The next day when he walked out of his house, he could've sworn that he hadn't intended to go back there. In fact, he had been roaming around thinking about something that didn't really matter to him and then all of a sudden there he was, standing in front of the lake, behind the bench where the old man sat, staring at the water just as he had the day before.
The boy supposed it was the lake. There was something magnetic about the lake; it pulled you in with it's promise of solitude and secrecy, the gentle hum of the wind as it caressed the smooth surface of the water forcing you to reflect on things you wouldn't have thought about otherwise. That had to be it, he decided. There certainly was no other reason for him to be there.
He supposed it would take one immense courage to approach someone after they had been that rude to them, but the boy didn't think twice as he swiftly sat down beside him on the bench. Still the old man didn't look away from the water as if there was something in the depths of the mass of clear blue that wouldn't allow him to look away.
No one said anything for a while, and it was a peaceful kind of a quiet that surrounded the lake that day. And then -
"Why didn't you do anything?" he asked suddenly.
The old man didn't miss a beat. "Excuse me?" Still staring at the water.
"When they threw those mangoes at your window, you could've done something. Told your father or retaliated in some way. Why didn't you say something?" He did not know where the question came from or most importantly why, but he figured that the old man looked too comfortable there sitting in the shade of a tree, staring at the water and he couldn't allow that when he still felt guilty - no, not guilty, but slightly uncomfortable with the way they had parted ways the previous day.
The old man sighed as if answering his question took too much of his energy. "Because I realized that sometimes people use other people to feel better about themselves and it wouldn't do any good to get in their way."
The boy stared at him for a while, waiting for him to say something that actually made sense, but when a minute passed and the old man still stared at the water, he shook his head, "I don't understand..."
The old man sighed a little longer this time, and said, "There are some boys and girls who go after others who can't stand up for themselves because they think it puts them in a position of power. They think that their fear is something to achieve, something that would make them feel strong and powerful and they prey on those unfortunate ones to feel above the rest of us."
He looked at him then to make sure he understood.
How could he not? After all, he was one of them. He thought about all the classmates he had bullied and even forced to cry just for the fun of it, and suddenly he felt something in his heart that he had never felt before - something close to shame. The feeling confused him and he did not want to think about himself like that anymore. So he asked another question.
"But you just openly admitted that you couldn't stand up for yourself - that you were weak."
"And what is wrong with that?"
The boy stared.
"So it doesn't bother you? Knowing you are weak?"
The old man laughed. "My dear boy! I know who I am - the good and the bad. If I can be proud of the best in me, how can I be ashamed of the worst?"
The boy listened to him, not really understanding. He also acknowledged the fact that the old man was the strangest person he had ever met, but his words reached him in a way no one else's ever had before. Again, he blamed it on the lake. Sure he couldn't make sense of half the things he said, but something about him, something about this place gave him the space to think, to feel, to be curios. It was unlike anything he was used to in the noise and chaos of his own house.
So he shrugged, "Still I would've taken my revenge."
The old man sighed again and the boy wondered if that's just something old people do all the time. "I know," he said quietly and then they both went back to staring at the water.
After a while, he realized it bothered him how different they were from each other and how that difference seemed to matter so much to him and seem so insignificant to the old man. He knew he would rather hang himself before admitting that he was weak, even if he was the weakest person on the planet. Faults weren't something for him that he could just admit to and feel okay about. Maybe that was why he couldn't understand the old man. But then he decided he had done enough thinking for the day and if he spent one more minute wondering, his mind was going to sleep.
So he asked another question. "So, you think it's okay to be weak?"
The old man sighed for what seemed to be the hundredth time that day. "It is never okay to be less than who you think you can be. That's the only answer I can find for your question."
This, the boy could understand.
He thought about the person he wanted to be - smart, charming, happy, and instead he was angry and resentful and sometimes he felt tired of being so. He knew that he could be the person he wanted to be if he tried but the thoughts vaporized from his mind as soon as they had been born and he felt at ease, at home with all the resentment built up in his chest. It was so much easier to be horrible than to think about all the reasons that made him so.
He shook away the thoughts because they led him no where and he blamed the old man for the headache he could feel coming. He promised himself that he wouldn't ask another stupid question whose answer would intensify that pain behind his eyes and instead, he focused his entire being on the view in front of him, trying to welcome the peace the dissolving sun brought along with it.