I live in a small town on the coast named Chesterhill. My father grew up in Chesterhill his whole life, and he met my mother when they were in high school. My mother was the daughter of a local farmer who thought my father was trouble. He ended up being right. My father left when I was 11. My mother took over Herald soon after. Now, ten years later, I am a journalist for the Herald. I know everyone in this town, from the postman to the grocer.
The one person that I do not know well is the Old Man. The Old Man walks from his cottage in the woods, through town, along the scenic ocean trail, and finishes by sitting on a bench at the top of Chesterhill Cliff. He is always accompanied by his white, wiry dog. Sometimes he paints, sometimes he reads, but most of the time he sits on the bench and pets his little dog. I wonder many questions about him: Who is he? Why does he walk every day? Why that bench? I think about this often while doing tasks throughout the day: buttering my toast, watering my plants, at work.
One day I decided to follow him. I left work at lunchtime and followed the Old Man and his dog through the town square and down the coastal path. The Old Man ended the walk at his usual bench. I stayed at the bottom of the hill. The Old Man turned, looking in my direction. I quickly retreated and returned to work.
I met the Old Man today while he was standing on the sidewalk across the street. I was working and looked up from my desk. He waved at me. I waved back, stood up, and left the Herald, my mother questioning me as I went. The Old Man’s dog greeted me, wagging its tail. I got down on one knee to pet him. “Come on. I’ll buy you lunch,” the Old Man said. He wandered off, his dog following him promptly. I quickly followed suit.
The Old Man bought sandwiches for us to eat. We hiked along the trail, not speaking a word until we reached the bench. “I saw you looking at me the other day” The Old Man said as he was sitting. I paused, composing my thoughts. “I’ve always wondered why you walk the same path everyday to the top of this hill.” The Old Man looked out to the sea, one hand on his dog. “My wife and I used to walk this trail every day. She passed away last year…” He waved behind me. “I named this bench after her.” The Old Man quickly got up. “Enjoy your sandwich.” The Old Man and his dog walked down the hill, back down the path. I sat for a while, eating my sandwich and watching the sea waves crash against the coast.