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The Gatekeeper

The Gatekeeper

The man was old. His skin was lined and brown like tooled leather. His clothes were worn but well mended. They now fit him loosely and it wasn’t clear if they always had fitted him this way, Perhaps he wore loose robes to keep him cool in summer and warm when the biting wind blew down along the road from the mountains. Or had his body age-wizened leaving him with loose clothing.

With the sun he rose and after a small breakfast went to the gate of the walled city. The road that passed the gate was well travelled, but not by many. There was another city half days walk in either direction down the dusty road. Most of the travelers walked; a few had loaded beasts or pulled loaded two wheeled carts. There were no horses here.

The old man fitted himself into a niche by the gate and read. in late morning a young boy would come with his mother. They would bring cistern of water and offer it to travelers without charge. They sold small vegetable cakes for a copper each.

The city was the halfway point, most drank the water ate the cake and walked on. The old man read what most assumed was scripture.

From the road, a man would call out “You there, Old man,” To these  the woman and boy seemed invisible. The old man would raise his head and smile,. “How can I help you traveler?”

The man would complain about the heat or the cold and say he was thinking about an early end to the day..

“What kind of people live in this city?”

“Where are you coming from?” the old man would cheerfully inquire and the traveler would tell.. “Oh, what kind of people did you find there?”

The traveler would sneer, “They were venal and mean. They looked like they would beat me, Everyone tried to cheat me, but I was too smart for that. They served me garbage and day old food and thought that I would sleep on last month’s straw, telling me it was all they had.. It was awful!.”

“Alas, traveler. This city is filled with those people as well. It’s best to walk on down the road. Perhaps you’ll have better luck there.”

Some such travelers thanked the old man or threw a copper in the dirt at his feet. Most did not. The old man went back to reading.

On occasion a person would buy something from the boy and his mother, smile and converse with them.

Then this person would siddle over toward the gate and say, “Excuse me, Grandfather. I am sorry to disturb your study.”

The old man would look up and smile, “’Tis naught but some old poems. How can I help you traveler?”

The traveler would then ask about the poems or tell his own name and ask the old man’s. Eventually pleasantries would be dispensed with and the conversation would proceed as before.

“What kind of people live in this city?”

“Where are you coming from?” the old man would cheerfully inquire and the traveler would tell. “Oh, what kind of people did you find there?”

“Oh ‘twas wonderful! Everywhere people offered to help me. Our dealings were always fair. They fed me well and I slept on the same straw they themselves used.”

“You will be most welcome here, traveler for here you will find people of the same kind. Please come in..”

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