The following morning, I remembered the old man's words and made sure to check the forecast. As he had said, it was 4°C outside… Throughout the week, the weather had kept on dropping and to my surprise, it was 4°C. Just as he'd said. I walked past the public library in search of him.
He looked up at me and smiled once he recognised my face.
"What'd I tell you, my boy? I was right, see?" He huddled his jacket towards him and looked at me inquisitively as I passed by him. "What'd I tell you, huh? It's 4°C, just like I promised. My system never lies. It's infallible; perfectly, completely infallible"
"Hmm. I see what you mean." I looked up at the grey, overcast sky, watching the snowflakes fall lightly, incessantly down and touch on the ground before being devoured by their kindred spirits. "Care to tell me how it happened, though?
"The forecast. Care to tell me how you knew you'd be right?"
"Come on, my boy. A magician never tells his secrets. You should know that."
"Please? I want to know."
"See as much as I have and you'll realise that everything is more likely to have an end than a beginning. That's life; win some; a very few, and lose most."
"Words of a professional cynic." I said mirthlessly. So that's it? "You've seen a couple of bad things and you think that the world will end? Is that it?" I was beginning to wonder if this old man wasn't actually crazy, trying to drill a hole in my brain and fill it with whatever garbage he could find, turn me into a professional madman.
"Couple of bad things? You've yet to experience life then, boy. Of course, you're being stubborn again. Truth be told, I tried to tell you, but you didn't want to listen to me. I've gone through it before, and like you, it took me a long time to realise, but I do now, and I want you to see before it's too late. I was like you, once. Innocent, naïve, and trapped in the confines of my optimistic thinking. Unfortunately it didn't last." He paused, gesturing to the floor with his taped hand. "You might want to sit down, son, you're about to learn something here." Lacking any other options, I obliged, waiting to hear what he'd say.
"You need to be careful." He continued. "People'll change you if you aren't too careful. You'll find yourself believing in one thing in one day, and hating it the next. And onwards it'll go. Lost, without an anchor, you'll find yourself drifting and looking for anything to set you down, most likely without hope of ever finding 'it', whatever 'it' may be. And then the people you thought could trust will blow away like autumn leaves, leaving your world shaken and in danger of collapsing, just at the moment you needed them the most. My forecast wasn't merely of the weather; it was about you. The weather is merely a representation of the things that go on inside us, the attempts that we make to persuade ourselves that everything is okay when we're really dying inside. I could see the storms inside you, that's how I knew."
"But… You paint such a bad picture of the world. It's not that bad. There are people out there who'll care; set you on your feet..."
"Perhaps. But the road to finding those people is a long one, and fraught with pain. If you find someone like that, then you'd better do your best to keep them, 'else they'll be gone, and you'll be left a drifting wreck. And if you're lucky, they'll take a longer time to break your heart; pacify you and make you think they'll never hurt you, no matter what you do. But, in the end, its inevitable. And once it happens, you'll find yourself wondering why you were foolish enough to open your doors. Of course, by then, it'll be too late, the pain will have hit you. In the end, it's only up to you to decide just how much you want to learn the same lesson over and over again before it finally hits you; not everyone can be trusted."
"So that's it, then? Give up on the world and live a life of pity?"
"Not necessarily pity. I'm not saying be depressed all the time. What I am telling you is that you're likely to take more hits than you'll give, and things are most likely to work against you. The grass isn't always greener on the other side, son. You'll find that what you look for, lust for, search your whole life to achieve is like sand in your mouth, not the ambrosia you hoped for. And after searching for so long, you'll feel an emptiness inside you growing stronger and stronger, until it consumes you. Then, you'll see that what you really wanted is behind you, and it's too late to get it back. That's what happened with that friend of mine. Beware of the bad side as well as the good is all I'm saying."
"You sure you didn't just let her go?"
"Nah. It started off well, really well, and then slowly disintegrated. And now, she's lost. 'Tis the cycle of all friendships." I kept quiet. There was no convincing the man of his wrongness; he clung to it desperately; it was the only thing that kept him sane. "I'm glad you're taking such an interest in me. No-one ever listens to the old man. They just laugh and point at him, 'though he's some relic. They forget that maybe he can have something worthwhile to say once in a while."
"Live each moment like it's your last. Never let fear dictate your actions. Tell the ones you care about that you do... The usual clichés which, like me, nobody pays attention to."
"There's no shame in living in an older age, sir. It all depends on how you look at things. For example, me. I want to learn your art."
"You say you want to, but you don't seem to see that it'll take a long, long time to learn. You will, if you take the time to grasp the lesson I'm trying to teach you… You have someone in your life? Anyone important?"
"Do they know how you feel about them? And cut me the macho 'I'm a man' bullshit. Do you tell them you care?"
"I'm sure they know. I'm sure…"
"And if you were to die right now, what then?"
"I don't know…" I'd never really thought of it before.
"you see what I mean? Don't be a victim of the rat race; struggling to work so much that you lose out on a family. At the same time, don't pin your hopes on people; they'll only hurt you in the end. You've got to be self-reliant. Ever hear of the concept of nihilism?"
"Nope. What's that?"
"The knowledge that the world will end and that everything you do isn't worth the effort. Whaddaya think?"
"Sounds like crap to me. Where's the fun in life, then?"
"Exactly. Try and answer that question for me and I'll show you just how false you are."
"In…" A long pause, as all the possibilities of making myself look stupid rushed through my head. I decided not to waste my breath. "I don't know."
"See what I mean?"
"Think about it. It's better you know now, before you falter and fall later, because it will happen to you. At the very least, you'll have been warned. That's why people turn to religion, boy. To find an anchor. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Look at what you have, and keep it close to you. Look at what you want, and fight for it. Fight for what you believe in, and never let anyone dissuade you. Rely on yourself, because you're the only one who'll care enough to fight. It's the only way. Not friends, not others, but you. Fight, and fight constantly. Life is war, and war is hell. Never forget that."
"Enough. Leave me alone, you delusional old man! You think you can come up to me and tell me the world is bad, just because you haven't had such a great life? Well, I don't believe you!" I stormed away from him, trying to run before his poisoned words infected my positive thinking. As I walked away, I felt emptier than I'd ever felt before.
"Don't forget what I told you; you are the only one who matters..." He called to me as I walked away. I didn't want to hear it.