The Man in the Wide-Brimmed Hat

I passed by them twice a day on my walk to and from my kids’ school. He is impossibly tall, and equally thin. She always looked shorter than she probably was because of this. I would guess that they are in their late 60s, early 70s.

Most evenings, I’d see them a third time walking hand-in-hand, but slower, as they’d pass by my house.

I’d never said more than “hello” or “good morning” to them, but seeing people nearly everyday for several years, you become familiar with one another.

When the weather is nice, I could find him outside his little house, tending to his perfectly manicured lawn or garden. He wore a wide-brimmed hat and light, khaki-coloured shirt and shorts. This outfit was reserved for yard work. The kids and I always remarked about his lawn. The blades of grass stood so close to each other that it almost looked unreal. It’s the kind of grass that tempts you to walk on it barefoot.

The only time I ever saw him without his wife was when he worked in his garden. He would look up from whatever he was working on to smile at me and the kids and say hello.

On their morning walks, although they walked side-by-side, she was definitely leading him. She took brisk, quick steps and he, with his much longer stride, seemed a slight step behind. Whenever I passed them on the sidewalk, they would stop, move aside, and allow me to walk by with the kids. I always found this polite, but really unnecessary. I should be moving over for them, after all.

Each of them had kind, blue eyes and warm smiles and seemed happy to be together each morning, and no matter the weather, they went for their walk at least twice a day.

On the last day of school before Christmas, we exchanged smiles and Merry Christmases.

The first time I passed him on the sidewalk after the Christmas break, he was alone. I said good morning to him as usual. He just stared straight ahead and kept walking.

He hadn’t heard me.

In the winter he wears his bright yellow jacket, a black touque and a scarf wrapped to cover all the way above his nose. It is hard for me to read his expression. The only thing exposed is his eyes.

Every day I passed him, and every day he was alone.

It was nearly two weeks into January when I said good morning as he walked past me, watched his eyes stare straight ahead, and noticed that he was crying.

It hit me like a tonne of bricks that I wouldn’t be saying good morning to his wife again.

It’s sad to see him on his walks now, knowing he’s not ready to say good morning.

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