Even a child that I was, I remember that during the twenty-minute walk back home, I was clutching my bag of toys tightly, and thinking about Old Man Red, and what he did for me.
It would have been a trivial thing to anyone, I supposed, for an adult to buy something for a child. But to a child who had simple but (to her) pressing needs, Mister Red was practically a hero! A toy would have been a priceless treasure to a child. It really was generous of him.
As it were, my thoughts were simple, but many. What monster would buy toys for a child he barely knew about? All because he saw her wistfully admiring them?
And now that I had faced the ‘monster’ and lived to talk about it, my thoughts turned to, I did not see any horns on his head. Where were his tail and claws? Sure his teeth were stained with age and probably cigarettes, but they were not pointy, and no fangs! He bought me toys!
When we reached home and my mother noticed the brightly colored balls among our purchase, knowing she didn’t give us enough money to buy them, she asked where I got them from.
Before I could reply, my brother said dismissively, “Oh, Mr. Bin gave them to her. Said he can do whatever he wants with his stuffs, he’s the store owner.Don’t worry, we both thanked him. Lucky duck, people are always nicer to her because she’s a girl!” He ruffled my hair playfully.
I huffed at him and pushed him away in pretend indignation, but deep inside I was grateful my brother took the initiative to answer for me.
He didn’t actually lie since he told the truth as he knew it, and I didn’t want to tell the truth, unsure of how my mother would respond to it.
I was just a child, alright?
Faint guilt niggling at the back of my mind, since I didn’t want to lie to her by omission, but wary of telling the truth either, I let the answer be. I didn’t know how I would have explained to my mother about Old Man Red.
Although, my mother was (and is) the generous kind and not prone to having a judgmental opinion of others (aside from that one time with the gossiping neighbour, which I chalked down to my parents being wrong-footed and unprepared, anyway), still I knew she would have been uneasy knowing the truth, Old Man Red being the mysterious and intriguing character that he was.
My mother didn’t see anything suspicious with my brother’s explanation, so she let the matter dropped.
Eventually making my escape to my room, I perused my precious toys and added them on to my other ‘treasures’. Easily distracted by the joy of having new toys, I played with them a long while.
When I eventually put them away, the red, green and blue rubber balls had a special place among my other toys.
Even without the novelty that a ‘might be a monster had bought them for me’ behind my acquiring them, there was still the matter of my unexplained feelings residing in my chest whenever I thought about Old Man Red and his generous gift to me.
To a child, such as I was, what he did was a momentous thing. Only a handful of other adults I knew of would have been aware of a child’s wistful yearning for something tangible and physical, that she could have as her own.
Children wanted many things in their lives — mostly of the bright and shiny variety — but they knew only to yearn for a few. That is what I felt that day standing before the glass-jar containing the toy-balls, wistfully wishing my brother had enough money to buy one for me.
I didn’t know why I wanted them so much, only that I did. I wasn’t one for playing with dolls and dresses anyway, but having a new toy was simply precious. And towards that end, Old Man Red saw my yearning and bought me my toys.
I lost many toys throughout the years of growing up and into my adulthood; some broke, some were given away to nieces and nephews, a few more delicate and antique ones were kept as strategically placed decorations at home. But the red, green and blue rubber balls remained as the few I kept with me, even when I grew up, went to school a couple of states away, and then when I had myself a new job and moved into my own place.
The rubber balls, of themselves, were also a tangible reminder to me to never judge a book by its cover, or to listen to gossipers or unfounded rumours.
Sadly, that particular lesson seemed to have taken a momentary leave when I moved into my current home and encountered Mrs Potts, more shame me. But the same Mrs. Potts brought it back with a vengeance, bless her.
The Sins Of Men
One of the concerns which plagued me once I was old enough to be aware of others was, How it must had hurt Old Man Red to know that a child looked at him in fear, for all that he had never raised a hand nor a voice to her in the mildest rebuke, all because adults took it upon themselves to gossip and made up stories about someone they had no understanding of.
I also wondered why Old Man Red never bothered to correct people’s uncomplimentary beliefs and opinions of him. He certainly did not seem to care either way.
It made me think.
It hurt a man’s reputation for people to assume such things about him. Even if that man is being deliberately unfamiliar and practically a stranger living in our midst, for all that he is unwilling to disclose much about himself, it does not make him a monster or a freak of any kind. It just makes him very private and protective of his life, as is his right, his prerogative, his decisions.
In regard to Old Man Red, I believe that he did not owe anyone or everyone to either tell or explain to them about himself. Certainly if his life was wholly private to him, he shouldn’t have to reveal things about himself just to assuage people‘s fear or paranoia or tendency to meddle in his life. Even if such a concept was abhorrent to others, it would be his choice to be wholly alone without people immediately coming to the conclusion that he was a ‘monster’.
It made him a pariah, but it was partly our fault for making him so.
I also could correctly conclude that such necessity to be wholly transparent in a person’s life, many times against his will, usually occurred because people generally were a paranoid, suspicious bunch, prone to think the worst of each other instead of the best and always needing things explained to them to placate their fears and wariness of the unknown.
In other words, these people had this need to be coddled and have their hands held, and repeatedly assured that things were going to be alright. Apart from that, their collective minds became active breeding ground for paranoia and fearful imaginations.
Still, I have this feeling that Old Man Red was not a man concerned with his so-called notorious reputation among our town’s folks. His pariah status didn’t seem to bother him, and he had to know that he was one.
If I had to hazard a guess as to what he was thinking about people and their generally meddlesome ways, not to mention their paranoia and propensity towards extremely prejudiced conclusions when it came to things they did not understand, then I would say that Mister Red would be saying, “Pfffft! Stupid people and their narrow minds! Their gossips are not worth my time entertaining them.”
Then, in my mind, he would go merrily along his way doing whatever he wanted; exactly like he had been doing, it seemed.
In a perfect world, or a movie setting, he would have been an anti-hero of awe-inspiring proportions for having this ‘tough and devil-may-care attitude’. In reality, it just made him a misunderstood loner.
Although to be fair, he would not be doing whatever he wanted with absolutely no regard as to what other people thought. After all, this was the man, the so-called ‘monster’, who bought me my beloved rubber balls. Come to think of it, neither would he go ‘merrily’ along his way; in fact it would very much be ‘darkly yet serenely doing things his way while keeping one eye open for little people who wanted toys all the while ignoring the ignorant viciously gossiping adults’.
I smiled whenever I thought this. I also told my closest friends about the incident.
They believed me.
See? Children are more ready to believe good things about other people.
It didn’t take much, anyway, I just had to show my newly acquired toys as proof.
Now they were probably on the lookout for Mister Red to buy them toys. It would do them good, I thought, to not be so afraid of him any more.
Did I agree with how Old Man Red lived his life?
It is not my place nor my right to say, just as I had no say those many years ago when I heard ‘things’ about this strange man.
His choices being his own, all that mattered ultimately, is, that he was harmless. And, when it came right down to it, he noticed things about the little things and the little person who yearned for something not within her reach, and he made the choice to reach out and made her happy.
Old Man Red was never a monster. He was just a badly misunderstood old man who eventually had enough of people judging him and just decided to live his life as peacefully as he could anyway, giving simple joy to anyone who would give him the chance, even if that person was a child. He was, a hero of sort; certainly awe-inspiring to a certain child.
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