The old man smiled sadly, pulling on his one sock. Like an old friend they’ve travelled far, experiencing life’s journeys together. Grasping the heel, he slides his foot into the sturdy sandal, protector of the worn and thread bare sock. Sealing the velco strap he stands on shaky legs and shuffles across the sticky floor. His room, like all the other rooms, has seen its share of shoes shuffling across the floor. Shuffling in sadness, excitement or despair, down the hall to the doorway. He is set on the idea that it is not really a doorway at all, but more of an escape hatch. Entering into the building he escapes the chaotic madness of the world outside. Entering out into the world through the door, he can escape the lonely, soul crushing desperation suffocating the air inside.
Today he is definitely the doorway enters to the world outside. Outside where the sun shines down over the earth, warming everything it touches with its golden rays. Outside children smile and laugh innocently, as they wait at the bus stop together. Outside the breeze swirls past brushing away any sadness and tears to leave only a contented smile in its path. The grey gloom that has settled over the hostel and suppresses life has finally driven the old man to seek refuge in the world outside.
Taking a walk to the park is no longer an easy task. Years of abuse has crippled his joints, immobilised muscles and caused pain to cascade through every fibre. But the pain is a welcome relief sometimes to the other pain that constantly pulsated through his veins. The lovers that were loved then lost in a sea of people coming in and out on the tide of his life. The wife he no longer had by his side, to smell the scent of shampoo in her curled mess of hair. Or the children that had disappeared with her in an instant of tangled metal and shattered glass. The love of sharp, searing liquor racing down his throat to numb the stabbing aches in his heart and soul. A walk in the park would help clear his mind.
At the threshold to the park, the old man stops to sniff the pungent smell of fresh cut grass. He finds a seat in a quiet corner and slips off his sandals. Gingerly he removes his sock and folds it neatly, tucking it safely into the sandal. Putting his feet down on the soft grass, the fresh cut edges tickle the soles of his wrinkled old feet. Pushing up, the old man takes gentle steps, being careful not to crush the grass below. He wanders in to the grove of trees, gazing at the fluttering leaves and the butterfly that glides from branch to branch. It feels like the briefest of moments spent wandering through the knotted and gnarled fig trees, but the sky is shedding its daylight colours. Dusk paints clouds lilac, mauve and burnt orange swirled together to fill the gap between the day and night skies. The sun warm on his skin and the pungent earthen air in the park has lightened the old mans mood. He is ready to head back now.
Walking back to the seat, he slows as a tingle races up his spine. The spot where he had left his sandals and sock. The seat was alone in the park. This is not right, the old man thought, ideas and memories of other places and other times flashing through his mind. Was it this place I left my belongings. Dropping onto the seat, his shoulders sag. They are gone. Someone has taken his sandals and sock. The sandals are nothing, but the sock, the hole ridden, threadbare, well worn sock that has travelled many paths with him, is gone. The depression and pain that has been bottled up inside and masked with liquor and medication for so many years finally bubbles up and topples over and out of him. Loneliness streaks his weathered cheeks with tears, as the pain becomes excruciating. The sock, the last remnant of the past, is gone. A gift for some mundane celebration or occasion, but given with such pride and love, is gone. Just as the family that gave the sock had gone too. The old man shudders on the seat the weight of being completely alone crushing his lungs, stomach, heart.
Exhaling into the darkness that has engulfed the park, his grief steams out on warm clouds of breath. It is time to escape back to the hostel, escape back through the doorway. He is ready to leave the reality of the world and enter back into the void that is all he has left in this life.