An Unlikely Friendship
He had been observing me for a while. I was always alone because none of the other children played with me. I was the outcast and the only friends I had were made up. He would sit alone in the park, looking at the children play, and that made the parents worry. They were afraid of this middle aged, lonely man who would sit and stare at their little children.
It was the longest summer evening of my childhood. The sun refused to submerge in the horizon that day. I was still making figures in the sandbox of the empty park when his shadow fell on my face. I was scared, despite his warm smile, and had the urge to scream and run. ‘You remind me of my childhood,’ he said. ‘They never played with me either. Eventually I stopped asking them. I found a magical place with better friends. I’d like to show it to you, will you come with me?’ I shook my head and ran away on wobbly knees.
He came back the next afternoon. The parents stared as he offered me a package. ‘I didn’t know what you would like so I picked something with a lot of pictures,’ he said. Accepting his gift felt like my first rebellious act against parents who never paid me any attention. He sat with me and slowly read the book with me. I was delighted as Noddy made home safely and wanted to go another adventure.
After that he would take me to the library every day. I never again wondered why the other children avoided me. His was the only friendship I ever needed. I learned that everyone was an outcast to a different group, everyone was special to a different person.
I was thirteen when I first gifted him a Famous Five book and he had laughed at my childish choice. But he had loved it and we raced to finish the series. As I learned with him, he learned with me. He gave meaning to my life, crafting my dreams and shaping my ambitions. I fell in love with this man, with his loneliness and alienness, with his sadness.
A stroke paralyzed him last week. He gets lonely in the nursing home when I don’t visit. Today, I found the first book we ever read together. I read it to him as the sun streamed through the window onto his wheelchair. His face wrinkled with joy and his toothless smile was brighter than the sun. My daughter, who was hiding behind me, slowly reached up to wipe the tears from his cheeks. She met him for the first time but the magic of his love for books had already been passed from me to her. I will forever thank those who outcast us, for in our exclusion we reached out to each other and created something so special that it lasted beyond our lifetimes.