The two girls woke that morning in their holiday cottage and went for a walk along the coastline. The sun was hanging like an iron plate over the earth, and the sea lathered in the distance, bluedark and wild from the wind. On the trail they came across an old man, shielded from the January cold by an alcove of bushes and trees, sitting on a bench and watching the hills studiously.
The girls had walked many miles so they stopped to eat a sandwich. They said hello to the old man who returned the greeting and smiled. He asked them where they were from and they told him Cambridge, East Anglia, and soon they were sitting beside him on the bench and talking. They spoke about their cottage and the old man told them he once knew the owner now lost long into his past.
The girls asked if he was enjoying his day and he said he was, that these walks were tough on his feet but good for his heart and here on the coastline he could admire the solemnity of man washing away in the sea; but he never ventured much further for he did not enjoy the towns. Meeting people on the trail was fine, he explained, for these events were quickly over. But in a town he might get caught in conversation that confused him like an obstacle or crossword where words became marbles in his mouth. He didn’t know why this was but ventured a guess that perhaps it had something to do with the persistence of man when among stone and iron creations.
He told them he had lived in these parts all his life and he thought it was wonderful that the young could find such peace in his home, and they agreed, and he asked them if they were here looking for their identity. It seems to me, he said, that these days it was harder to come by an identity and he asked them if they had looked for it among the rocks or the trees or the sea and the sky. They considered his words but felt they had already found themselves and the old man chuckled and said this couldn’t be true for the young always feel they have everything in order but can never tell the difference between the reality and the fairytale.
He explained that as they got older their lives would unravel like saps of thought where knowledge would spread and learn from the years they had left before them. But it was such things the old man didn’t wish to sound wise for he too was still a student of all there was and only the stars or the warmth of a fire contained any truth. He had grown philosophical, he explained and the old man lifted a leathery hand and swatted his words back into the air, and the girls smiled and when they finished their food and had sat for some time looking at the roll of the land they finally stood and bid farewell and carried on with their journey.