The Old Man in the Box

Do not allow me to forget you.
~ Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

I have a picture of an old man whose name I never knew. He sits inside a cement opening covered by a tin sheet to stop the rain. Stuffed into a crease above him are a few rags. I pass by him and he looks at me and brings his hands together in Namaste. His eyes are so full, they are empty. They have seen too much. His folded hands look like a plea.


The cement opening is his home. The tin sheet, his roof.
He wears white. The colour of mourning. Because he knows I will forget.

We all do.

Day in and day out of my life, I won't think of his face. I won't remember his poverty. Instead, I will get caught up in my own poverty. A poverty of my own making. I will count pennies and lament rising prices. I will think of all the things I do not have. And I will forget that he lives in a cement enclave that might already be bulldozed through because the government decided it was illegal for some people to have a place to call home. I will forget that he has to pay a fee to use the latrine so he goes by the train tracks instead. I will forget that some days, most days, he does not eat.

And I will forget that he folded his hands in prayer to me. In thanks. For taking his picture and giving him a story. For looking at him in the eyes and reminding him he is still a person.

He had forgotten.

And even though I forget him most of the time, sometimes, I remember. And when I remember, I want to fall to his feet. I want to beg him to stop looking at me. To unfold his hands. I am not worthy of his respect. I forget him. All the time.

I forget him when I look through my house and feel bored by the vastness of what I own. I forget him when I take too much food and throw away what I cannot eat. I forget him when I sleep in my warm bed. I forget him when I cry.

I forget.

But I have a picture of an old man whose name I never knew. Sitting inside a cement opening. His hands folded in thanks. So I fold my own. And I remember.

Even if only for a moment.
I remember.

And I am grateful.

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