The Well


In the lamplight, there, by the well, can be seen the old man of gnappy beard who sits all day and night in the same place, fed scraps like a venerable dog by nearby shopkeepers. He asks for nothing and accepts everything. He watches the world and the only judgment that he passes might be simply through his very existence, his everpresence at the well, flies unacknowledged at his forehead and ankles, unrelatable to the commerce and bustle of the day. At night, drunken young men might harangue him from time to time, but find nothing much of sport in his fragile compliance. He is like the well, an object of what is taken to be always there and thusly ignored largely except as backdrop. A few who have been around as long as him know of his history, and know him as a man, and know wherefore he sits like so much dust. Even a few of the next generation treats him with the respect of an uncle, albeit a slightly crazy but harmless uncle, and they will give him treats on holidays, or pull out a cigarette if they happen to think of it as they pass on their business. Ola comes and talks to him everyday at lunchtime and gives him a glass of milk. She tells him of the gossip of her workplace, and to be sure he knows nothing of those people or of how they may relate to him, but he nods intermittently and Ola is content to use him as a whiteboard upon which to trace different theories of the daily dramas and conflicts that form her world, and which she will later present to other, more opinionated and vocal judges. That he is even listening is uncertain, but his gentle gaze contains little of insanity, and he seems to be in full possession of his senses even though he chooses not to utilize them, or at least, to relate any of these sensations to the outer world.

Jale is a young boy of somewhat noble heritage–the somewhat being that his ancestors have served nobility honorably and well for untold generations, and thus they have become intertwined almost indistinguishably with the history of kings and of princesses and the other various trappings of power, such that now in these shifting times his father could proclaim his bloodline link to an ancient king of mythic yore and not many would dispute it, or even really care one way or the other, to be perfectly honest. Jale didn’t see much evidence of any difference between his family’s life and any others, but it was nice to think that there was something special contained within him, traced through his very marrow, a grandeur sleeping, a blessing of those who came before. He likes to imagine that the quiet pretty girl 2 streets away is also secretly a princess, and that they are destined to become lovers. She averts her eyes from him whenever they pass, but he feels that there is something between them that need not be spoken, that links their very spirit long before they were ever born. Jale passes the old man at the well every evening when he goes to fetch water for supper. He is slightly afraid of him, and tries not catch his eyes. But more important is that the pretty girl sometimes is there also, and he watches her slender arms drawing the water, and there is the possibility that she may look up at him and notice him. This evening she is not there, and he gathers the water absentmindedly, wondering how he can get through another dry night without a fresh glimpse of her red shirt, of her bare feet in the mud next to the well. He steps upon a sharp rock and twists his ankle slightly and falls, spilling a portion of water upon the old man. The old man slowly wipes the dripping from his face and beard and looks gently upon the boy, who fearfully looks into the old man’s eyes, not sure of what to say, not having spoken to such a person before and not sure of what is said to such a person. Everyone ignores him and Jale thinks perhaps he should gather himself and run and pretend nothing has happened. But he has lost a significant amount of water and does not wish to be slapped by his mother and laughed at by his younger sister. But he cannot move back to the well to gather more water and pretend that he does not see the old man, does not feel his mysterious silent eyes upon him. He stands irresolutely. The old man smiles, seemingly perfectly knowing and not crazy or strange at all, understanding of the boy’s plight and of his reasons for fear. The boy finds confidence in the smile and offers the old sitter a drink of the remaining water. The old man sips like a bird from the mouth of the clay and nods. He does not mind that his shirt is wet. Jale rejoices inwardly and quickly gathers more water, almost oblivious until the last moment that he stands face to face with the pretty girl, always in the same red shirt, her raven black hair falling like living vines down her face to curl around her shoulders, and that they are gathering water together. He stands with his full bowl, looking at the top of her head. She looks up at him and smiles, and they both move away at the same time, and he feels that he wants to run but that it is too late to do such a thing without looking like a fool, and the old man smiles after them, nodding with water hanging in beads amongst the gnarls of his beard. Jale begins to talk to her, and she listens quietly, moving with her burden of water like an unseen princess, and only Jale can see it within her, the way she carries herself, the strength of her spine. He tells her of the old man and he wonders of why and wherefore such a man comes to rest forever by the well, and he speculates that perhaps the old man is really in fact an old king but has been forgotten and all of his subjects have been put under a spell and the king waits for them to awaken patiently, so that he can again come unto his throne. The girl says nothing but does not seem to reject this theory, and Jale continues talking until they come to a parting of streets and then he tells her farewell and she smiles again while looking at him and he feels so strong, so stupid, so like a little boy, like a prince, like everything and nothing all at the same time and he runs to his home, spilling nothing all along the way.

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Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

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