The incident happened at a particular time, quite some time after I was first brought into unwilling awareness about the forbidding mystery of Old Man Red.
I was still in my late childhood years, barely a teen even and still having childlike needs, when I went to the local store with my brother.
We were tasked by my mother with the arduous responsibility of buying sugar, when we would rather be playing in the shallow river behind our house and catching shrimps for snack. My sisters had the foresight to be out of sight and out of mind.
Anyway, parents would be obeyed.
So it was, that we both dragged our whining selves to the store.
Once at the store though, we both perked up. I liked looking at all the things on sale, the many packages and tins of food neatly arranged on the shelves. I especially loved the colorful toys and trinkets found all over the store.
My brother promptly disappeared to parts unknown, presumably to locate the elusive sugar at another aisle towards the back of the shop.
I was admiring the many lovely colorful rubber balls in a small glass jar near the counter and wistfully wishing for them, when I heard the jingle of the door opening behind me.
However, I didn’t turn around, considering that I was in a shop and obviously customers came and went. I heard someone’s footsteps coming towards me, and then stopped directly behind me.
There was the sound of strained but controlled laborious breathing, as if that person had a long, hard walk or work behind him and was simply too weary to move anywhere but had to anyway.
Like the child that I was, I kept admiring the rubber balls and took to counting them under my breath, when Mr. Bin the store owner came walking behind the counter and asked politely, “Is there anything I can help you with today, Mr. Red?”
The name didn’t register with me for a few seconds, but once it did, I gave a startled jerk and turned around with a gasp.
There, standing just a couple of feet behind me, was Old Man Red.
Wearing his usual worn outfit and a frown, he didn’t look at me, even after the loud gasp and fearful startled look I gave him.
I stood rooted to the floor, imagining horns on his head and tail switching behind him, ‘seeing’ claws on his fingers, and smoke coming out of his nose, and I thought his red eyes were glaring at me.
Are his teeth sharp and pointy, and would he eat me?
Only acute fear made me stay where I was, it was a wonder I did not faint on the spot.
Old Man Red conducted his business with the attentive Mr. Bin; all the while I was staring at him fearfully with wide eyes and open mouth.
It was rude of me, I know.
Right before he left, still standing near the counter, he finally turned and looked at me.
“Do you want these?” It took me several precious seconds to realize that he was in fact, talking to me, and in his right hand he held three rubber balls of different colors.
I stared at his hand, at the balls, then back at his face, dumbstruck.
His gaunt face expressionless, Old Man Red repeated his question, louder this time, “Child, do you want these balls?”
At the counter, Mr. Bin cleared his throat. I turned my head to look at him, and he jerked his head towards Old Man Red in that familiar signal meaning, “Go on then, answer him.”
Dumbly, I turned back to look at Old Man Red who was still patiently waiting, his hand which held the balls still stretched out towards me.
I nodded ‘yes’, but didn’t reach out to take the beckoning, colorful rubber balls in his hand.