I have a short nonfiction story that appears online in this month’s issue of Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. The text of the piece follows:
The old man leaves his nursing home in the grayness of early morning, walking up the steep incline of South Crouse Avenue in Syracuse, as a stiff wind smacks him in the face. He swings his right arm out to the side—pumping it in rhythm—almost as if he is matching the beat of a marching band playing in his head. He has gray-black hair, balding in the front, and he wears a light blue jacket, tan pants, and gray sneakers.
I often see him sitting on the steps outside Bruegger’s Bagels near Marshall Street, sipping a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette, a blank expression pressed to his face. What does he think about as he sits there and watches the world rush by? What goes through his mind as he observes college students chattering in groups, nurses starting or ending their shifts, and cab drivers pulling over to the curb to pick up or drop off a fare or grab a quick cup coffee?
Despite his age the man asserts his independence as he escapes the white walls and the fetid smells of the nursing home. Each day he goes to Bruegger’s his creaky legs carry him up the hill and his lungs circulate oxygen. He remains alive, connected to the outside world as he savors the simple pleasure of a drinking cup of coffee and a smoking a cigarette in public.
No one seems to notice the man sitting there; he’s a faceless figure taking up space on a crowded street. I see him, recognizing his existence, and I am tempted to stop and talk to him, to find out about his life. But his blank expression dissuades me, as I don’t want to disturb him or cause him to become frightened, thinking that I may want something from him.
No, I do not say a word to the man. But I preserve his image in my mind, recording his likeness in detail. I do this because I think he foreshadows my existence 20 to 25 years from now, if I am not already dead.
If I am still able to walk then, I hope to mimic the old man’s movements, making an attempt to cling to a normal life despite being confined to a nursing home. I too will leave my bed in the morning, walk to a coffee shop nearby, grab a cup coffee or a bagel, and then sit down somewhere and say to the world, or only to myself, “It’s another day and I’m still here.”