The old man was lonely. He knew he didn’t have much time left in this world and he wished with every fibre of his being to hear from his long lost son. James left the warmth and safety of the family nest many years ago and always kept in regular contact, delighting the family with tales of adventure, the things he had seen, the people he had met. But the letters slowly dwindled away to a crushing silence and now all the old man ever found on his doormat were flyers for pizzas, taxis, and carpet cleaning services. Every day he made his way slowly to the front door, shuffling along the hallway in his tartan slippers, leaning heavily on his walking cane. Every day his heart hammered in his chest with giddy anticipation that today would be the day that a letter from his son would be hidden in amongst all the junk mail. Every day the old man realised that today was not that day. But he never felt disappointment because he believed that someone out there thought enough of him to send him the flyers and the leaflets. It made him feel connected to the outside world, where he knew his beloved son was.
The old man was slowly losing his sight. Social services wanted him to go into a care home, but he wanted to hold on to his independence for as long as possible. He loved his home, full of so many memories. He couldn’t possibly leave. And if he moved, how would they know where to send his mail?
One sunny morning, he opened the front door to check on his much-loved dahlias planted in pots just outside the porch and now becoming distinctly hazy in his failing eyesight. He saw a figure hurrying towards him down the garden path and he called out in alarm, his rheumy eyes raking the air around him to identify who was drawing near.
“It’s just me. I’m a bit late on my round today,” said the postman.
“Ah, hello Mark,” the old man said, his shoulders relaxed as he realised that friend not foe stood on the doorstep. “Anything from my boy James?”
The postman looked sad, a burden of sorrow at having to disappoint the old man weighed as heavy upon him as the bag of mail he carried.
“Sorry Alf, just more junk mail I’m afraid.”
“Oh well, at least someone loves me,” said the old man, as a wistful look played across his face. “Just a shame that I don’t really like pizza. Or that I don’t need a taxi. Maybe my boy’ll write to me tomorrow, eh?”
The postman felt dreadfully sorry for the old man, who he had known all his life, and silently vowed to find a way to help him.
Over the next few weeks, the old man’s vision failed him completely and he had no choice but to enter a nursing home. The postman heard this unhappy news and put his plan into action. One day, he visited the care home and was shown into the communal living area where the old man sat waiting.
“Hello Alf, I’ve got your post,” the postman said, his voice cheery and bright as he handed the old man a fat envelope.
“Is it from my boy?” the old man asked.
“I think it could be.”
The old man clutched the envelope to his heart, tears of hope brimming in his milky eyes. His tired, gnarled fingers, worn out by years of arthritis, suddenly found a new lease of life as he nimbly opened the envelope before handing it back to the postman.
“Could you read it for me, please Mark? My eyes aren’t what they were….”
The postman carefully removed the contents of the envelope and began to read the letter. The old man sat back in his chair as he listened to the stories his son had written down.
The postman visited every week, bringing a hefty letter full of the wonderful descriptions of the life that the old man’s son had experienced.
The old man died a few months later, the postman by his side reading the latest missive from James. When the nursing staff cleared the old man’s belongings, they found the letters from his son, brought to him by the postman. Inside each envelope were folded up pizza and taxi flyers and advertisements for upholstery cleaning. It was just pages of junk mail.
They asked the postman what it meant.
“His son was my best friend,” said the postman, “and he died several years ago. Alf never got over it, it broke his heart, but he picked himself up and did his best to move on. I always kept an eye on him, having the odd pint with him and talking about the old days. I didn’t realise how ill he was until he started talking about waiting for James to write to him. I think his illness made him forget that James was gone, but there was no way I could tell him, open up that pit of grief again. I just wanted to make his last few weeks a bit more bearable, so I told a little white lie.
“Who’d have thought that junk mail would bring a bit of happiness to an old man?”