He waddled barefoot to and fro along the sidewalk, grime rubbing against his thickened soles, mixing with the accumulation of mud, dirt and gunk that had cyclically hardened, liquefied and dried between his toes over the course of alternating sunny and rainy days, dry and wet nights. His stocky, swollen frame, blackened, tattered clothes, the grease that covered his face and arms, and the thick layers of dark, rough, scabs and wounds covering his legs, were enough to cause unknowing pedestrians to stare, or to tighten their grip involuntarily on their children’s arms, or even to cross the road before they could cross paths with him.
It was hard to tell his age. With sallow, wandering eyes he often seemed in a distant place somewhere. Drawing near him one would hear a soft, constant humming, a happy, unfamiliar tune that locals had grown accustomed to and laughingly even found themselves whistling in their own homes. They had long dismissed any ideas that he was a threat to anyone; in fact they often pondered — though no one ever acted on it — why Social Services people hadn’t picked him up and given him the care he obviously needed.
He sat right outside the neighborhood bakeshop every time he took a break from walking. The baker never drove him away, seeing how the scent of fresh bread seemed to comfort him.
He never spoke to anyone. Each day people would hand him coins, crackers, water, leftover food in small takeout boxes. He sometimes rewarded them with the tiniest of smiles. On a few occasions someone even handed him a pail of water and soap to clean himself up. He returned the pail and soap after use, though still without a word. Just the humming.
Always, but never out loud, people asked what his story could be. How did he end up here? Where was his family? Who was he? And what on earth was that tune that just kept playing in his head, the only audible thing that ever came out of him?
The day the music died in him folks from the town morgue came in their van. They had a standard procedure for his kind: the barest minimum for the funeral, with a municipal representative as witness. A nameless grave. Those who knew him and those who did not — all of whom were actually the same people — whispered a prayer for his soul. He was in people’s conversations for a week or two, eventually forgotten all together as all carried on with their daily business, walking right by the filthy pavement that had been his home for years.
His only legacy no one even recognized, but thereafter many a pair of lips continued humming and whistling — from day to day, month to month, year to year and generation to generation, across households and neighborhoods and cities — a tune that nobody had the words to, yet soothed every ear that heard it.
Writing prompt courtesy of: Inspiration Monday 🙂