The old man had never seen the waves crashing on the beach seem so melancholy. He and the boy had sat at this very spot and watched the waves many times. Often the waves pounded the shore in anger or sometimes in desperate anguish that nobody but itself could ever understand. Many days it was playful and flirty, only to transition without warning to insecure, mocking, or downright nasty. It had never, though, reflected melancholy so well as it did at that particular moment.
“The ocean is a teenage girl,” the old man thought to himself scratching his chin.
The boy seemed to notice the obvious emotions of the waves, but, true to the form of young men and young women, he seemed to understand the subtleties of her feelings only as much as she did his – which was very little, being as she was an inanimate object. The boy was no longer really a boy, but a young man. He, however, would always be “the boy” to the old man.
The sun was sinking towards the waves and it promised to be a spectacular, if not heart-achingly forlorn, sunset. Just as it was plain to the old man that the sea was melancholy, it was plain to him that the boy’s mind was running like a greyhound on its final sprint.
The old man caught himself, shaking his head silently, “final sprint,” was too on the nose; it didn’t feel right hanging there in his mind. He tried other phrases, “charging rhino,” “fleeing gazelle,” “wolf running down its prey.” None seemed to fit, so he left it, noting that it didn’t matter. Nobody but he would ever hear the way he worded it; it’s not like he intended to commit it to paper. He didn’t do that anymore.
The major difference between the mood of the boy and the mood of the ocean was that the mood of the ocean, the old man knew, was mostly a projection of the parts of his own feelings that he didn’t want to acknowledge. The boy’s very much belonged to the young man himself, and he had them for very good reason, the old man thought.
“There’s got to be something we can do,” said the boy, fidgeting.
“We can enjoy the sunset,” said the old man.
“How?” replied the boy. The old man could feel that the boy was staring at him, but didn’t drag his eyes away from the waves. He wanted to observe and appreciate every detail.
“How can we sit here and enjoy the sunset when-”
The old man cut him off with a dismissive wave.
“Do you agree that we’ve already done everything we can to prepare for the end?” the old man asked quietly.
Among the light breeze and the sounds of the crashing waves, the boy had to lean closer to hear his voice. He pondered the old man’s question for a few long moments, then nodded his head slowly in resignation. They had done all they could; the only thing left to do was wait.
The old man still hadn’t taken his eyes from the waves, but in the way he had, he somehow knew when the boy started nodding and continued. “Then, we can either dwell on our unavoidable demise or we can enjoy the sunset.”
“How though?” asked the young man, “How can you sit there and enjoy the sunset, knowing what’s coming?”
The old man forgave the boy instantly for the disdain in his voice. His sin was only not having been beaten down by so many years as to understand. The fact that the boy wasn’t to be given the chance to become an old, broken man himself made the old man sad, but the heartache rolled off his heart like water off pants that had been worn too many days in a row.
“Knowing it’s the last makes it more beautiful, don’t you think?”
The boy sighed and pushed sand around with his feet. “I guess.”
The boy didn’t get it, but the sky was fading to magenta and the sun was about to kiss the sea, so he waited quietly, contemplated what it would feel like when the end came, and allowed the smiling old man to enjoy the last sunset in peace.
Listen to me read it here: