old man – would help his father lay fertilizer, pick weeds, harvest the crops – turnips, eggplants, radishes. Sometimes when the harvest was good his father would bring in basketfuls of fresh radishes and his mother would simmer them in soy sauce and to this day he’s never had radishes as delicious as his father’s.
But for now he is the old man at the intersection and he is my favorite thing about the morning.