As always, he was sitting at the back of the tavern, by the open fireplace. I noticed his white robes and grey hair the moment I got in. He always looked old and frail, but this night he seamed somehow fragile, staring at the flames as if life itself radiated out of it’s heat. I sat next to him, grateful for the warmth after a long, cold night outside. He acknowledged my presence with a hint of a smile.
– I am cursed with a gift – he said after awhile, without taking his gaze of the fire. I smiled, unsure how to respond. I respected him, but he was old and had a habit for a flare of drama in his stories. I never could discerne the true ones from those he made up to entertain me, but that was the point, I think.
So I just nodded, more to encourage him to continue than anything else. He smiled, knowing he had my attention, but said nothing, suddenly pensive and somehow distant, regretting he said anything at all.
– What is your gift, old man? – I asked finally, my cheeks warming up with the fire’s caress.
He raised his head and smiled again.
– You mean, what is my curse?
– Whatever it is…
He sighed; his fingers playing with grey hair that grew long on the back of his head. I wonder what is it that he thinks about; usually it wouldn’t take him this long to tell me what’s on his mind, nor would I need to encourage him.
– I can see the hearts of men and women – he finally said – through and through, as if they were open and made of glass. I can see their desires, everything they are capable of, and everything they would do for their dreams to come true. Just by glancing at someone, maybe just sharing a greeting or some comments on the weather, and I know exactly what that person is like; see them even clearer than they see themselves.
– How is that a curse? – I asked.
– It is a curse because I still love them. I still believe in humanity. It pains me to see what they are doing, how corrupted and ignorant they became, and yet, I can’t stop loving them and admiring them. It would be so much easier just to hate them; to blame them for everything bad and just ignore all the good.
– So, why don’t you, then? – I asked, suddenly annoyed at him for some reason, as if he touched an invisible crack in my mind and anger spilled out.
He nodded and lowered his gaze towards the earth underneath my shoes.
– Just like you, you mean?
His words, now clearly directed at me, stroke like a hammer. I felt the warmth rising up from my core, flushing out the emotions that usually kept still under the blanket of ignorance. If it was anyone else, I probably wouldn’t be able to control myself, I realized… and suddenly knew exactly what he meant.
– I don’t hate people, old man… I just don’t see anything good about them. We are selfish, self-absorbed, seeking nothing but comfort and possession. I have betrayed a thousand times, and been betrayed just as much. It is just a way of the humans.
He nodded at me. I haven’t told him anything he didn’t already know.
– Yes, I know what you mean – his voice was softer than velvet now, a quiet whisper of an old, tired man.
– I have done terrible things myself, my son… and suffered more than I think was right. But what you are saying, true as it might be, is only half of it. You see, people are also good, caring, smart and innovative. The build roads and bridges, castles and towns. They explore and they they discover; heal and protect. I admire that. I admire everything I see they are capable of. That is why I can’t simply hate them.
– They do all those things simply to live easier and have more possessions! – I replied, knowing it was my anger talking.
– No, my son.. they do it because they want to feel loved. Even the worse wars, killing and betrayals; even the ugliest faces of humanity came out of our purest desires. That is the thing I cannot ignore and my biggest curse. That is why I can’t hate. Do you understand me, son? You have been hurt when you wanted to be loved, and as a result of that, your soul hardens a little bit and makes you less open for someone else’s love. Then you hurt someone who wants to be loved by you, and it just keeps spreading like that. For thousands of years we play that cruel game, completely unaware of what is really happening. Of course we turned out this way…
I looked at him, probably for the first time ever… and saw the scars and the beauty of his soul, and realized mine is just the same. For an instant, everyone inside this tavern felt closer to me than anyone ever did. I know what you mean, I wanted to say. I understand. But, words can’t describe emotions, just point to them, make your mind’s eyes look into the right direction, so I just stood up, suddenly in the need of some fresh air.
Old man was smiling, his face still turned towards the fire. I kissed the top of his head as I was leaving and it made him smile even wider.