I was walking into the village center when I noticed an old man sitting on the curb staring up at the building across the street. I might not have thought anything of it, but I had noticed this man before, sitting in that same place. On those other days a stray sunbeam was on him, but now it was cold and miserable out.
My mind filled with questions. Who was he? Did he live in one of the nearby houses? Why was he sitting on the curb? Did he have dementia? Generally, my big thought was, what was going on?
“Mind your own business unless you want somebody to mind it for you,” was my motto, but I could not just leave this man out in the cold. He took no notice as I approached.
“Hello sir,” I said. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, thank you,” he said without looking at me.
I stood for a minute feeling silly. But I decided to persist.
“Are you cold? Do you need anything? A cup of coffee to keep you warm? A blanket? Anything?”
“No. I’m good. Thank you.” He still never glanced in my direction.
I was about to try again when a woman put her arm on my shoulder in a neighborly gesture of comfort.
“He is fine, dear,” she said. “Or at the very least, there is nothing you can do for him. We used to try, but it was of no use. He would not eat, drink or accept any comfort.”
“I’ve been coming by here for months and have just noticed him a few days ago. Are you saying he is here all of the time?”
“Just in the winter, deary,” she said. “He gazes into that window, yonder.” She pointed at a leaded glass window in the building across the street. To my surprise, there were roses blooming outside of the window but no place else on the building or neighborhood.
“What is on the other side of that window?” I asked.
She shrugged. “I think it’s an office now, but it once was a room in a house. Some people say it was a bedroom.”
“And his story?”
She shrugged again. “Nobody knows. He has been here as long as anyone can remember. He never says more than he said to you.”
“And he’ll be OK?” I asked.
“Well, he has been doing this for years and years, so I assume so,” she answered. “Now be a good chap and run along. We’ll all be watching out for him.”
I walked away a few paces and turned. She was still standing beside the man, but watching me. I waved. She smiled and waved back. I turned and left.
On my way home I noticed that he was still there. I stopped and looked at the window. The weather had improved and the afternoon sun was hitting the wall, illuminating the roses, making them glow bright red. Beyond that, I couldn’t see anything special. And yet, I was transfixed. I had to watch.
After a while, my imagination started to fill the window with action. I saw a midwife hold up a newborn baby, a girl. Then I saw the girl as a toddler look out of the window. She grew before my eyes and played with her toys in the little room. As she grew older, the toys were replaced by books and then lovers. Finally, the window went dark. She had moved away. But the rose that first bloomed when she was born still bloomed.
I heard the man mumbling something and leaned in close to hear.
“She was born 90 years ago and the rose has bloomed since. I know not where she has gone, but as long as the rose is in bloom, I know she is safe.”
I stared into his face, but he didn’t acknowledge my presence, just continued to watch the window and the flowers.
I continued to see the old man, but I just passed by, not paying attention.
Until one fine winter’s day and I realized that he wasn’t there.
I stopped and watched the window for a moment before continuing on. As I passed by in the afternoon, I stopped again, and watched the empty window. It seemed darker than usual. A man came up to me and asked about an address, which happened to be the building I was watching.
“May grandmother was born there,” he said, pointing to the building. “Before she died last night, I promised to return here and collect flowers for her grave. What could that mean?”
I pointed out the roses around the window.
He knocked on the door and talked to the people inside. A few minutes later they gathered the roses from in front of the window. As the man left, he thanked me and handed me one of the roses.
I took a different path home than usual and passed by the old church. Without thinking, I walked into the graveyard beside it and walked amongst the cold stones. I stopped and read one that seemed to be glowing. The man had died more than 40 years before at the age of 70. The stone said it was of a broken heart.
I dropped the rose and left. But I brought the name and dates with me.
Later I discovered that the dead man’s daughter had mysteriously disappeared when she was 20. Everyone told the man that she was dead. But he continued to believe she was alive and sat out front, waiting for her to return, until he lost the house. After that he sat across the street, keeping vigil. He froze to death one winter night, but the people all said he really dies of a broken heart. A few years later people started to see the old man out front again, still keeping watch.
I continue to pass the house every day and have found that the roses no longer bloom in front of the special window. But there is now a new rosebush in the graveyard which blooms every winter, drawing people from miles around to marvel.
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