“Creepy man! Creepy man! Old Rain Man! Old Rain Man!” my childish voice echoed through the humid air.
The target of my anxious shouts was Old Rain Man. He was a sort of village curiosity, the local boogeyman.
The origin of his name was as simple as it gets: the old man was only ever seen when it rained. He’d leave his house, cross the yard and sit down on a bench in front of it. Once the rain stopped, he’d vanish back inside.
We kids had our share of stories and ideas about him. Some said he was the one who made it rain. Others said he wanted to flood the village. There were even a few who thought he was secretly an amphibian and needed the rain to survive.
In our village, there were never more than a few days without heavy rain. Considering that, those stories seemed more than plausible to us kids.
We often dared each other to provoke him or go near him. This time it had been my turn to yell at him and see if he’d come after me. The old man, however, did nothing. We were sure though that he feigned ignorance to lure me in closer.
The dares had started early this summer. I don’t remember which of my friends came up with something so silly.
At first, we only dared each other to race past him on our bikes. We’d heard the tales of the older kids. They said if you weren’t careful the old man would reach out for you and get a hold of you. Once he did, he’d drag you off into his old, dark house never to be seen again.
As summer moved along, our dares grew riskier and riskier. It started by yelling at him and riding past him on our bikes. Soon enough though, we dared each other to walk past him slowly or to get close to him. We never got more than a stare, but it was enough to send us racing away in terror.
“I got one, I got one,” my friend Stefan started one day. “I want Daniel to sit down on the bench and wait for Old Rain Man to arrive. Then you have to sit next to him for ten seconds.”
Everyone gasped, and they all turned to me. My heart dropped. This was different, but I didn’t dare to say no. So far no one had backed out, and I didn’t want to be the first one to do so. My friends would never let it go.
“All right, fine,” I pressed out reluctantly.
A few days later I should get my chance. We were out playing soccer when the sky got darker and clouds gathered.
Stefan grinned at me.
“It’s time Daniel!” he cheered and soon the others, remembering the dare, joined in.
Minutes later we were all in front of his house. As I sat down on the bench, my friends retreated. I was all pins and needles. I told myself again and again that nothing would happen and that none of the stories were true. Everyone was lying, they had to be!
The first raindrops soon hit me and mixed with the pearls of sweat that had formed on my forehead. It didn’t take long before I heard the creaking of an old door. There he was: Old Rain Man.
As he stepped outside, the sound of his work boots crunching on the gravel echoed in my ears. He was way too tall to be a regular human being. His posture was all wrong. He was hunched over and his arms dangled in the air, warping him into a bizarre, mantis-like creature. With each step he took, my body tensed up more.
When I could finally make out his face, I gasped and held my breath. It was a terrible mask devoid of all emotions. His eyes were glassy, half-open slits, but I could still see the black pits that were his pupils.
My friends had retreated further and were now hiding behind the trees nearby. I stared at them with open eyes, pleading at them to release me from the dare, but they were all laughing.
When the old man took a seat next to me, I froze up. He didn’t say a thing, didn’t even look at me and I told myself it was because I didn’t move.
I was in sheer and absolute terror. I sat there, concentrating, not moving, my eyes closed shut, and counting down from ten to zero as fast as I could. When I was finally done, I jumped off the bench and landed right in a small puddle that had formed in front of me.
It was right at that moment that the old man’s head jerked towards me. His eyes were suddenly wide open and focused on me and only me. Before I could even move, his hands shot out and closed around my wrist with an iron grip. I screamed in pain as he twisted my arm and pulled me in closer.
“You are…” he started, but I didn’t listen. I couldn’t. I screamed at him to let me go, tried to pull myself free, but his grip only tightened. For a second his mouth opened, only to close again a moment later.
Crying and in pure despair, I looked for my friends, but they were all running away. Only their cries of ‘Old Rain Man got him! Old Rain Man got him!’ stayed with me.
After what felt like an eternity, his grip loosened and I could rip myself free and run away. I cried the entire way home.
As I stormed into the house, my parents asked me what happened. The moment they heard me say ‘Old Rain Man’ though, they frowned. They’d told me repeatedly to ignore him and stay away from him. It’s what I got for not listening to them.
After that, I had nightmares about the giant, ghastly old man for weeks. In some he waited for me outside, in others he caught me on my way to school. There were some, more surreal than the rest, in which the old man broke through the ceiling of my room with his long, bony arms to drag me away. There was only one thing that was always the same in these dreams. It was always raining.
Looking back it all seems silly now. How could one be so scared of a simple old man? I guess that’s how kids are.
From that day onward I never got near the old man again. I was too scared of him. Who knew what he’d do to me if he ever saw me again.
Some of my friends continued to dare me to come along, but I never budged. Even after they ridiculed me and called me a scaredy-cat, I never went to his house again.
As we got older though, our interests shifted. At first from playing outside to video games, then to girls and parties, and finally to plans about the future. The old man had become nothing but a distant, forgotten childhood memory.
After I finished school, the logical next step was to go to university. I’d always been one of the brighter kids and my parents nudged me into the direction of higher education. To be honest, I took the chance without thinking twice.
I was sick and tired of this small, rainy village and longed for the exciting life in the city.
Unfortunately, things never work out the way we imagine them. After years of studying, I dropped out of university without graduating. I worked here and there, but never for long. Finally, the day arrived when I couldn’t even pay the rent for my small apartment anymore. It was in shame that I accepted my parents’ proposal to move in with them again for the time being.
After the place behind almost ten years ago, I was now back in the same small, rainy village. This time with no plans or prospects for the future.
It was humiliating. I was in my late twenties, yet I lived in my old, tiny room again. I felt useless, like an absolute failure.
At first, my parents were understanding, sympathetic even. As the weeks became month though, that changed. They started to ask questions. How long was I planning to stay? What was I going to do? When would I look for work again? Why didn’t I go back to university? The list goes on.
Soon enough dad started calling me a useless bum and my mom, in turn, took pity on me. It was all a bunch of bullshit.
To escape the nagging and their questions, I went on lengthy walks through the village. There was nothing else to do. The internet connection out here was a joke and a sad reminder of the old dial-up times. To get anywhere, you needed a car. Back in the city, I never needed one. Now I couldn’t afford one. I was trapped.
My walks were solitary and dull. There were the places that reminded me of my childhood, but fond memories could only brighten your mood for so long.
The rest of the village population knew me and of course, they knew why I was back. In tiny villages, everyone knows each other, and news travel fast.
When they talked to me, they were friendly enough. They told me they were happy to see me again and wished me luck for the future. Some even assured me that a smart young man like myself would be back on his feet in no time. It was the usual, empty talk. What betrayed them were their eyes.
I knew what they thought. I’d been one of those arrogant kids who gave up on the village and who moved to the city. Only now, that I’d failed, I came crawling back and lived at my parent’s place again.
Some of them were even talking behind my back. At first, it was only in hushed whispers, but soon they didn’t even bother to make it a secret anymore. Repeatedly I caught bits and pieces of their conversations.
“That’s what he gets for leaving.”
“Should never have gone to university.”
“Young folks these days don’t want to work.”
“Wasn’t as smart as he thought he was.”
And many other, similar things, all followed by smirks and laughter.
That’s the thing with small communities. From the outside they look tight-knit, holding together in good times as in bad and always take care of their own. Well, that’s true only so long as you play along. If you act different, you’re quick to be ostracized.
I could feel their eyes resting on me during those lengthy walks, could feel how they looked at me.
One day I sat down on a random bench to rest for a bit. I leaned back and watched as the first droplets of a summer storm fell. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the rain plastering down on my forehead. When I opened them again, I noticed movement from the corner of my eye.
As I turned to see what it was, I froze up. There he was. The cause of so many sleepless nights and so many awful nightmares: Old Rain Man.
At that moment I was ten years old again, not able to move as the crunching of his old, hard work boots on the gravel reached my ears.
I saw a giant, ghastly monstrosity that pushed itself from a dark doorway. He’d come to catch me, to take me away. After all those years, he’d drag me away into his hellhole of a house.
Then, when he got closer, reality replaced imagination.
In my memories, Old Rain Man had been incredibly tall, gigantic even. Now, he seemed almost a bit on the short side. His hunched-over walk wasn’t that or a preying evil, but of a broken, old man. The face was empty and looked endlessly tired, his eyes were cloudy. As my mind took in those images, fear was replaced by a different emotion: pity.
When he sat down next to me, I realized how old he had to be. He’d been old even when I was a kid, but now, almost two decades later it showed. His breath came in hard bursts and he was so skinny his bones seemed to shine through is translucent skin.
He didn’t react or look at me. It was precisely the same as back on that day so long ago. At first, I thought Old Rain Man was completely quiet, but then I caught him murmuring to himself.
For minutes we sat there, just like that. It was only when I sighed, thinking about all my problems that the old man’s face moved to look at me.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t think,” I started but the old man shook his head.
“It’s all right, this old bench here won’t mind you at all.”
It took me by complete surprise. Old Rain Man had made a joke. I smiled at him and the old man started to laugh a little. It turned into a hard cough right away and his entire body started trembling. Once it was over, his eyes focused on the spot in front of him again and the murmurs started anew.
I listened for a bit, but I could only make out a word here and there, never a full sentence. His murmurs stayed a mystery to me. There was only one thing I heard repeatedly, the name Martin. I thought about asking him who Martin was, but it felt wrong to question him about things I’d eavesdropped on.
So we sat there, next to each other, not talking at all. For one thing or another, it was pleasant.
Soon the rain became a drizzle that lasted for a few more minutes before it finally stopped. Without saying another word, the old man got up and went back inside.
I sat there for a few more minutes, trying to comprehend what had just happened.
Back at home, it was the usual drama again. Where had I been all day? What jobs had I applied too? What was I planning on doing? By then, I was used to it. The drama had become a sad routine for me.
A week or two later the rain surprised me again during another one of my walks. My steps led me back to the old man’s house. Sure enough, there he was, sitting on the same bench. Without another thought, I walked over and sat down.
I don’t know why, but I enjoyed his company. If you can call it that. I guess it was because he merely sat next to me. He wasn’t asking questions, judging me, or showing me prejudice. No, he was just there.
Again and again, I heard the name Martin in his murmurs, and this time I mustered up the courage to ask.
The question was almost a whisper and when he didn’t react, I assumed he hadn’t heard me. I leaned back again staring up at the rain.
“Martin,” the old man said out of the blue, “my son.”
It was only after a few moments that I realized he was staring at me again. This time I saw the tears that filled his eyes. I already knew what must’ve happened and with another question, I got confirmation.
“He was so young, my Martin,” he said with a trembling voice.
“I’m sorry,” I started, but the old man was already back to his usual self and must’ve already forgotten that I was there.
From then on, I’d pass by his house more often and if, it was raining, I’d sit down with him. We spent many of these hours in silence.
It soon became clear to me that the old man was senile or demented. There were only a few rare moments in which he seemed in his right mind.
It was in those few moments that I learned more about him and his life. His wife had died young, soon after the birth of their child, Martin. I never found out what happened to her. The few people I asked all told a different story and soon I gave up.
Martin had been a good boy the old man said; smart, friendly, and most of all, happy. He meant the world to him. He died to a doctor’s mistake following an infection. They prescribed the wrong medication. One morning the little boy didn’t wake up anymore.
Eventually, I learned why the old man was always sitting outside in the rain. The reason he’d been mocked by us kids and the village people alike couldn’t be any simpler. Martin had liked to play in the rain. Whenever it rained, the little boy would rush outside to watch the rain fall and to jump into the puddles.
Even then, right at that moment, I was sure he was seeing his son playing in the rain right in front of himself.
As the month went by I kept spending time sitting on his bench. After a while, not only thought but also talked about my life and the things that concerned me. I don’t know if any of what I said reached him, considering his ever-worsening dementia. I didn’t mind. It helped enough to say things out loud without being cut off or called out.
Every once in a while the old man would murmur something like ‘That’s nice Martin,’ while nodding his head ever so slightly.
It was almost half a year after I’d arrived back at the village that I sat down on his bench for the last time. As it started to rain, his door didn’t open. There was no sound of work boots on gravel. There was only me and the rain.
I knew what had happened, but only after the rain had stopped did I get out my phone and made the call.
The funeral was a few days later. In a tiny village, everyone knows each other, yet only two people attended his funeral. One was me, the other was the elderly caretaker of the cemetery. I could tell, she was only there out of obligation and not actual mourning.
People treated Old Rain Man as a curiosity, a topic for gossip. No one had attempted to find out what had happened to him or help him in his grief. They hadn’t cared about him.
After the funeral was over, I stayed at the fresh grave for a bit longer before I said goodbye for good.
Even now, years after those events, I still think about the old man from time to time. Those days in the rain helped me a lot. Only there had I been able reflect on my situation and how to change it. No one else had given me the room I need to think, but had judged me instead.
That’s why I’ll always be thankful for Old Rain Man. Without him, I might have very well ended up bitter, still here in this village, still going on sad, lonely walks.
These days, whenever I visit my parents, I also pay a visit to his grave. Each time, I bring flowers, and if it rains, I tell him a bit about my life.