Whenever Ido ventured to his porch, the purpose was to either collect the newspaper which the newsboy cast from the sidewalk with trepidation or gather the mail from the skewered mailbox which sat on a flimsy pole, and encased in vines along the dilapidated fence.
Visitors rarely neared the home where Ido lived. Occasionally, a brave door-to-door salesperson, that unwisely rang the doorbell, would run away, wide-eyed and frightened. Schoolboys taunted Ido by pelting his house with rocks. Mothers escorted their children down the street, warily eyeing the broken windows as they rushed down the sidewalk.
A two-story, clapboard structure, Ido’s simple home lacked maintenance for as many years as anyone could remember. The outside white peeling paint resembled a jigsaw puzzle with a slew of missing pieces. Dried ivy clamored over the outside surfaces almost disguising the windows. Brick fireplace chimneys book-ended the structure. Shingles from the roof littered the front lawn.
No one could ever remember seeing anyone else living in the house, just poor Ido. It was anyone’s guess how old the man was and the neighbors knew he lived alone. Ido shuffled in short strides wherever he moved. His baggy pleated trousers suspended from droopy shoulders billowed like tattered sails. Unkempt and unshaven, Ido resembled a floating corpse as he moved like winter cold syrup.
Down the street from Ido, lived Billy Deveride. A lad with exceptional good looks, and like most other ten-year-olds, Billy lacked common sense. With a following of both boys and girls, Billy thoughtlessly used both groups for his amusement. A showman of sorts, Billy displayed many antics on his bicycle. Often, his theatrics elicited gasps from the neighbors as the boy propelled down the street by standing on the seat of his bike.
Billy craved attention. As a leader, he often encouraged the other boys to engage in some form of torment of Ido’s house. The old man watched the boys from a second-floor window, scowling as they assaulted his property. Never once did poor Ido call the police or even yell at the boys.
One fine summer afternoon, and in rare form, Billy attempted to perform a handstand on the bicycle seat as he raced down the blacktop. To the cheers of his compatriots, Billy exercised zero caution and thrilled the others with his brazen act. Billy zoomed past Ido’s house and let his eyes drift to the window where he saw Ido capture the spectacle. In a nanosecond, Billy lost his balance and his hands slipped.
The next few seconds exploded in slow motion. Billy dropped head first into the moving bicycle, his hands entangled in the revolving spokes, and his feet tumbled forward. In the silence of missing heartbeats, his friends watched helpless as Billy somersaulted down the pavement, landing in a bloody heap.
In the blink of an eye, all the other children disappeared. Some screamed for their parents, others cried. The warm sun splashed on Billy’s face as he faded into unconsciousness.
Parents arrived on the scene and witnessed Ido huddled over Billy. Ido’s hands shook as he took wire cutters and tenderly separated Billy from the bicycle. An ancient first-aid kit lay open on the street and Ido applied gauze to Billy’s wounds. Defying his age, the frail old man scooped Billy from the pavement and carried him toward the frightened parents.
Blood stained Ido’s clothes and covered the paper-thin, pale skin of his hands. Ido eased Billy in his father’s outstretched arms. A small tear trickled down Ido’s face as he turned and shuffled toward his home. His head hung low, Ido retreated to the house in the same solitude the neighbors had always known.
Almost four months later, Ido heard activity in his yard. He gazed out the window and spotted the neighborhood children collecting trash from his lawn. Bandaged and hobbling on one crutch, Billy spotted Ido and waved. Many of the neighboring parents took shears to the wild vegetation and others gathered the waste into trash bags. A flurry of activity had descended upon Ido’s rundown home.
When the front door of Ido’s house opened, the activity froze. Then Ido shuffled out the door carrying a tray in his hands. A motley mixture of glasses dotted the tray, each filled with iced lemonade. Ido approached the working crew and extended the offering. One-by-one, the neighbors grabbed a glass and smiled. As Billy reached for the remaining glass, he spotted the worn and faded Norman Rockwell painting in the tray’s bottom. He looked up and saw tears streaming down Ido’s face. As if exhaustion consumed the old man, Ido let his arms dangle at his sides—the tray clutched in his left hand. Billy set his glass down and moved closer to Ido. With care, Billy gently wrapped his arms around Ido’s waist. Even though the smell of old-people stung Billy’s nostrils, the boy held onto Ido.
Ido reached out and wrapped hands, cold from poor circulation, around Billy. And for an eternity, two human beings expressed love and appreciation without uttering a single word.