He is ahead of me. I barely see him in the dark, but he is there, walking unaffected by the cold, cigar smoke dragging in the air behind him. His hair is gray, his coat is red. He reaches the corner and turns. I reach the corner and follow.
Does he know I am here? Is he frightened by me? Am I threatening? These thoughts pass as he pauses to look at the sky. He takes a drag from his cigar and the odor swells in the wind. I keep my distance, following unintentionally, or perhaps dragged by sentimentality.
The old man leads until I cannot see him anymore. He does not turn a corner. He does not step into the street or walk up a path. He becomes invisible. Or perhaps I lose track of him, or fail to notice when he does deviate from the sidewalk that we both follow religiously. He is gone now, and with him his confounding cigar.
Here, I come upon an elegant house, bathed in warmth and stolen from children's stories. It glows with conviction and the ensigns of forking paths hang in the windows.
Were it not for common etiquette I would enter without a moment's pause. The porch wood creaking beneath my steps, the door knob chilling my palm, the heavy door announcing my arrival with an ancient cry; the scene would seem familiar. Things from my pockets would slide across the table. I would leave my shoes to dry near the rack where I hang my coat. I would casually venture deeper into this mysterious place, passing photos and porceline plates and strange artwork hanging on the walls.
Passing through the kitchen, I would discover once again the smell of smoke hanging in the air. The sweet, leathery scent of burning tobacco creeping slowly from the basement would beckon my curious steps into the den below. I would not take these stairs with caution nor haste, but with the distinct ease of habit. The room that would be waiting would not be new to my eyes, like the spaces above, instead it would be clothed in memory.
The old man would be sitting there, rocking in that same wooden chair. He would be quiet at first, as he was known to be at times like this. His cigar would bleed its smoke. The wrinkles would fail to conceal those sharp, distinct eyes. He would turn to me at last, and with the smile of recognition passing briefly across his face he'd say, "what took you so long?"