When John volunteered to spend time with inmates of an old folks’ Home, the administrator, Matt, assigned him to ‘mentor’ a group of elderly men – to keep them occupied with activities.

Unlike most of the other residents, Mr Charles was bubbly and brimmed with life. He claimed to be about ninety-five years old. His limbs withered and weak, he moved about in a well-worn wheelchair.

Whenever John appeared, Mr Charles’ eyes lit up and he would regale the young man with tales. Often it was a monologue, with John reduced to making polite sounds and nods. The old man’s descriptions were vivid, the events lived and always in the first person.

Listening to Mr Charles, John could not help but wonder at the active and vital life the old man had lived. As the weeks slipped by, John realised that he would never get to travel to half the places the old man had seen or enjoy the thrills and adventures of the yesteryears.

Then, it happened that John had to leave on an extended business trip and upon his return, was distraught to learn of Mr Charles’ death.

Matt had a bittersweet surprise. Apparently, Mr Charles who had no known relatives had bequeathed to John his earthly treasures – his books, which numbered a few thousand.

“Well, at least he lived a good life, filled with marvellous adventures.”

“Oh, you didn’t really believe all that did you?” Matt remarked.

“Sorry?”

“Didn’t you know? He was born a cripple. After his parents died about seventy years ago, he ended up here. Spent all his life reading those books.”

They held one another’s eyes for a few moments before Matt patted John’s shoulder and walked away, his steps echoing down the length of the corridor.

John glanced at the old man’s bed, and his frown relaxed. He thought he heard a familiar voice, the words crystal clear.

Bon voyage!

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Related Link – World Travellers 🙂

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Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2013

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89 comments

  1. This is a very good story. It’s wonderful that through books we can travel to any place, in any time, with just the turn of a page.

  2. What a charming tale Eric. In the course of researching a place prior to visiting, I do sometimes feel like I am already there. The power of the written word indeed 🙂

  3. Love your story! It brings to mind a man in the assisted living facility where my mom lives. He is a tall, handsome gentleman 90-some years old, soft spoken, and highly intelligent. The more I talk to him the more I am astonished by the extraordinary details of his life. He is named after his grandfather, a silent film director, and his college roommate was Dwight Eisenhower’s son.

    Older people are living history–more interesting to talk to than any group I can think of. They can give us first-hand accounts of the 1920s and 1930s, the Great Depression, and so on.

    1. You’re blessed to have found such a person, Sheryl.

      He has come into your life and you into his for reasons profound – in this, I believe.

      All good wishes,
      Eric

  4. A good story has the power to convey. Yours doesn’t fall short of that. I was especially touched that John, upon his return, learnt the late Mr. Charles had willed priceless treasures to him. My aunt is a living example of that — she inherited the house of an elderly orphan who died of cancer. She used to take care of the man before his passing.

    1. Hello Uzo,

      Thank you for your ever encouraging words.

      Your aunt’s story is worth sharing, I reckon but shall leave it to your better judgement.

      All good wishes,
      Eric

  5. Eric, This is just a lovely tale. And you know, I do think of people in old folks homes & wonder what great or average lives had they led, and were they visited, and what was their reality and their illusion of life. I really enjoyed this one, Eric. Well written too.

    1. Thank you Noeleen,

      Old folks hold much and it’s always a pleasure to hear them speak – especially people who retain their mental faculties.

      All good wishes,
      Eric

  6. Oh I just loved this story! I cannot travel in the physical, due to the crippling financial burden of being a grad student, so I too travel by book 🙂 Bon voyage indeed, now by book or by plane?

  7. I realize you don’t like commenters to use quotations but this post brought to mind immediately the poet Emily Dickinson’ s “There is no frigate like a book…” which we used to love to repeat as schoolchildren because we loved to say “frigate…frigate…” and get away with what sounded like naughty words…

    1. Naughty Cynthia 😉

      I do welcome quotations where they enhance one’s comments – and this certainly does.

      If books are frigates, most current movie themes remind me of the Titanic.

      I recall that poem and back in school, wondered why use ‘frigate’ which is actually a man-of-war (perhaps it meant not, during her time), why not simply a sailing ship or something more ‘peace loving’. Then again, use of another word might mess up the technical elements of the poem, I suppose – so, frigate it was. I realised this only much later.

      Thank you for sharing, Cynthia dear – you pricked a memory for me.

      Peace,
      Eric

    1. Yes, now that you mention it – it is a gift. Perhaps that explains why I never felt lonely —

      A good book certainly adds and enhances.

      Have a great week ahead,
      Eric

  8. Oh, what a story! Truly conveys the importance of reading. I was thinking about writing something in the same line for quite sometime now, but due to the paucity, or rather, because of my unpardonable excuse of keeping things for the future, I have not been able to write.

    It was nice reading this post though.

    1. Hello Ramu,

      Ideas per se are never the exclusive domain of any one person. I’m sure you’ll convey the same theme in a manner unique to you.

      All good wishes with your story,
      Eric

  9. That’s a wonderful story, Eric. It sounds like the old man really did have more adventures, just sitting there in that chair, than John had had. At least he was inspirational.

  10. Eric, stopped by to pay a visit to one of my favorite writers and visitors and found this. Good one! I didn’t find it sad at all – more wisdom and truth – I loved how he would listen and the old man be able to regale him with his stories. I also liked what you share above about your neighbor and you playing chess in the evenings on the verandah.

    It seems a bit like something out of days gone by – this visiting with a neighbor. I have struck up a friendship with a woman of 77, who lives a building over in my complex and it is delightful and fraught with hidden traps of possible insults. Yet, we continue to grow in friendship. The little kids who come by to take my garbage for me or do little tasks, accepting payment in cash or candy, tickle my heart, especially since I am probably that older woman we all remember from the old neighborhood. And yet, when I’m driving through the complex or the neighborhood and they spot my car, each and every one waves and yells, “Hi Huntie!” This mixing of all our age groups gives such richness to our lives. Thanks for fueling my memories once again.

    1. Hello and missed you some 🙂

      I didn’t mean this flash fiction to be a tear jerker but apparently, it came across as such for some readers. Hey, I’m merely the author – once published, readers sieve out what they want. In that sense, we authors lose our baby —

      I’ve always enjoyed the company of much older men. One of my best friends was a former competitor – we were aggressive but always fought fair and became fast friends. A few years ago, when on holiday in NZ, I made a special detour and spent a few days visiting him. His wife could not understand what we had in common other than we were both from the aerospace industry. There is a good 20 years age gap between us.

      Love that sharing regarding your elderly woman friend. Especially if a person remains lucid – what a joy to talk to and get to know people much older than ourselves. And the kids calling you “Huntie” – lovely 🙂

      You’re very welcome and all good wishes,
      Eric

  11. Eric,
    I was very “moved” by your emotional flash fiction. You do have a way of expressing yourself and drawing the reader into your world.

    Thank you for stopping by my blog.

    1. Hello Pat,

      Yes, when we get into it, I suppose the tale does tug at some heartstrings – reminds us of human spirit and mortality, I reckon.

      All good wishes,
      Eric

  12. Wow, this is a wonderful story, Eric, and not only was it compelling, but the twist at the end was so unexpected…and yes, the oceans we travel while diving into our books are always amazing…this is one of my faves, for sure. 🙂

  13. Love, love, love this story! The twist at the end…nicely done.
    You are by far the most talented writer I have had the pleasure to encounter on WordPress. Don’t get tired of me telling you. It’ll just keep happening.
    xo

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