Jim sat on his balcony, cocooned in his ageing wooden rocking chair. He leaned forward, willing his body weight to propel the chair along its arc. Momentum was the key. What would his students have thought if they could see him using physics in this way?
His strength and body weight were not enough these days to get any decent sort of motion going. The chair returned to its preferred inert state. The truth was that inert was also his preferred state. He cast his tired eyes around. The washed out sky held just a memory of blue. His once proud garden stood overgrown. The stone pathway that led to his balcony seemed to regard him mockingly, daring him to navigate its uneven surface.
He used to go out walking every morning until he had stumbled on the stones. As he had laid there on the cold unforgiving pathway he had wondered for just a moment what would happen if he couldn’t get up. The moment has passed and he had slowly regained his feet. Since that day though, it was easier to stay on the balcony. Jim wasn’t sure when “easier” had become his creed, but it was a good spot to watch the world go by.
He heard the approaching footsteps of children on their way home from school. He knew what they called him. “Old Man Jim.” It used to bother him but now he admired their honesty.
As he craned his neck to see the road Jim heard the chair groan under his shifting weight. “My thoughts exactly,” he thought wryly. Glancing up, he saw that it wasn’t school children he had heard, just a small boy walking with his mother. As he watched the pair, the mother stopped to answer her phone. She started complaining about their train being late, about trackwork interrupting their trip, about being herded onto a bus with other passengers. Jim was so busy listening that he was startled to see the small boy leaning on his gate. The boy had a head full of blonde curls and one fell across his forehead as he tried to get a foothold on the gate. As he lifted his hand and impatiently pushed the curl away from his face the boy noticed Jim and waved. Jim waved back hesitantly.
Giving up on climbing the gate, the boy opened it and walked up the path. Jim noticed with a pang how deftly the boy mastered each step, unbothered by the uneven surface.
“You’re Old Man Jim,” the boy announced.
“That’s what they call me,” Jim answered. He cringed at how dry his voice sounded, like it had corroded from disuse. “And what do they call you?”
“I’m Asher. Asher James Miller.” The boy squared his shoulders just slightly as he proudly proclaimed his name.
“What are you doing?” Asher asked.
“Sitting….and watching,” he answered.
“Watching what?” Asher asked, lifting an eyebrow.
Jim hesitated but, disarmed by the honesty of their exchange, he answered with the jarring truth. “Watching life.”
Asher laughed. “You don’t watch life. You live it.”
Jim stared at the boy with a moment of awful clarity.
“Are you sad?” Asher asked. Jim wasn’t sure what to say. He wasn’t sure what he should say.
Before Jim had a chance to answer, Asher climbed the stairs. He reached out to touch Jim’s chair.
“Is that a real rocking chair?” he asked. Jim nodded. “Cool!” Asher turned to look at Jim’s yard. “Wow! I love your garden. Ours is so neat. But yours looks wild like a forest.”
The boy’s random observation roused a memory of seeing the world through the eyes of his students, the everyday tinged with wonder. Jim smiled slowly, the movement felt alien but he let muscle memory take over.
Asher continued his happy patter. “Mum and I got to ride on a train and a bus today. It was so cool!” Jim looked up and saw Asher’s Mum standing at the gate listening. In her eyes Jim saw the same awakening he felt. And just a hint of shame.
Asher saw where Jim was looking and turned to face his mother. “I was just telling Jim about our amazing day.”
Asher’s mother nodded. “I heard. You’re right darling, it was amazing.”
Asher smirked at Jim, “I told you.” Jim smiled more easily this time.
“The train was so fast. It was high velocipy.” Asher asserted proudly.
“Velocity.” Jim corrected automatically and he was surprised when he continued speaking. “I have a book about velocity. It has some great pictures of cars and trains.”
“Can I see Jim’s book Mum?” Asher asked.
Asher’s Mum looked towards Jim who surprised himself again by nodding.
“Maybe tomorrow,” she answered.
Content with his mother’s answer, Asher launched down the stairs. “Cool! Gotta go Jim. I’m going home to play with my trains. See you tomorrow.”
Jim watched the boy skip to his mother. He noticed how the sun glinted off his bouncing curls. He looked at his world, at Asher’s world. He thought about life and how it was a collection of moments.
Jim leant back in his chair and then pushed forward. He started to rock.