Rookie and the Old Man

Across my house, there is an unpaved path towards what everyone in this neighborhood says is the house of the quiet old man. The path is filled with large trees that give it a shady impression, like how adventures usually begin in old children’s tales.

I’m still new to this neighborhood. I bought the house from its previous owner at a fair price, and once it was mine, I quickly moved in with my dog, Rookie. I just recently moved out from the city, wanting a new place and environment to live and work on. Unfortunately for me, my neighbors seem to not like chatting. They always find ways to block my attempts to make friends; if not saying “I’m sorry, but I must go. I’m very busy”, they would simply ignore me politely knocking at the door, or pretend they didn’t heard me calling from the wooden wall in their backyard.

Because of that, I stopped trying to make connections or friendships with any of them. Any of them, except for that old man across the street. I haven’t seen him yet for probably a few days now since my first arrival in this neighborhood. I sometimes would see his truck coming out of the path, but the window pane is so dark, that it’s hard to make out what he looks like. I had this impression that he’s probably an old grumpy man, judging by how far his house probably was from the road. It gives off the impression that he doesn’t want any people around him, much like how this neighborhood does.

Nevertheless, I do my best to ignore it all.  I have Rookie beside me, living with me. Even though he can’t talk or understand what I’m saying, he makes me feel less lonely. I’m lucky. Although I have to admit: without anyone here to talk to, not even the neighbors, it gets really lonely.

One bright and peaceful day, I decided to clean the dead leaves that were scattered everywhere in my backyard. It was windy, so they all probably came from the trees that stood firmly around the area.

            I left the backdoor open, which allowed Rookie to rush out of the house and run around the backyard. Rookie is a brown dog with pointy ears, hazel-brown eyes, and a loyal and loving personality. He usually stays inside the barricades of the yard, but sometimes he would go beyond it and venture out into the neighborhood. One good thing though, is that he doesn’t trespass into the properties of my neighbors, since so far no one has come knocking at my door yelling about him.

            However, this afternoon, after I finished cleaning the leaves and dumping it to set it ablaze, I called for Rookie, but he didn’t come. At first, I thought he was already in the house, but when I went in, I couldn’t find him anywhere. I went back again in the backyard and circled into the front to look for him. I called out many times, and every call gets louder and louder; I began to feel uneasy as I saw the surroundings getting dimmer and dimmer. But after a moment of worrying, he came running from the path across the street; the path to the old man’s house.

            “Rookie, buddy!” I exclaimed in relief. “Where did you venture out this time?” Looking at the path—that is now filled with darkness—I asked my dog as I petted him, “What were you doing there, pal?”

            Days would continue to pass. Rookie would go on to venture out of the neighborhood more. But what I noticed is his frequent visit to the old man’s property. Every afternoon, almost an hour before sundown, I would see him running from the path leading to the old man’s. It’s strange, and it makes me think: what is he doing there, for him to have frequent visits?

Over the next following days, I finally made a friend. Her name is Fayette. She lives with her adopted niece just a few blocks away from my house. I met her when Rookie’s collar accidentally got caught in their barb-wired fence. She has dark brown eyes, the mole in her left temple is highlighted by her clear and fair face, and her hair forms this wavy pattern that boosts her beauty.

            My chat with Fayette was probably the first and most genuine conversation I had since I moved here. She actually allowed me in her house and offered me bread and coffee. I also noticed how genuine her reactions were when talking to me; I saw how glad she was to have a visitor.

            After telling my reasons for moving here in this neighborhood, and my job as a barista in the town’s coffee shop, I asked her about the old man.

            “Oh. Mr. Marquez?” she asked. I nodded, and she continued, “Oh yes. He had a house built several meters away from the road. And he lived there all by himself.”

            “Where’s his family?” I asked.

            “No one really knows”, she passed me another piece of bread. “He was here before me. Before my niece and I also moved to this neighborhood. But I never really knew much about him, or his family; if he had one. The only thing I know is that he lived alone there. And he seems to not like anyone who trespasses in his property.”

            I’m not sure if Rookie really goes into that man’s, Mr. Marquez’ place. But from what Fayette said, my impression of the old man becomes stronger: he might really be an old and grumpy loner. His wife probably left him many years ago for being controlling or something, and that made him despise people. He might just be the same as my other neighbors.

Rookie’s visits to Mr. Marquez’ property persisted. One afternoon, he came home from the path, looking like he was dried up from being wet. And that time, he did smell like a wet dog. Such an awful, dizziness-inducing smell.

It really worries me to attract the attention of a man who wants to be left alone. I didn’t want to get into any trouble, so I decided to put on a leash on Rookie to make him stay. And so while I’m out of the house, I just left him on the backyard porch, with his leash tied to the metal handrails. This continued every afternoon for a few days, and it gave me comfort and assurance of his safety and me out of any trouble from my people-despising neighborhood.

One afternoon during the weekend, while I was cleaning the dishes, I got an unexpected knock at the front of my door. It was a sudden knock, and when I heard it, I felt my heart beating really fast, as if it’s fearing something.

            And then I thought about the old man. And Rookie’s frequent visits in his property. Things went running across my mind. I thought: If this is the old man, what could be the reason for him to come here? Did Rookie destroy something that he noticed only today? Or worse thought yet: Did he come here to claim my dog as his property? I certainly don’t want that thought. But someone is waiting at my front door. I could already hear his call from the other side.


            “Excuse me?”

            “May I have a little chat with you?”

            The voice who yelled those words was from an old one; specifically, an old man’s voice. That gives me my confirmation: It’s indeed the old man.

            After cleaning away the foam of bubbles from my hands, I dried them with my already damp towel, and walked to the door. I shrugged off the feeling of nervousness I felt on my shoulders, and slowly opened the door. The wooden door creaked awkwardly, and when I opened it halfway to only take a peek, I saw this old man, standing right in front of the door.

            He wore a flannel shirt with dark brown patterns, a dark gray shirt underneath it, a moss-colored pants, and black rubber boots used for gardening or during rain. He has thick gray and white hair in his head, a trimmed beard whose color is also a mix of gray and white, and a slightly arched narrow nose. His wrinkles appear at the sides of his eyes, cheeks, and forehead. He leaned to the right to see me peeking through the door, and his clasped hands broke off when he had started speaking.

            “Good afternoon”, he greeted me with a bright smile. It showed his dimples and the light in his eyes that was not part of my first impression. “Are you the owner of the dog who kept visiting me?” he asked, with a strange feeling of easiness in his tone. Sensing this light atmosphere around him, I finally opened the door widely, and spoke, answering his question.

            “Yes, I am. Uh, why’d you ask?”

            “Oh”, his voice stayed more polite, and husky, “I’m sorry, I forgot to introduce myself to you. I’m Emmanuel Marquez, and my home is inside that path over there”, he looked back at the path across the road, “And, this might sound really strange: me asking about your dog. But I just can’t help but notice and worry about the sudden end of his visits at my home. If you don’t mind me asking, is he okay?”

            I was stunned. I did not expect that. “Uh, h-he’s okay. He’s fine. I just decided to give him a leash and let him stay in my back porch whenever I leave the house for work.”

            “Oh. Good. That answers my question”, he shortly said. I, feeling a little awkward and embarrassed, asked him to come inside for coffee; he brightly agreed.

            After preparing him coffee, I asked him to wait in the dining room while I got Rookie. When Rookie came, Mr. Marquez’ face lighted with joy. As Rookie sat and leaned in his right leg, he told me what Rookie had been doing in his home every afternoon.

            “When I first saw him, he was at my porch, resting. At first, we both got startled by each other, but then as minutes passed that time, he didn’t mind my presence around him; I didn’t mind his, either”, he paused and took a sip of coffee. Then continued, “Many afternoons had passed and he would continue to go visit my house. One time, I just saw him resting at the floor rug in the living room. And at other times, near the front door.” He’s joyous talking about Rookie’s little adventures.

            ‘Was he any trouble while he was in your home?” I asked him, while I sipped my own coffee.

            “Oh, no! No, he had been very good! Behave, quiet. One afternoon even, I guess you were at your work that time, I went out to my backyard to go fishing, and he followed me”, he was full of energy as he told me this. I, with my own coffee, was surprised of my buddy’s adventures.

            “He followed me down the forest and to the river. While I was preparing my rod and jar of baits, I just saw him looking at the river beside me. I let him stay of course, but kept a good eye for whatever mishaps he might do. And then, suddenly, he jumped at the water, and began fishing!” I began to smile at his stories of Rookie, and from that story, I now realized why my dog once came home seemingly dried up with a blow dryer.

            Almost an hour after of talking, Mr. Marquez finally decided to go home after checking up on Rookie. Poor man, he must’ve been so worried about Rookie’s absence; good thing he didn’t asked about the leash though. But before going he did asked us for something.

            “Son, can I ask you something? Would you like to come with me on a hike at my backyard tomorrow, and go fishing after?”

            “Yes! Yes, of course, Mr. Marquez”, I answered with glee.

            After that, we said goodbye to each other, Rookie said goodbye as well, and he walked across the road towards his house.

The next day came. Rookie and I were ready for the hike Mr. Marquez told us about. I got my rubber boots—the kind used for gardening or during rain, my jacket because it’s cold weather, my cap, and my bag full of essentials: a bottle of water, a towel, my phone, snacks, and an extra shirt. I have my camera hanging in my neck, ready to be used for capturing scenic moments.

            Removing the leash from his collar, Rookie went running across the road, and I followed by walking. Once I got to the other side, it was the first time I realized how vast the forest here was. I followed the path where Rookie went running, and immediately saw Mr. Marquez’ house. His truck was parked near the porch, and he was already outside giving Rookie pats in the head.

            “So Mr. Marquez, where are we going?” I asked.

            “At my backyard. There’s a hill over there that gives you a breathtaking view of the terrain just right outside of the neighborhood, and we can go fishing once we head downward to the river”, he gleefully said.

            We went on our hike afterward. First, going down a fair slope path filled with trees firmly standing. Some of them were thin, some were large. In front of us are several of the hills that I never thought existed beyond the trees that covered Mr. Marquez’ house. It almost felt like I was fulfilling my goal of someday visiting the State of Oregon. While walking, I asked a question to Mr. Marquez.

            “Mr. Marquez, do you always go down here to fish and relax?”

            “Among other things. This path, is like a walk down memory lane for me”, he answered. I pondered upon that answer while we were walking down.

            After going down, we were now hiking up a hill that is filled with tall grass. It gives me this nostalgic and blissful feeling to see things like this again. After all, you don’t get to see this in the city. When we reached the top, I got an indeed breathtaking view of something I hadn’t seen for a long time living in the city: green landscapes. Beautiful green landscapes, filled with plants and trees, and the chirping of birds. There’s probably snakes here as well, but it doesn’t deter my awe. Mr. Marquez then pointed down the direction of the river where we were going.

            We trekked down once again towards the river, and when we burst out of the thick tall grass, there it was. Surprisingly, it was crystal clear and clean. There’s a small dam-like structure at the further left of it where the water is coming from, and there are fish swimming at every corner of it. The current wasn’t strong, so they were able to thrive in it. The river was also shaded by the trees on the other side at that time, so spotting the fish was no problem.

            Mr. Marquez carefully sat at one of the boulders at the right with a rod in his hand and a jar full of worms squirming in the water inside it. With his hand gloved with a clear plastic glove, he picked one from the open jar, hooked it in the rod, and threw it to the river. Rookie was resting near the water, passively observing the fish and the current. Meanwhile, looking around, I began to take pictures using my camera. Pictures of Mr. Marquez fishing, of Rookie still resting by the river, and the view of the hills encircling our current location.

            Later on, I sat near the boulder where Mr. Marquez was sitting. While looking at the busy river, I asked him.

            “Mr. Marquez, do you really live alone?”

            At first, he didn’t say a word. But after a moment, he said: “I wasn’t really alone when I came to live here long ago. My son grew up here. He, his mother, and I once lived here happily.”

            “Where are they now?”

            He took a sigh. “I lost my wife for more than two years ago now. My son, well, he’s still distant from me. He have his own family now. But…” He paused, looking like he’s trying not to break, “…well, he doesn’t really want to have anything to do with me.” He then went silent.

            What he said broke me on the inside, that I also went silent for a moment, and reflected with myself for a bit. I once felt the same feelings towards my parents. However, my decision to live on my own was not because of that same feeling. I would always want to go back to them, and have them around. But with Mr. Marquez’ situation with his son… that’s just awful.

            I also began to piece every details together. The reason why he let Rookie stay in his house every afternoon. And why he probably hated people going into his property. I can’t imagine how much emotional pain it caused him, to be rejected by your own son like that.

            “If you don’t mind me asking, was that the reason why you let Rookie stay in your house every afternoon?” He looked at me with a face hiding his emotion. “Were you lonely?”

            His right eye rolled a tear down his cheeks. He immediately rubbed it off with his jacket. I immediately apologized for opening up a topic not usually talked about. Although, he assured me.

            “Oh, son. It’s okay. I just remembered how much true it is what you asked me. And I’m not going to hide it even”, he said, gathering up his composure. “Rookie, he makes me feel less lonely.”

            We both looked at Rookie, who is trying to catch a fish near the riverbanks where he rested. In a fit of animalistic instinct, he tried to lunge towards the fish and catch it with his mouth, but it got away. Such an innocent creature, but affects people in a deep level. Mr. Marquez spoke again.

            “When I was young, I ignored the concept of loneliness because I felt strong back then. Like I didn’t really need anyone when it will be just me. Now, at this age, you will realize just how wonderful it is to have someone, even a dog, by your side”, he said. “You’re lucky.”

That evening, after we got back at three in the afternoon, it got me thinking; self-reflecting. I judged the man so easily. Well, I don’t really know. I only properly met him yesterday, and got to spend a genuine time with him earlier. I don’t know if he’s really a grumpy old guy or not, but I know he’s broken. And for so long too, I guess.

            I was already at bed, when I decided to leave and went downstairs to look for anything to eat. As I passed through the living room to go to the kitchen, I saw Rookie awakened by the sound of my slippers. I apologized in a low soft voice. After taking out a box of donuts that I had yesterday from the refrigerator, I went to the living room and sat at the sofa. Rookie went and lied down right by my feet.

            “Did you had a wonderful day today, pal?” He just blinked at me. I was trying to eat the donuts, but I couldn’t get out of my head Mr. Marquez’ story on why he allows my dog to stay in his house. He must be alone now. Poor old man.

            I was about to put the donuts back at the fridge, when an idea popped up into my mind. Something that would probably make my new friend a little less lonely tonight.

I took Rookie outside. I locked the door of my house, ran across the empty road, and to Mr. Marquez’ house. The lights inside his house were still brightly opened, meaning he is still awake.

            Sneaking up into the back of a tree, I drew Rookie close to me using his leash, and detached it from his collar. Rookie got surprised. His eyes widened, and if he could say something, he probably would’ve asked: Wait! Are you nuts? Why did you just unleashed me? It is nighttime, and I could literally go anywhere where you’d have a hard time finding me. Are you sure about this decision of yours?

            But I have trust in my dog. My adventurous, loyal, and friendly dog. My companion. I trust that no matter what, he would still be by my side. But someone needs a friend now. So I’m allowing him to visit his friend, or our friend, tonight. And so I signaled him to hurry along towards the house’ porch. He quickly ran towards the porch. When he got to the door, he began scratching first. But when it didn’t caught Mr. Marquez’ attention, he began barking.

            Through the light inside the house, I saw Mr. Marquez walking towards the door. When he opened it, he was ecstatic to see Rookie, wagging his tail in front of him. I heard him exclaimed:

            “Rookie, boy! What are you doing here?” he said as he petted Rookie. “Did you went out of your house?”

            Then, he looked at the direction of my house. I hid myself as best as I could behind the tree, and when he focused his sight on Rookie again, I peeked back.

            “Don’t worry. We’ll get you back to him tomorrow. At the meantime, make yourself at home here. We have different foods in stored. There are fish, beef…” Mr. Marquez continued speaking to Rookie with a big smile at his face, allowed him in, and closed the door.

            Seeing the ray of happiness in him gave me so much joy and warmth in my heart. As I walked back to my house across the street, and took the keys out from my pocket; I opened the door, went inside, locked it, and went straight to the sink and brushed my teeth. I readied myself for bed, because I know for one that I had just made a new friend. Friends, actually. And I can sleep peaceful tonight, knowing everything had been fine, and tomorrow, will be much better.