The moment I got out of my car, I heard a faint sound of classical music. The house, though in the middle of a smart neighbourhood, badly needed attention. I had to kick the gate to open it, creaking as it swung inwardly. I pressed the bell and waited. There were over twenty pots scattered all over the place. I also looked at the bench that was half painted and walls that were extensively covered by fungus. A plate of food left over occupied a focal point right in the middle of the garden. A couple of cats were helping themselves to a meal the owner of the house ate perhaps last night.
Then the classical music went quiet and an old man opened the door. He apologised right away for coming out late. He suggested we sat outside since it was more comfortable than inside. Then quickly said we might as well go in. I am not sure whether my cynical glance at the garden changed his mind or his hospitable side got the better of him. The living room was a mess. There were books, newspapers, magazines and CDs everywhere. He drew the curtains to let the sunshine in. I suspected that room never saw the light of the day for months. It revealed dust thick enough to make an ant struggle to make its way to a bread crumb.
I looked at the man. He was not yet seventy but looked ten years older. He was once the talk of the community weaving magic from his camera, capturing pictures that delighted thousands. That house, I remembered, vibrated with laughter and echoed with happy conversations of people who walked through its threshold everyday. Those days, he could not see the ceiling of his world. It was that high. Now, it looks like the roof of his world was fast caving in on him. He sat there looking at his hands, bare to the chest, revealing white hair almost every square inch of his body. If he could have picked up his camera and took a picture of himself and his surrounding, it would have been one of his masterpieces. But a story needed to be told because that picture would not reveal the tale even in a thousand words.
I am not sure that he forgot his false teeth or just did not care at all about cosmetics anymore. He just sat there looking down and it was then I wondered why he wanted me in his house. I started the conversation with small talk wondering if the man, who was known to be an excellent conversationalist, had lost his marbles. The minutes ticked away to an hour and I was still there leading the conversation. I spent the next hour looking at his photographs, watching his old film documentaries, some of which he won awards for them. Then I got up and said I must be going. I joked that my wife would be wondering what had happened to me if I did not. That was a mistake. His face crumbled and I thought he was going to burst in tears. It slipped my mind that one of the reasons he was in a miserable condition was the sudden departure of his wife from his world. How insensitive I was. All he needed from me was a couple of hours of my time to help him go through part of his day and I ruined it when I was about to accomplish that mission. I just walked away silently from his house, leaving him more depressed.
But two hours later, he called me to thank me. Perhaps he saw the remorse in me when I was leaving. Perhaps he felt I needed the encouragement to do it all over again to someone else in his situation. I would never know.