The Passerby

Hester Tetreault

I saw him most mornings when I looked out of the living room window. He became part of my day. Slightly bent, he dragged one leg a little, the foot twisted so that he walked more on the side of his foot than the sole. I guessed he was in his eighties. He wore only a flannel shirt. When I could see his breath against the air on a frosty morning, I wondered if he was cold.

While working in the garden one morning, I saw the old man smile and tousle the hair of a small boy who passed by him on his way into school.

"It's now or never," I decided, emboldened to cross the street and introduce myself.

His pale blue eyes enlivened and his face wrinkled in another smile. This time for me. "My wife and I are from Switzerland. We came first to Canada and then to America, many years ago," he told me. "We work very hard. In time we save enough buy our own farm. I do not speak English so good, so I pick up children's first readers and secretly I study until I learn," he laughed. He gazed toward the elementary school beyond the wire fence, and his face grew solemn. "We never had any children."

I pondered the conversation in the quiet of the day, touched deeply by the loneliness in his voice as he spoke of the few remaining relatives in his native homeland, distanced not only by miles, but by lives worlds apart.

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