“How old do you think I am?” he challenged suddenly, mid-conversation about litter and poor maintenance of footpaths.
“Oh, 70?” I suggested carefully, secretly thinking him around 77.
“81 and not out! Still walk an hour a day, me and Jess,” he said, glancing down to his bedraggled sheepdog. "Round the top field, down to the village and along Home Farm field. Me, Jess and the bag for life”, he said grinning and waving his hessian shopping bag at me. That’s our secret, what we buy. For me to know and for you to find out.” He chuckled as he wandered on past us.
We headed along Home Farm field again the following week; Sunday lunch was weighing us down and we needed some fresh air. I had completely forgotten about the old man when he appeared in the distance.
“You’ll never guess my age,” came the same challenge.
“68,” I said, winking at my other half. I was right, the lower guess increased his triumph. Sure enough, he was carrying his bag for life again, which Jess was sniffing with anticipation.
I was drawn to Home Farm field on many occasions in subsequent months. Our longer walks began to finish along there, shorter walks were organised around it. More often than not, we bumped into the old man with his shopping bag and his dog. Each time the question came as abruptly as the first and we feigned awe as he triumphantly revealed his true age. One time I caught Jess hoovering up some chocolate buttons, so I at least partly guessed the contents of the shopping bag. After a few weeks, I realised I felt disappointment if we didn’t bump into him.
Finally the meetings stopped completely. I still saw him though, sitting by a roaring fire, blond-haired grandchildren feeding chocolate buttons to Jess, with the bag for life tucked behind his armchair in case he ran low on life-giving supplies.
FlashFlood is brought to you by National Flash-Fiction Day UK, happening this year on 27th June 2015.
In the build up to the day we have now launched our Micro-Fiction Competition (stories up to 100 words) and also our annual Anthology (stories up to 500 words). So if you have enjoyed FlashFlood, why not send us your stories?