There once was an old, old man. He was so old that he could not hear, or see, or taste, he used a walking stick to walk and he never walked far. He was so old that he could not remember his long, long life, and he was so old that no one could remember him being anything other than an old, old man. One day a stranger came to visit him, an old, old stranger. He had once been a friend of the man, an old, old friend. The old, old man and his old, old friend sat beside each other and talked loudly into each others ears. The old, old friend told the old, old man that he came from a long way off and a long time ago, and the old, old man smiled and shook his walking stick with joy at being given such evidence of a past that he could not remember. The old, old friend stayed with the old, old man for several days before the son of the old, old friend came to take him home.
“I remember when you were only this tall” lied the old, old man, smiling with his walking stick held just above the ground. The son of the old, old friend nodded politely and thanked the old, old man for his hospitality in looking after his old, old father while he was in town and promised to come again soon and see the old, old man again.
After his old, old friend had gone the old, old man sat with a small contented smile on his old, old face and letting go of his walking stick he died that very day.
No one could find the old, old friend or his son to tell them the news, but everyone said that the old, old man had died a happy soul, and that the old, old friend was to be thanked for this.
They thought perhaps that the old, old man had been hanging on for so long because he had forgotten what he was hanging on for, and that perhaps he had felt his duty had been done in giving such a welcome to his old, old friend. Perhaps he had been content to give this one last gift of hospitality and feeling somehow that his obligations where discharged he had thought to die.
The people couldn’t quite understand it, they simply knew, from seeing the beatified face of the old, old man in death, that he had died happier than he had been in life for years, and his old, old friend was to be thanked for that.
The old, old friend was never seen again, he had been to the town on business and had visited the old, old man because opportunity presented itself, but he did not come back. He was old, old himself, and even his son, who had taken him there and back was old at the time, and by now, people said, he must be an old, old son, perhaps not able to travel as he used.
Perhaps the friend had also passed away they said, happer for having made the journey and seen his old, old friend before the end, they liked to think that this was so, and hoped that they themselves might live so long and have such friends, as anybody might, who knew the tale.