I often walked the streets in the late afternoon, when the sunlight becomes golden and the shadows reach for me.
There was one street in particular that I frequented. Behind the shops, branched off from the normal bustle of that city, I would walk until I came across the people who lived there.
Not inside the buildings, but on the streets.
Huddled against walls in the winter to keep a little warmth to themselves or standing in whatever shade they could find to keep cool in the summer. Their eyes looking up with fear, or mischief, or hate, or emptiness.
I never had much to give them, and I didn’t know what I could do to help. I’d said as much to a man who lived there, who said his name was Frank, and he’d nodded his head. “Just tell me something to hope for.” he’d said. There were tears behind his hollow voice. “Leave me with something to hold on to, so I can rest for once.”
That was when I knew I’d be back. I told him the same story every time, and by the end I usually saw a glimmer in his eye. Not enough to define it, not enough to last long, but there was something. It could be my imagination, but I think that glimmer grew stronger as time wore on.
I met an old woman there, who everyone called Sly. I learned to watch her hands to keep from losing my things. She was good at slipping through a conversation, at moving subtly so that she might afford to eat. Once I got her to stop moving and cut through her tricky words, once her restless eyes settled on me, she became as fragile as my grandmother’s crumbling china.
I didn’t always tell her the same story. There were some days I would tell her something beautiful and soft, and feel her grip become firm in my hands. There were other days when she shook so hard I was sure she’d shatter in my hands. That was when I’d tell her something brave and hopeful, staying with her long after I was done to wipe away her silent tears.
There was a boy there that called himself Ace, and beneath his cocky grin lay a simmering rage. I didn’t see him very often. When I first met him, I’d been at loss for words, because what can you say to a rage you haven’t known? So I’d asked him, what kind of story did he want to hear.
I still remember how his eyes light up with green fire. “I want to hear about justice.” he’d said. “Tell me about the bad guys getting what they deserve for once.”
So I told him. I told him of a young criminal, so fed up with guilt and strife, who turned himself in so justice would let him rest. I remember sweat slicking my palms as I watched the green fire sputter and glow. Ace had walked away in a daze, and I was certain I’d never see him again.
He showed up about a week later, leaning against a brick wall and flipping a coin. This time, when I asked what story he’d like to hear, he’d merely said, “Make me think.”
It’s been his request ever since.
There were two old sisters whose names were Sue and Mary, and they were always hiding away in some corner or other. They would have been difficult to find on my own, but one of them always called out when they spotted me.
They never tired of fairy tales, and they would request their favorite ones over and over. I could have told them those same stories for days, and when I finished they’d still beg for one more before I left.
Stories were all I could give, and after a time, stories were what I received in turn. One by one, they all reached out for my hand and ask if I wanted to hear their story. I always said yes. And I always ended up in tears.
Theirs were stories of heartbreak and hardship, of sorrow and crime, of burdens and sacrifice.
By the end, our roles ended up reversed, and they held my hands and I listened. Every one of them, even Ace, locked their eyes with mine and finished their story by saying, “Then I met this storyteller, and for the first time in a long while, I didn’t feel alone.”
“Thank you.” were Frank’s final words.
“Remember me.” was Sly’s only request.
“Don’t stop.” Ace told me solemnly.
“One more.” Mary asked.
“Please, before you go.” Sue added.
I never forgot them, and I haven’t stopped. When the sun’s rays turn golden and the shadows stretch out to touch me, I walk the streets and look for the people who live there. I have so many stories to tell.
So do they.