It’s crazy to think of all the little things we seem to overlook when it becomes routine. We’re so used to people, things, feelings, interactions – whether big or small, on a daily basis. Most times, little things in our routine change, sometimes it’s for the better, sometimes it’s not, sometimes you don’t even notice the change, and sometimes you realize it but keep it movin’ because what can you do?
For over 6-ish years, my dad and I literally crossed paths with an old man from our neighborhood almost every day. He was a Japanese old man, probably in his 70’s or 80’s, it’s hard to tell because he seemed to be in good health – being that he would talk to my dad every day during his morning walk. He had white hair, that kind of hairstyle where they’re bald in the middle, but he covered it with a Golden State Warriors championship hat, usually with a matching blue Golden State Warriors Letterman-type jacket. And his most important feature – his smile. He was always in a good mood, with a huge smile on his face. He just radiated kindness. My little sister and I described him as the “cute old man.”
For years, it was routine for me to walk out of the garage to find my dad talking to this man. How did they even get close? I don’t even know. My dad is the type of guy that smiles and says good morning to strangers if they so happen to walk by our house. My sisters and I have crazy schedules, between my older sister’s job, and at the time my little sister & I’s changing school and work schedules, my dad was basically always chillin infront of our house anywhere from 7:30 am to 1 pm, waiting for the next daughter he had to drop off (bless my dad’s heart, he works hard as hell.) before he leaves for work at 1 pm.
When I would walk out of the garage to get in the car, I would already expect my dad to be talking to this kind old man. When they would see me, my dad would say something along the lines of “Well, there’s my next customer!” The old man, with his charming warm smile, would wave at me as I say goodmorning to him, and he would tell my dad, “Ah! Taxi, your next rider is here!” He would say departing words to my dad, and 10 see ya later’s/goodbye’s we would be on our way. My dad would get in the car with a big smile on his face, close the garage, and pull out of our driveway. All the while, our friend would be waiting infront of our house for us to drive away, we’d wave goodbye, he’d do the same, and then we’d drive off. Through the mirror I’d see him continuing his morning walk, going up the hill towards the stop lights. This was routine. Every day.
My dad would tell me little bits and pieces of this man he got to know over the years. He knew he was Japanese, that he had an adult son he wasn’t close to because of the son’s troubled past, his wife had passed away and he was living alone, and he basically had no family in the area. He lived a block away from us, which is why our paths crossed plenty of times during his daily walks. He expressed to my dad that his next door neighbor was his friend, who was on his Will to obtain his house and belongings when he was to pass away.
As the years went by, gradually, things began to change. It seemed that we would pass by him on our car ride to school or Bart, when in the past, he would already be talking to my dad in the driveway way before we got out. It seemed that either our times weren’t lining up, we left earlier, or he started his walks later. All of this was so minuscule to me at the time, but now that I look back, I see that it was his health declining. My dad would make comments that he would see him taking a few steps and pausing. He was getting weaker and older, but still he persisted on with his daily walks. Everytime we passed by him in the car, my dad would honk. The old man would smile and lift up his whole arm to say hello, and we went about our drive. It made me sad to think that my dad and him didn’t talk as often, because it seemed like our times weren’t matching up anymore. Like I said, schedules changed, he was getting older/ walking slower, and we just seemed to see him in passing.
As time went on, it went from seeing him everyday, to seeing him every other day, to seeing him once a week. Gradually, we saw him less and less. This was all over a span of years, so it didn’t seem too drastic as how I explain it now. Like I said, we get so used to routine, that little changes in our day seem so minor, until you look back and realize it’s no longer the same.
The last time I could remember seeing our friend was around November 2018. I want to say sometime after Thanksgiving. It was a brief encounter since I was on the way to school. From what I remember he came walking up our street just as we were about to get in the car. They talked about the Warriors briefly, and that was that.
In February 2019, it had been months since we seen him. I asked my dad a few times before if he had seen the old man recently, and he also said he hadn’t seen him in a while. My dad thought that he had passed away since we hadn’t seen him in months. I brought it up a few more times, and when I didn’t verbally ask my dad, I thought about it everytime I got in the car in the morning and we didn’t see him.
Finally, one night when my dad and I got home, I brought up to my little sister how we haven’t seen the old man in very long. My dad agreed that it had been such a long time, that he’s pretty sure he had passed away. He also told us that he drove past his house a couple days before and saw a big container in the driveway filled with belongings, further explaining why he’s been M.I.A. That thought made my little sister freak out, even though I knew it was a huge possibility. My dad enthusiastically said , “Ok, Marinelle, tomorrow before I go to work, we’ll drive by his house and knock on the door.” This made me happy but at the same time sadness had taken over me. I thought it would be good to get closure on our longtime friend, but I had a gut feeling that it wouldn’t be what I expected. I doubted that he was at home just chillin this whole time, but a part of me still clung to hope that it was a possibility.
My little sister was bummed that she wouldn’t be present when my dad and I planned to go since she would be at school. I asked my dad how he even knew where he lived, and he said, “I’ve been in his house before! In his garage.” My dad also brought up how he would give the old man bread from the bakery, after dropping some off to my grandpa. My dad said he would see him walking by and would give him a portion of our family’s share. All these things we never knew, my dad going to his house, giving him bread, all these aspects of this man’s life that we had no idea of.
“… wait…. do you even know his name…” I asked my dad.
“…….I think its Steven? Steve?”
“Bruh! How have you been talking to him for years and not even know his name?!” Yes, I called my dad ‘bruh.’
“I…… I don’t know it never came up…” My dad said sheepishly.
“Did he know your name?”
“You know, I don’t think so. We might have said it maybe 1 time and we never called each other by name.”
The next day before my dad went to work, we drove the block to the old man’s house. The big container my dad was talking about was gone. There was no car in the driveway. My dad got out of the car and made his way to the house. I lost sight of my dad since the stairs were located on the side of the house. But I did hear a bell ringing. Not a doorbell, but an actual bell that you have to “gong.” After about 5 minutes my dad came back to the car.
“Yeah, he didn’t answer… I think he passed away,” my dad said.
“Was that a real bell?”
“Yeah, he said his doorbell wasn’t working so he just has a lot of bells.”
I felt bad that my dad didn’t get any closure. I looked at the old man’s house again. I saw that his neighbor 2 houses down was outside cleaning her car.
“Go ask his neighbor, or you’ll never know,” I told my dad. My dad’s a shy dude, so I expected him to say Nahhhhhh and drive off and forever wonder. To my surprise he agreed and got out of the car.
I watched as my dad approached the middle aged lady. She was cleaning her car and had to turn off her vacuum. From the car I could hear my dad say “… yeah, he’d be walking all the time.” After about 3 minutes my dad returned.
He got in the car and explained that he asked the neighbor about the old man that lived in “that” house.
“Oh, James? He passed away a couple months ago,” she told my dad.
My dad went on to say that he knew he passed away because it was so long since the last time we seen him. I said atleast we knew for sure and wouldn’t have to be wondering anymore. It was a pretty depressing moment and my dad said how the whole situation was just sad. I tried to brighten up the mood and car ride…
“Bruh, you said his name was Steve.” I said. My dad laughed and shook his head.
When I texted the group chat with my sisters and told them that James had passed away, my little sister texted back that she was actually tearing. He was a familiar face that we saw almost daily. His smile and positive upbeat attitude will always be the first thing I think about when I remember him. Mornings aren’t the same as they used to be. But nothing stays the same. These small routines and conversations were just that at the time – small routines that you don’t think twice about. But now that he’s gone, it makes us think of him everytime we pull out of the driveway to start off our day / morning.
His name was James.