I call them the ‘old boys’. They are a group of three, four, sometimes five gents walking in the mornings along a popular, picturesque coast walk. They advertise retirement so seductively banding together their morning stroll. Like the seven dwarfs, they are mix matched in height and belly fullness, their greying hair and baldness betraying their age of nothing less than sixty. In unison their gleaming white sneakers, ready for a dentist commercial, seem like their wives have put them through the washer after every walk. Their short white socks, stand tall on their legs trying to hide the bulging map of their varicose veins.
The old boys have a uniform. A crisp white shirt with the words only a witty grandfather knows how to deliver, inked on the back like a bumper sticker.
“Yes, I’m slow, I’m old—what’s your excuse?”
“I walk but I know I should do weights, but those things are heavy!”
My old boys laugh and bicker and whinge. They chuckle and retell devious encounters at the local RSL or compete with stories of pride about their families. Their conversations have a rhythm, the ‘old boys theme song’. They dance to it with a slow briskness where it’s almost as if their elbows and knees are attached with string so each stride has a jolt of movement as if controlled by a puppeteer.
I often stay behind them because it makes me smile, I want to be like them when I am that age. One time as I innocently walked perhaps a little too close in curiosity, I learnt they were actually survivors of prostate cancer, and their group was one of companionship, support and solidarity. A lump reached my throat instantly at that realisation and I started to look forward to seeing them on my walks knowing they were fighters, and lovers too.
Today, I see my old boy ‘Brian’. It’s not a fact his name is Brian, but I named each of the old fellas to make up stories about them. Brian looks strong willed with strong big hands, perhaps a farmer or tradesman in his working days. I imagine he’s the silent, deep type, as opposed to old mate ‘Wiley’. He’s definitely the talker of the group and since he’s the shortest he seems constantly out of breath from keeping up and crackling with laughter. As I get closer, Brian’s trademark short brimmed white sun hat hides dark circles under his eyes. He looks at me, a smile escaping a numb face then he looks back to the pavement as we walk past each other.
Where is the crew? Where are my boys? I frantically start to remember the last few days and when our paths crossed on the track. Have I changed my time? Have they changed theirs? Last week, was it just a few of them that I saw? Or was that last month? In a panic of thought I had unconsciously looped the track and saw Brian again coming towards me. Is he ok? Where are the boys? Do I stop and ask? Absently he looked out to the ocean, his hands slowly swaying forwards and backwards. He seemed much slower than usual, like the weights his t-shirt talked about where actually on his shoulders. As we again were about to pass one another, my heart beat fast and I knew I wanted to reach out to him. I stepped right into his path making us stop abruptly. Our heads slowly looked up and our eyes met in acknowledgement, yet fear.