We noticed you. And were peeved. Day after day, in the same spot, in the same way, with the same companions- none. Weeks passed and we began to rationalise- maybe you were not left there out of indifference, but from some unavoidable need we could not fathom. We stopped and said hello anyway.
It has been two years, and many hellos since. Through the bars of the gate, we see your eyes. Not hollow as your age and prone position might suggest; mildly curious, sometimes we detect a sliver of...amusement? Maybe even bewilderment, at the strange couple who say hello and ba-bye to you from outside your walls. Bewildered, but accepting- their greetings, if nothing, don’t hurt.
You feel the heat, and pant. Sleep a lot- sometimes, it seems, with one eye half open. You stare, almost unblinkingly. Sometime you hold your neck up so straight and proud, that despite the lack of animation and despite you lying down, we believe we can glimpse more statuesque days. Yes, with little movement we still think you handsome and proud.
Sometimes, though not often, you bark. It always makes us smile, because it is a sign of life, of awareness. Sometimes we have fancied the bark to be a “‘Hello!”. Then one day you are standing, and then you come up to the gate and bark, again and again. Bark, doubtless, at the two strangers who stop by so often. You look us in the eye, with no malice- just a solid, regular (dare I say happy?) bark, and that is more than good enough for us. We looked then in your eyes as you did in ours. There was little understanding, but somehow enough for this barred greeting.
Sometimes, we don’t see you for a day, or three. Before we can acknowledge what we must consider, you reappear. Rain kept you in, perhaps, or maybe you lounged in the front garden instead, which we can’t see.
You seemed animated for a time. Once, I saw you play with a ball. My heart gladdened unexpectedly and wholesomely. Another time, you rose from your prone pose and trotted to the gate as I appeared. I probably smiled all the way to work those days, at your animation and (perceived) recognition. Recognition that is, at best, based on appearance and smell and shouted Good Mornings. We don’t know your name, because we never understand your helper. Taashin? Tayshun? Dayshin? Dashing? We can’t tell, and none seem appropriate.
Today, after not seeing you for days, and not talking about it much (for that would ask more of us), I pass by again. You are not there, the porch is still empty. But then I spy your helper, she is drying clothes. I say hello, and take a step toward the gate.
“Hello”, she says, “he no more already.”
I strip my headphones off, not sure if I have heard right. But of course, I have. I ask for her to repeat, but I know it already. It was old age, and I knew it would come, though I never acknowledged it even to myself. She says you were so handsome. I meekly agree. I ask your name again, and again fail to understand it. I nod, unsure, then step away with a platitude (as much to myself as to her). The tears come before I have fully turned away.
I miss your other stranger, whose greetings were often the more cheery. I would have liked for us to find out together. I make a call but I can’t say anything for a few moments. Then I do. It seems a bit hollow. I turn and walk to my bus stop, trying to form your image clearly in my mind. The music plays. I wait to write.
Hello once more, and goodbye one last time.