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Fiction Friday Prompt #1

April 12, 2015

At Old Bailey’s Funeral

A crowd of people stood among his grave. Few of them knew the truth of Old Bailey’s life — the war he fought in Vietnam and the one fought back at home after he returned. Few knew how he ended up living out of boxes in the alley. If more had, it might have made a difference. Perhaps they would have been more kind, given more of themselves, even opened their homes to him. Most saw only the decades’ old man in thread-bare army fatigues, his weather-beaten face lined with agony, the litter of whiskey bottles around his box. They didn’t see the photographs he carried: the young soldier with a wife and child, army buddies with all smiles taken days before they died, his mother on her death-bed.

A teenager, with his skateboard tucked under his arm, spoke first. “Old Bailey taught me to skate. I know, it’s hard to believe, but he gave me this skateboard so I had a purpose. He didn’t want me dealing drugs or fighting in gangs. But once I learned to skate, I stopped coming to see him. Why did I stop? I am sorry Old Bailey. I am so sorry.”

Tears streamed down the faces of the crowd. They all understood the boy’s question. Why did they all stop?

An old jazz guitarist stepped forward. He bowed his head in prayer, then took out his guitar and played a soulful jazz tune. Afterwards, he spoke. “Old Bailey gave me this guitar when I was fifteen. That was in the 70s. He heard me play on a friend’s guitar, but he said my soul wasn’t in rock-n-roll. He taught me a few jazz songs from his generation. That was my soul. Old Bailey was my soul. A music scout came to hear me and wanted to sign me on. Old Bailey encouraged me to go. Today is the first time I’ve been back. I miss you, Old Bailey.”

Over and over again, men and women stepped forward to share how Old Bailey touched their lives, some tender, but all marked by Old Bailey’s unique wisdom. But none of them had remained. They’d garnered what they could from Bailey and then went on with their lives. They just all assumed he would be always be there.

Finally, a young girl, barely ten, stepped forward. She held in her hands a small memento box. She opened it and began lifting pieces of paper from within. She passed each page around to the others. Written upon each slip was the names of each person standing by Old Bailey’s grave, along with how he had helped them, how their lives were led after they left and prayers for their safety. They may have all forgotten, but Old Bailey never forgot them.

prompt from Burning the Root

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