I lived a mediocre life before I met a cranky old man named Russell. He told me a story that changed everything for me. Then he called me a sissy and told me to go get him some pudding.
The Garden Grove Senior Living Community was a grandparent’s dream. It had a first class staff, pristine landscaping, and a Baskin-Robbins less than a block away. I was afraid it would have an “old people” smell, but as the glass doors slid apart the only smells that greeted me were the fresh flowers throughout the lobby and a faint afterglow of cleaning supplies.
A black sign with gold trim informed me that I needed to check in at the front desk. The moment I entered the building I could not shake the feeling that I was being watched. I shook it off and crossed the hardwood floor with a to where a receptionist was sharing information about the facility with the practiced ease of a telemarketer. As I waited for her to finish I looked around the lobby. At first glance it looked empty, but then I caught motion out of the corner of my eye.
I would never have seen her had she not shifted in her chair. The flower-patterned dress she wore was almost identical to the cloth that covered the chair she sat in, creating a kind of granny camouflage. Her hope-filled eyes were locked onto the flowers that I carried in my right hand.
“Can I help you?”
I turned away from the world’s oldest ninja to see the receptionist peering over her glasses at me.
“Uh, yes. I have a delivery for room 227.”
“You mean apartment 227.” She said this as if I had just insulted her.
“Sign in here. Grab a visitor badge. Take the elevator up to two and the help center will direct you from there.”
I shifted the flowers to my left hand and signed the logbook. After clipping the “Visitor” badge to my shirt I turned around to find myself face to face with the silver haired assassin. Her pink slippers must have been perfect for crossing the room silently.
“Good afternoon young man. And who might those be for?”
Everything in my began searching for a way to avoid facing the look of disappointment that would surely come if she did not live in apartment 227, but fortunately the receptionist came to my rescue.
“Mrs. Bumgardner, they are not for you. You may enjoy the flowers we have throughout the residence. Now let this man do his job.”
I smiled an “I’m sorry” kind of smile and headed straight for the elevator. The ride up was short, but still long enough for me to curse Billy Joel for getting Uptown Girl stuck in my head.
As soon as the doors opened I spotted the help center off to my right. With no one there, I was forced to wait or risk roaming the halls and fending off flower-crazed seniors. I did not have to wait long before someone began shouting at me.
“Hey! You there! Come here.”
The voice came from inside the room directly behind me. Through the open door I could see a pair of legs clad in red pajama bottoms and tan slippers facing a wall-mounted TV. I walked over to the threshold and looked inside to see an old man flipping through the channels.
“You looking for your grandma?”
“No. I am here to deliver these to roo… apartment 227.”
“Well Sheela’s on her smoke break. She won’t be back to the desk for a little while.”
The man set the remote down in his lap and looked me over.
“You are a flower deliverer? What are you, some kind of fruity pie?”
I smiled nervously. No one had ever taught me social etiquette concerning old people. Was it ok to insult them if they insulted you first? I decided to play it safe.
“Nope. It’s just a temporary job. Gotta pay the bills.”
“Gotta pay the bills? That’s a sorry excuse for what you do in life. Didn’t your parents ever teach you how to be an adult?”
“I am an adult sir. I have my own car, my own apartment. I do what I want.”
“Do what you want? So when you were a little boy you dreamed of growing up to become a flower boy?”
I laughed. He was a crotchety old fart, but I couldn’t help liking him for it.
“No. But that’s not very realistic is it? The world would be full of astronauts, cowboys, and princesses and there would be no one left to do all the real work.”
“Only an idiot would consider delivering flowers real work… Are you an idiot?”
I laughed again and ventured a couple steps into his room.
“No. I’m not an idiot.”
“Well then why don’t you quit being a flower boy and start doing what you want to do with your life?”
“That would be a good plan if I knew what I wanted to do with my life.”
The old man turned off the TV. His voice held the tone of parent speaking to a small child who was not understanding something simple.
“But you know you don’t want to be a delivery boy right? Sounds like you are just hoping the universe will make a decision for you. Well I got news for you. The world don’t work like that. Happiness doesn’t just drop into your lap. You gotta go find it. ”
I wanted to laugh it off, but the truth of what he said struck me hard. A million questions filled my mind as I studied the tops of my shoes. His raspy voice broke through my introspection with a hint less annoyance.
“I used to play chess with this old fart named Bert. He was a brilliant chess player, but he was also senile. Used the same moves every game. It still took me a month to figure out how to beat him, but once I did I could do it every time. Annoyed him to no end. Ha!”
I looked up expecting to see a smile on his face for the first time, but he was staring at the far wall as if watching a movie only he could see.
“Bert used to yammer on and on. Always telling stories about all the stuff he did when he was younger. He lived quite a life. I remember asking him once what his secret was.”
He paused. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to say something. Luckily, he continued before the silence grew too uncomfortable.
“When Bert was in college he learned about this tribe that lived at the bottom of the Himalayas. Somewhere up the mountain near their village there lived a wise guru. When a member of the tribe had a tough decision to make they would hike to the top of the mountain to be shown the way.”
He paused again, but this time I did not hesitate.
“The way to what?”
“The way they should go. But there was a catch. The guru would only see you once in your entire life. Well, a few years after ol’ Bert graduated he found himself working a nine to five and just going through the motions. He said that he had plenty of friends and hobbies, but that there was a big difference between happiness and fulfillment. So he decided he would go find this guru and ask him what he should do. He flew over to… wherever that place was and found the village. It took him three days to get to the hut, and when he finally made it he was shocked by what he found.”
“The guru wasn’t there?”
“Nope. The guru looked just like Bert. Identical in every way.”
A slight smile danced across the old man’s lips. He turned to look at me with a hard stare again.
“It was a mirror.”
“The guru was a mirror?”
“Yes. The village was teaching its people that no one else can make your decisions for you. Once a villager returned from the hut and made their decision, no one would question the wisdom of ‘the guru’. And once they realized that the only way to live was to follow their heart they rarely went back to letting life do all the leading.”
His eyes seem to fill with sadness as he looked at.
“Kids these days are spoiled. They don’t want to work too hard or take risks. But that is what it takes to have the life you want. It’s not easy, but damn it, it’s worth it.”
I stood there for a moment shaking my head.
“I am an idiot.”
The old man muttered, “I knew it!” as he picked the remote up and turned the TV back on.
I burst out laughing which drew another annoyed stare.
“Thank you, eh…”
“Thank you Russell. I needed to hear that.”
“I figured. Now stop being such a sissy and go get me a pudding.”
I did. It was the last delivery I ever made.
Copyright © 2012 Adam Drake