The strange old man

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“Do you want to live? There are only 2 possibilities. Yes or no?”

The small old bald black man remained silent, his legs folded beneath him, hidden under a loose hemp-white robe. He did not seem the least disturbed by the fact that I was pointing a gun at his heart. This was not going as I had planned.

“Well,” I demanded, “yes or no?”

“I am a Buddhist,” he replied and as I was thinking, 'what the hell has that got to do with anything?', he continued, “and in Buddhist dialectic we believe that there are never only 2 choices to any question but 4:

“Yes.
No.
Both Yes and No.
Neither Yes nor No.”

“What? I managed to ask, my gun arm dropping slightly. I was equally parts amazed at the balls on the old guy and frustrated that he wasn't doing as I asked.

“Well,” he said, “the person you see sitting here is nothing but a single wave on the quantum ocean, arising cresting and inevitably falling to merge once more, one with everything. Thus in answer to your question, do I want to live? Neither Yes nor No for whether or not you shoot and kill this temporal manifestation, my true self can never die. But also I would have to say both Yes and No. Yes, because I love life. No, because life is also full of pain, suffering and sorrow...

“But if you have simply come to rob the joint, might I suggest that you dig into the soil of that Peace Lily in the corner - they're very good for purifying the air you know - you should get one for your apartment. Just make sure it is the real deal; not GMO. GMO is death disguised as life. Would you care for a cup of tea?”

As he asked, the smell of brewing tea wafted in from the alcove to the left where presumably there was a small kitchenette behind the paper screen. It smelled wonderful and for some reason reminded me of a green and fertile forest valley somewhere far from this dark and violent city.

I ignored his question and walked over to the plant in the corner. It possessed large green leaves with rippling curling edges and large white flowers like sideways kisses with a knobbly pale yellow stalk in the middle of each.

“Look under the blue stone,” the old man said.

The Peace Lily was planted in a large brown pot that almost reached my hips. It sprouted from a rich dark soil which had a single pale blue stone the size of an small egg on it. I picked up the stone and marvelled at its cool smoothness for a moment, at the way its blueness was a rippling wave that almost seemed to move, gently pulled by subtle tides.

Wary of some hidden mouse-trap or other nasty surprise, I brushed the soil aside carefully until I uncovered a small brown leather pouch tied with a black leather string. I picked it up and untied the pouch. Inside were a dozen or so gold coins.

“Those coins are the only items of material value that I own but you are welcome to them... however, if you don't mind, please leave me a single coin... I have something important I must do with it.”

I stared at the old man flabbergasted. All I could think to say was, “why are you being so nice to me?” To my surprise, my voice sounded like a little boy's. Strange. I had forgotten the little guy was still in there.

“Oh it is nothing, really,” smiled the old man, looking almost embarrassed, “please take them. If you are so desperate that you are robbing people, then you surely need them more than I.”

Did I? I didn't know any more...

Sure it would buy me out of the current jam I was in but the way I'd been living recently, burning along the bright edge of street-life, committing unplanned B&E's, GTA's and armed robberies uptown, selling the loot to Jimmy the Fence down by the docks then hitting one of the numerous illegal gambling dens in the backrooms of speakeasies all up and down the Flamingo Coast, gunning my oil-beast along the highways and byways of our strip-mall society, dancing with the reaper under the lights of dying stars, grinning manic from the sheer insanity of it all, chasing that high that comes when everything is riding on the line and it all depends on whether the goddess of luck chooses to be a lady, always aware that at any moment the almighty bitch-slap karma has been keeping in store for you could come crashing down like a ton of bricks, leaving me swimming with the fishies like all the other degenerates and losers before me. Street legends, every last one of them.

Even now, I could hear the siren song of the dark faeries and djinns of the night, beckoning me forth with their promise of sweet delights that I know from bitter experience would most likely end badly. But who am I to say no? What else is there to do in this half-life the system got us living in? Become a square, slaving at a 9 to 5 while my guts slowly rot and my heart dies every-time I cash my pay-check? No thanks.

From somewhere, I heard a voice ask, “Come on ya yellow-bellied lily-livered son of a gun, time's awasting! Rob the old man or not? There are only two possibilities. Yes or No?”

I don't know how long I simply stood there, staring into the pouch at all those shiny gold coins gleaming like a leprechaun's stash before the old man asked, “are you sure you wouldn't care for some tea? It should be ready by now. San Luis de Pottossi; my favourite. Most excellent for clarity of thought...”

I looked up at his gentle smiling ebony face. What a strange old man.

About the Author: 
Efe Okogu is a British-Nigerian writer living in Mexico. He believes that life is real SF and far stranger than anyone can conceive.