The school bell would ring around three thirty and I would jump out of my desk and run for the door. There was now time to delay. Everyday I would go out to the bluffs. I liked the coolness of the seaspray on my face and the gentle breeze that was always there. But more importantly I went to talk to the old man.
He sat down on the edge of the cliff with his feet dangling over. I could not sit beside him, I was too afraid of falling into the see. "Come, sit down, don't be afraid." he would say, "you aren't going to fall." After a while on coaxing he got me to sit on the edge.
We sat there, the silence was broken by the cry of seagull flying above. I noticed a large pile of rocks near the edge of the cliff. I asked the man what it was for. "Oh nothing, it's just a pile of rocks, it's been here since I was a boy, but it was much larger before." With that I was satisfied for the time being.
I would often bring homework with me to the bluffs. The man was very knowledgable and liked a challenge, so I could often get him to do a lot of my homework for me if I was able to convince him that it was challenging. He'd often get frustrated with the question in the books and would say, "Ah, foolish books. You can't learn anything at a school anyways, everything must be learned out here." By the bluffs I would enquire, "Well, yes, out here by the bluffs". That seemed to stick to me because I would often catch myself saying I couldn't learn something new because I wasn't by the bluffs. To which I most always got an odd expression on somebody's face.
I think the old man knew everything about my life after a couple years meeting with him. But I knew hardly anything about him, I felt determined to learn more about this old man. The first day I asked what he used to do. "There is nothing to know!" he screamed then he got up and walked away, home I supposed, I'm not sure. That ended me asking questions about his life.
I didn't show up at the bluffs for about a week. I though he might still be upset at me. So when I returned I was surprised that he greated me as though nothinn ever happened. At this time I glanced over at the pile or rocks again and noticed that it was significantly smaller than when I first met the old man. I couldn't help but wonder now why he always came out to the bluffs. I've gone on two years without needing to know, now all of a sudden I desparately needed to know.
"Why do you always come out here?"
"I think I might ask the same question of yourself."
It was odd to get a response this time, considering his reluctance to anser my question last week. "But you know I come out here to see you."
"That is what it appears, but like myself you have another reason to come out here. There is something that compels both of us to continue coming out here day after day, and if not in body than in mind."
"How do you mean, if not in body then in mind?" I was puzzled by his remark, what could he possible mean. How does one come out to the bluffs in their mind, did he mean dreaming?
"Oh", he would laugh, "just an old expression that my father told me once. I'm not quite sure what it means, nor do I think he ever did"
That striked me as odd, I was sure that he knew what he meant, he just felt it was unnecessary for me to know. To avoid the question of what he did I thought I would ask the next best queston. "What did your father do."
He was hesitant to answer, but eventaully did. "He used to run the lighthouse over there. It has long since been out of operation. He was a grand person. He taught me everything I needed to know in life."
"He must have been a very wise man, like yourself." I was hoping my remark would make him reveal some more about himself.
"He was very wise, as for myself, well, I must be modest and not attest to my own wisdom. I remember one thing he told me. Wisdom comes not with age, but experience, and it is only coincidental that experience comes with age."
Now I truly had no idea of the significance of that. It seemed to obvious to mean what it said. "He sounds like a very interesting man, what about his wife, that is, your mother."
"You seem to be a very inquisitive young person. How about you come around my house Saturday evening and I will tell you more about myself."
"Okay, sounds great", overjoyed with his invitation I never thought to ask where he lived. I've known him over two years now but have no idea where he lives.
That Saturday I headed out around five, I thought it may take while to figure out where he lived. I was determined to knock on all the doors in the town if I had to. But a realization came over me, it must be the lighthouse, where else could he live.
I went to the lighthouse and knocked on the door.
"Come in", he shouted from inside. I opened the door and went inside. It was truly a magnificent place. The shelves and walls were lined with memories of what could be thousands of years. There were numerous pictures around. I thought I must see everything before I leave.
"You must be riddled with curiosity my son."
I was shaken, although a common way to address younger people that was the first time he had ever called me son. "I am."
"Well, let me start. MY father ran this lighthouse, I told you that before. My mother was a magnificent woman. She would keep this place spotless. She was an excellent cook and the most loving woman in the world. She however had passed away before my tenth birthday. Feel free to look around while I continue."
I took up his offer and started looking at the pictures. He continued to talk about his life while I wandered around looking at all the pictures. The ones of his parents were easy to spot. His mother was a beautiful woman and his father looked like a very fragile person. But from his stories I knew his father was a very strong man.
I came across a picture of a very lovely young woman. "Who is this". He looked at me, and the picture, then he continued with his stories as though I had never said anything at all. I didn't want to interrupt again so I didn't mention the picture again.
There were hundreds of mementos from years passed, always with pictures beside them. There were many pictures of himself. However I noticed that the pictures of him seemed to have a gap. There were pictures of him as a teenager and then as a middle aged man, nothing in between. I noticed some books over in the far corner. I started making my way over when he crossed my path.
"That's enough for one night, I can tell you more another day." He hurried me out of his house. It wouldn't be enough to keep me away however.
The following night I went back, but during the day when I knew he would be out by the bluffs. The door was unlocked so I walked in. I went over to the corner to where the books were the night before. They weren't there anymore. I searched the house but could not find them.
I heard the door open so I ran up the stairs to the light beacon above. He made himself supper then went to sleep. He had bolted the door and with all the stuff around I would surely be spotted if I were to leave. I had brought a flashlight along, I'm not sure why, but I did. I turned it on to look around and noticed a box. It was filled with what appeared to be journals.
They were all dated in the period in which the pictures of his life seemed to be missing. I started reading the books and thought there must be something wrong, this can't be his life. They were all journels from twenty years he spent in prison. I flipped through the books and a newspaper article fell out. His picture was on it. He was convicted of murdering two people; sentenced to life in prison.
"I wonder how he got out if sentenced to life in prison", I whispered to myself.
"You want to know," he scared me, he was behind me and started shouting loudly. "I'll tell you how. I couldn't stand life in prison. I would have done anything to get out of that place. I didn't deserve to be in there. I was only trying to help my sister and they accused me of pushing her off the bluffs. It was the man she had been seeing, that bastard drove her insane. She wanted to kill herself, I tried to stop her from jumping off the cliffs, but I couldn't. So I went after the man that did it to her. I picked up by the neck and carried him back out here. I showed him her body lying down below on the rocks. I was shouting at him, how could he do this. I was enraged. I was just so angry. I did not mean to kill him. But they came up from behind and frightened me, I let go... I didn't mean to." He was now crying and the story wasn't coming out too easily. "He fell down below as the townspeople grabbed me... and sentenced me to a life in hell."
"How did you get out after twenty years, you were supposed to spend your life in prison..."
"I couldn't stand it, I pleaded with them. I went insane and they transferred me to an asylum. They lost track of me and I came back here. But then he approached. A man dressed in black, he said for the crimes I commited I would be given the worst sentence of all. He said that unlike prison where the days pass by endlessy I would no know exaclty how many days that I had left." He was on the floor crying and screaming. "I tried to tell him I did nothing wrong... all he could respond was that I should then live the rest of my life as though I had indeed done nothing wrong. With that he turned and walked away..."
I can remember that night clearly. I look over at the rock pile, there are only a handful of stones left. I avoided him that last week. I think he understood why, but that last day I went to visit. We talked that final time. Nothing about his life, or mine, we just joked around. There was nothing more he could expose of himself, nor I of myself. Then he walked away.
I picked up the final stone from the ground and held it in my hand. A tear graced my cheek. I wondered whether the man's tale was truthful or not. Was he a victim, or was he murderer. These questions are still with me today, but they never bother me as much as they did with the final rock in my hand. I will never know what I should have done, should have I thrown the rock into the sea, or placed it in my pocket to be with me forever. And if the man in black ever approaches me to ask of the rock I will never reveal what I have done with it.
And that's the tale of the man that once lived on these bluffs. I tell this now to my children, and we often go inside the old lighthouse, we keep the dust off everything. I have no idea why I continue to come out here, nor why I keep the house in order. My wife does not understand, yet she does help.
I do not fully understand the story, but I understand his comment, "wisdom comes with experience, not with age, the fact that experience comes with age is just a coincidence." As I have gained more wisdom from him than any one person can ever gain in a lifetime. But I still have no answer to the question. Am I serving justice to a victim by sharing this story, or serving the black man. These questions haunt me everytime I stand here and look out across the endless sea.
- Imagination's End