“Mr. Hawkins.. Mr. Hawkins.”
The old man’s white pupiled eyes stared out at the horizon as if waiting to see something.
“I told you to be here at 6:30,” he said to the sky.
“It’s 6:28,” I shyly said back.
“Exactly, it ain’t 6:30. I tell you to come at 6:30 you come at 6:30. None of this showing-up-early mess. You ain't gonna get paid extra for showing up early if that what you were thinking.”
"I wasn't thinking that, sir."
“Do you want me to leave and come back?”
“Nah, what kind of silliness is that. You might as well get started.”
“Well, where would you like me to start.”
“Good god! Do you want me to hold your hand? I thought I was paying YOU to know where to start!”
“Well,” I tried to steady my breathing, “I just know different people have different preferences.”
“Fine,” he said as if considering my reasoning an excuse. “If you’re too stupid to figure it out on your own, start with my bedroom. It’s in the back.”
I thanked God for his blindness for my face was red with rage as I went in to clean.
The room was the perfect picture of bedlam -- papers, boxes, clothing, broken dishes, and all other forms of rubbish strewn all over the floor. Who did he think I was? Certainly, I was his employee but the sheer disregard made me think he considered me his servant.
I usually can see a mess and instantly put together what goes where, but the intoxicating anger made my head spin and I found myself violently grabbing and tossing things with no rhyme or reason. Just erratic, symbolic vengeance on these inanimate objects he seemed to care little or nothing about. But as I moved a musty old shirt to the side, something caught my eye: an album. It was a brilliant gold -- too intricate for his taste. Certainly, I couldn’t pry -- but he was such a prude, some measure of repudiation was warranted.
A firm punch to the gut was what he deserved or at least a bad case of indigestion. He was lucky that his only punishment would be me invading some small part of his privacy. So there was not an ounce of guilt as I grabbed the album off the floor. None, as I opened it.
But then I turned a few pages and saw a single picture and that feeling slowly descended upon me.
The thought haunted me enough that I barely noticed as I slowly and methodically cleaned the entire room. Mr. Crawford, strange as it seems, came into the room to survey my progress. I did do a little bit of research on the visually impaired before taking the job. And they are able to “see” via some version of echo location. The “sound” of an empty room, I’m sure is very different from that of a full and filthy one -- the fact that his wheels could move without getting caught on a clump of dirt was probably testament enough that I had done a good job.
He did not say anything, for I did not think compliments were in his vocabulary, but he did nod in silent satisfcatin.
Having proven myself to him, I felt it only fair that I feed my curiosity. I progressed cautiously.
“Mr. Crawford… did you ever have a wife?”
My attempt to cloak my duplicity was for nought.
“Nosy kid,” he said and for a moment I wondered if he was purposely trying to sound like a Scooby-Doo villain. But I knew he was no man for jokes. He continued, “You couldn’t help by look through my album. Yes, I had a wife. Now go clean the den.”
And that was supposed to be that, but I was not satisfied. I pressed on.
“But what was she like?”
“You’re wondering what woman in her right mind would marry me. Well, wonder no more. She left me… a long time ago.”
But that didn’t satisfy my inquisitive mind. When did he become this sad and grumpy man? Was it before or after? Certainly, it had to be after because the man I saw in the photo was a happy man.
I started to clean the den, less angry this time. Each layer of trash seemed more like a layer of dirt being peeled away to reveal a hidden treasure -- a secret. The more I worked, I thought, the more he would tell me. But he, I think, could feel my interest piquing and beat me to the punch.
“Well, now that you know my life story, I guess you can tell me about yourself.”
An eye for an eye, I supposed.
“I’m into journalism,” I simply said.
“Ah, that explains the nosiness. But it doesn’t explain why you’re rifling through a old man’s underwear rather than working for a newspaper.”
He startled me with the realization that the unidentified object I was holding was indeed his underwear. But I continued.
"I plan to move to New York eventually to look for a job. That's my dream."
"Well, what are you waiting for?"
“I’m waiting for the right time to get things together.”
“Waiting for the right time? HA! That’s millennial talk for LAZY.”
“I’m cleaning up your underwear, while you sit there aren’t I?”
Oops. I blushed at the implied insult, but I held my ground and he held his. Smiling he said, “Well, it’s millennial talk for being a coward.”
I couldn’t take it anymore.
“I regret that I ever felt sorry for you. I thought maybe there existed a happy man behind that rough facade, but no, that’s all you. And you’re not miserable because your wife left you. Your wife left you because you’re MISERABLE.”
I wanted to hurt him. I wanted to cut him. I wanted that horrible smile to fall off his face, but I got nothing. So instead I just said the words, “I quit.”
And just as easily, he said, “Fine, but first you have to do one more thing for me,”
I rolled my eyes, but figuring it was just one more thing, I obliged.
“Roll me out to the porch,” he said.
Not a word between us, I did as I was told. It was close to 7:30 and the sun was beginning to set.
“Tell me what you see.”
“The sky. Tell me how it looks.”
I just shook my head, “The sun is setting.”
“The sun is just peeping over the horizon --”
“And?” he urged me on.
“And its rays are reaching up to the sky -- it fades about at my line of eyesight and turns into this haunting shade of purple… It’s rippling against the clouds like tremors in the ocean.”
“And?” he said finally.
“It’s beautiful,” I admitted.
“Good,” he said, “you passed the test. Now you get to know the full story. Why my wife left me.”
Though he could not see it, I still stifled my expression as not to let on that I was still curious.
He continued, “My son wasn’t the athlete I wanted him to be -- instead he was into choir. I always said I would make it to one of his performances, but I was always too busy, but his senior year I was definitely going to make it. He had a solo, he told me. Unfortunately, I was out drinking the night before and never made it. My wife did though.”
“How did your son take it?”
“Oh, I’m sure he took it pretty badly, but I never got the chance to find out,” he went on. “He died in a car wreck on the way home.”
My jaw just dropped in shock. Silence seemed the only reasonable response.
He finished, “And when I asked my wife how he sounded that night -- she said he sounded like the sky looks at sunset. And then she left me.”
And there I stood with him mourning the moment as if we were both there beholding the wreck.
“Now, tell me again,” he finally said. “What are you waiting for?”