As I walked through the cold, lonely streets of Aberdeen, I decided to take a shortcut home. Making a sharp right, I was headed down an alleyway, which was dark and sinister. Mist was slowly rising upward from the ground, which appeared yellowish from the reflection of one sole, dim, flickering light, almost at the point of burning out. The only sounds of the night came from my own feet dragging over many pebbles and stone on the cement. The breeze was very bitter and piercing upon my body, feeling like 1000 needles hitting my flesh.
From somewhere in the distance I sensed movement. As I inched closer, anxiety and fear grew. The first thing I noticed about him was his clothing. The old blue and black t-shirt this old man was wearing seemed so thin that he might as well have not been wearing a shirt at all. His trousers, dirty, frayed, green jeans, were much too short, exposing parts of his frost bitten leg.
Plastic bags, tied at the top around his ankles, were used as shoes. The only thing keeping his face warm was his long, thick, black and white beard that looked like it had been growing wildly for years. The little bit of grey hair he had on his head, blew with the wind, causing strands to be going in every direction. Judging by his wrinkled, rubbery looking skin, it looked as if he was in his 70’s, though looks can be deceiving.
He sat on a dirty cardboard box that was on the ground, hugging his knees close to his chest to protect himself from the cold. His eyes, black and hollow, and his gaze never left the pile of empty juice cans, which lay two feet away in front of him. His only movement was his constant and continuous shivering. A bent piece of cardboard reading “Can I have money please” was leaned up against the dark granite bricks of the wall he was sitting against. Unfazed by a rat that just ran over his foot, it was almost as if he was a vegetable, oblivious and ignorant to everything that was happening around him.
I was frightened by him. I have never witnessed somebody sit so still through such conditions as if he was frozen in time. It reminded me of a horror movie, something bad and unexpected was sure to happen. All that was missing was the haunting music in the background that signified an immanent death.
Splattered above his head was a discoloured liquid, the shape of a heart. I t was blood, but I had no idea who it belonged to. Was it from the old man or did he do this to someone else? Upon seeing this patch of blood over his head, I began to feel dizzy. I started to wonder if I was going to be the next victim, if it was going to be my warm blood dripping down these walls. Panic grew in side me. So many thoughts were going through my mind at this point. I had so many options: turn around and run, try to talk to the old man or just keep walking and pretend that I didn’t see him. This way he was sitting there motionless, I don’t even think he would have noticed me one way or another.
Across from the old man was a wooden ladder, leading up to a cracked window. Drops of water fell slowly and steadily from the window pane, running over the red and black logos that have been painted on by immature hoodlums. On the ground, just under the logos, were several cans of empty spray paint that were used. Taking two more steps closer to the old man, the pungent scents of burning and alcohol hit my nose. It was then; I noticed a pile of cigarette ends beside him with an empty bottle of whiskey. The light from the moon displayed a long gash down the right side of his face, which was still fresh with a bit of blood running down his cheek. As painful as it looked it didn’t seem to bother him at all. Maybe that is where the blood on the wall behind him came from.
I decided to keep walking down the alleyway, trying to not let this old man bother me. I tried to walk with confidence, but even the sight of my own shadow made me jumpy. Every little noise I would hear would have me at a loss of breath or have my heart beating a mile away. Even the slightest sound of the buzzing of a bee or the pulsating sound of my heart would frighten me. At any time, this man could jump out of his catatonic state and make coming down this alleyway the worst decision of my life.
A black pigeon flew down and landed on the rusty, metal fire escape to the left of the old man. Just as the pigeon’s head turned top the right and looked at me, from somewhere in the distance I heard a faint voice of a woman shouting “Get out of my house!” The once silent alleyway now seemed to be crawling with different noises. No sounds, smells, or sight at all seemed to be breaking the old man out of his daze. I almost wanted to run up to him and scream in his ear to see if he would be responsive… almost.
Something inside me, made me feel bad for this cold, lonely old man, and it was now that I made a decision that might change his life. I took the final steps towards him, slowly and cautiously, and stood squarely in front of him. I was breathing so hard and deeply that it could have been heard above the screeching tires and horns from the cars on the street in the distance.
Examining the filth surrounding him, and seeing what he called home, I wished that this old man didn’t have to go through the things what he was dealing with: I felt guilty because he didn’t have much. I nervously put my hand in my pocket, and reaching to take out two twenty pound notes, never once taking my eyes off of him, wondering what he might do. I lay the money in the palm of his hand, and he lifted his head and he looked at me for the first time. His once hollow, empty, black eyes now shone as bright as the moon and stars filling the sky. They were now full of gratitude and appreciation. I paused and looked him deeply in the eyes for a moment, smiled, then turned to walk the rest of the way down the alleyway, until I was halted by a low, rumbling sound. He turned is head to the left and delicately whispered “Thank you.”