A man suffering from the dregs of a summer cold, took a late-night stroll in the park. After a few minutes in the warm air, he sat down on a nearby bench. Shortly afterward, an old man ambled out of the bushes and inquired if he could join him. He was curiously dressed in a respectable pin-striped suit and conflicting bathroom slippers.
“Pardon me. Do you mind if I share this bench with you?”
The man with the cold glanced up and nodded at him, matter-of-factly. “Thieves aren’t usually so polite.”, He whimsically thought to himself. “The shifty old man lurking in the shadows is probably just a harmless kook.” In the end, he decided the experience of chatting with the oddly dressed character might prove to be interesting.
“As long as you don’t intend to mug me.”; He stated with a chuckle. “I honestly don’t have anything worth stealing.” He hoped the preemptive strike of deflective humor would help with the awkward tension.
The old man stepped partially out of the shadows and sat down with an audible creak. Even by the faint glow of the streetlight, his oily, disheveled appearance was more noticeable from four feet away. The immaculately tailored suit he was wearing was filthy. At that instant, the man with the cold scrambled to find a tissue in his pocket. He sensed a massive sneeze coming on. Just in the nick of time, he covered his nose and avoided sending a million germs everywhere.
The strange character on the other side of the bench didn’t offer the social courtesy of a blessing for his sneeze. Instead the two of them sat in relative silence for a while. Only the mating sounds of crickets, cicadas, and night birds filled the air. It might have been peaceful if it wasn’t so awkward to be a few feet from a total stranger.
Because of his nasal-clearing reflex, the cold sufferer finally became aware of the old man’s rank odor. He resisted the urge to offer unsolicited hygiene advice. It wasn’t wise to risk offending strangers on a park bench at night. Then without prompt or prodding, the old man began to offer several ‘pearls of wisdom’ and off-the-cuff insights.
“I must admit. I’m very jealous of you!”; He began with a gravely voice. “You still have most of your youth. I bet you also have a large family that loves you. With the small exception of having the sniffles, you appear to be ‘the picture of health’. On the other hand, I have nothing! Literally nothing. My health is gone. I’m falling apart. My family rarely visits me and my youth is never returning. You possess the world in your hands and you don’t even realize it.”
Albert was a bit taken aback by the old man’s bitter comments. All of a sudden, he was a wellspring of angry complaints and assumptions. He was torn between politely allowing the old fool to continue venting; or to send him packing. Another sneeze delayed his response.
“It’s very easy to sit there and be bitter”; He remarked. “but you’ll find it more rewarding to take some initiative and actually do something about it. No offense; but I bet your family would visit you more often if you used the free showers at the homeless shelter. As for my age and health, there are no guarantees. I could drop dead in a few minutes. Envy and anger are pointless endeavors, my friend. Try to let it go and enjoy what time you have left.”
The old man didn’t bristle at the implication that he bore a fowl odor. He obviously knew that Albert spoke the truth on the matter. He didn’t even seem to be bothered by his preachy, holier-than-thou attitude. Instead the old man chafed on a far different point. He vehemently disputed that he was homeless.
“I’ll have you know that I have a home, young man! My family still refuses to come and visit me. The place has become a sad, forgotten memorial to my life. It’s as if I am nothing to them anymore. I’ve been relegated to the past in their minds. I get so angry that I…”
“Ok. I’m legitimately sorry that they do not treat you any better. Really I am. Being alienated from your family can really get you down but maybe there is more here than meets the eye. If you genuinely feel alone in the world, then I would advise you to look within yourself for answers. It may be painful but truth can often be harsh and cold. With some self-examination of the facts, you might be able to find some inner-peace.”
“No one in my position ever finds peace, young man. There is only anger and bitter envy. I’m just saying this in defense…”
Albert cut him off before the pity party train started down the track. “Life is what we make it. You can go around angry and feeling sorry for yourself; or you can pick yourself out of the deepest gutter and move on. It’s as simple as that. Anything else is an excuse.”
The old man on the other end of the bench grew quiet for a moment. Albert assumed he was trying to process and accept his positive words of wisdom. Slowly he rocked back and forth while the long shadows of night masked his indistinct features. “I’m just saying this…”
“…In defense of what?”; Albert gritted his teeth and involuntarily rolled his eyes. “You keep saying that. What do you mean?” His patience was drawing near the end for the smelly codger’s vague statements and complaints.
“In defense… of what I am about to do!”; The old man snarled with rising emotion in his voice. “You see, the dead hate the living! We hate you for what you still have. The warm blood coursing through your veins. The love you still have in your heart, and the dreams you carry in your mind. The dead do not have any of those things and it makes us furious. We resent and envy you for what we used to have. Life. Soon you will be just like me.”
Suddenly the unpleasant discourse went from slightly creepy to full-blown bizarre. The old man stood up stiffly and lunged at him. For the first time, Albert could see his lifeless face in the direct light of a nearby streetlight. The old man was clearly dead. His face was leathery and colorless. Both of his unseeing eyes and slack-jawed mouth had been stitched shut by a mortician but were torn open again, in defiance. The broken thread ends were still visible at the edges. His mismatched attire finally made sense. In the coffin, no one ever saw a corpse’s shoes.
Once he realized what was going on, Albert put up a brave fight but was no match against the angry vigor of the dead man. His wounds were great and his will to live diminished, along with his blood. He quickly succumbed to his mortal injuries.
As his life slowly drained away, he had time to reflect on the old man’s bitter words and aggressive actions. With a brand new perspective, the criticisms against humanity that the old man levied, resonated with him. He found that he was also angry. It is just in their nature to kill. The dead hate the living.