He breathed in deeply, then exhaled, delighting in the ease at which he accomplished so simple a task. It was so different from what he could recall, but the anachronism did not bother him, as he sat on a rock, leaning back on straightened arms.
He looked up to the sky and caught sight of the riot of colours filling it. The hues seemed so much brighter, so much more vibrant, so... alive. And even though he was alone in the wide grassy expanse, he felt so at ease. And so he closed his eyes and sat, just a tired old man admiring the beauty of his surroundings...
The pleasant voice gently brought the old man out of his reverie, and the old man cracked open one of his eyes to find the source of the words.
There, standing in front of him was a youth, a young man who looked no older than twenty. Yet, as the old man peered closer, the boy seemed so much older than his years, so much wiser, as if he had gone through more than the old man ever had.
He looks so familiar, thought the old man. But he definitely was not one of his grandchildren, despite the boy's greeting. In fact, he did not even think he had seen the boy before.
The old man's confusion must have shown on his face, for the boy smiled disarmingly back at him.
"You may not remember me, but you accepted me, and I remember that. I told you back then that I would never forget you."
And as the old man looked into the youth's clear eyes, the old man suddenly knew who he was. And instinctively, he knew why the boy was there with him.
"Is it time to go already?" asked the old man. He did not really want to leave his seat on the rock. It felt comfortable, and so much more known that wherever it was he was supposed to go with the boy.
The youth smiled again, a wide smile that reassured the old man.
"I'll be bringing you somewhere better, but no, we're not leaving yet. I've got a request asking to let you remain awhile more."
The old man sighed in relief. The thought of going somewhere better sounded good, but he also felt that something was not quite ready, that he could not leave, that there was something in him that was holding him there.
"Take a seat," invited the old man.
As the boy sat down, so many questions rose in the old man's heart, so many answers that he wanted to hear from the boy. But when he looked at the young man sitting on the grass besides him, smelling a flower, a lily, he realized, the old man realized his questions were not important, and that he would have plenty of time to ask them later on.
So the two of them sat there, watching the golden fields around them, silently contemplating the wonder of their world.
Abruptly, the boy stood up. The old man looked up in surprise, as the youth took his hand.
"Hold on, grandfather. You'll have to go back for a short while."
The world went dark. The old man suddenly smelt the sterile smell of the hospital, felt the unwelcome feeling of tubes, tasted the odd plastic flavour of air that comes through a breathing mask. And he realized it was difficult to breathe again, almost panting as his body tried to draw in life-giving oxygen to lungs that were not working efficiently.
He started to panic. He couldn't see, couldn't move, couldn't even breathe properly... then he felt the warmth of the boy's hand in his, and as he gripped tighter, his fear subsided. Then, he noticed the presence of others around his bed.
One of the presences leaned over, and gently shook his shoulder.
"Grandfather? We're all here, don't worry."
He recognized the voice, and the old man wanted so much to open his eyes. To take a look at the face of his granddaughter, and see her dimpled smile one more time. To look one more time at her two brothers, who, he could sense, were standing stocially to one side trying not to cry. He wanted to see his youngest grandson, who was sitting in the chair, sleepily trying to stay awake for his grandfather.
He wanted to see the maid, who had taken care of him so well the past few months, and to thank her. He wanted to see his son and daughter, and their spouses, who he could sense were maintaining quiet vigil by his bed.
And he wanted so much to see his wife, who he knew would be worried. He wanted to hold her one last time, and tell here everything was ok, but though she was calling his name, his body just would not respond.
He felt so frustrated. He could feel them, but he was unable to respond to them, and he was so upset he wanted to cry. But the strong grip of the boy's hand in his quickly drained all the despair out of him, and he relaxed again.
He sensed his daughter-in-law bending over him.
"Don't worry about us dad. The kids are all grown up, and we can take care of ourselves. Rest easy," she whispered into his ear. Her voice cracked on the last few words, and he knew she was crying.
And even through his laboured breathing, he also heard his two older grandsons praying over him, asking God to take his hand, and give him peace. He smiled to himself at that, for he knew he already had.
The youth's hand tightened around his, and he could see again, back in the golden field, breathing freely, bathed in the amber glow of the evening sun.
He was standing up too, on good, strong, healthy legs that he had not had for years.
In the distance, a bell tolled, as if signaling an end to the day.
"Is it time to go now, my Lord?" asked the old man again.
This time, the boy nodded.
"Where are we going?" The old man looked around, then saw a city in the distance. It glittered as it caught the rays of the setting sun, and the fading notes of the bell appeared to come from within its walls. "Are we going there?" pointed the old man.
The boy nodded again, then cocked his head as if listening to something. He turned to the old man.
"Your grandson asked me to tell you that he'll be meeting you there someday soon."
Happiness flooded the old man's heart, even as tears welled up in his eyes, as he knew he was being apart from his loved ones temporarily. The youth continued to hold his hand, leading him to the city.
"Come on, grandfather. You've finished your journey, and I've prepared a place for you, to welcome you to my Father's place. You're finally going home."
At this, the old man smiled. And he walked off with the boy, hand in hand, to the eternal city.
* * *
Good bye, grandfather.
Rest in peace.
4/11/1927 - 4/12/2008
Rest in peace.
4/11/1927 - 4/12/2008