I heard him before I saw him. In a loud, kindly voice, he profusely thanked the bus driver for something or other. He moved with the assistance of a cane, pulling a tattered overfilled shopping cart.
He sat down across the aisle from me. He moved slowly, using his cane for balance, as the bus lurched forward. His left shoe had a sole and heel two inches higher than the right.
Two young girls were sitting next to me. Their grandmother sitting on the other side of the aisle from them.
The elderly gentleman tried to talk to the girls. At first, he appeared addled. Maybe he was suffering from some dementia or another mental ailment of the aged.
He offered them hard candy. The grandmother politely refused, saying the girls did not eat candy. Every time a child came on the bus, he asked the parent if he could give them a piece of candy. He offered the adults candy too.
The gentleman had a pleasant demeanor. His accent was East European, so I thought.
As we rode along, he asked about my camera. He offered me a piece of candy. Then he opened up about himself. Becuase his accent was quite heavy, there were things I could not understand.
The gentleman was born in the Soviet Union. He studied and taught history.
He left home and wandered through Europe, picking up languages in places he lived. Italy, France, and Germany. He spent six months touring the Mediterranean. He settled in Athens, Greece for a period. He learned Greek. He traveled around the islands. The gentleman loved the islands. He referred to them as paradise, “as described in the Bible.”
He came to America 42 years ago. He said he lived in Chicago the whole time.
Before we could converse further my stop came up. We shook hands and bid each other goodbye.
He was an elderly gentleman trying to show kindness by handing out candy. Maybe he was just looking for someone, anyone to talk to him or listen to him. He meant no harm. He had a kind face. He appeared happy despite his physical ailments. The one thing I noticed, his eyes sparkled as he reveled in his tales of travel
As I walked to my destination, I thought about what could have happened. In today’s world of nosy busybodies, someone could have called the police to report this gentleman trying to entice children with candy. Maybe someone on that bus could have attacked him.
I thought about something else. That gentleman could be me in a few years or other people I know. People who are aged, have infirmities, and just maybe, looking for someone to pay attention to them, talk to them, or at the very least, listen to them.
I wish my ride lasted longer. I might have learned something. Knowledge is not just in books or institutions of higher learning. Knowledge is in people. People like this elderly gentleman who traveled the world and wanted to share his knowledge with a stranger.