Charlie Butler

School: Sanday Community School, Orkney
 

Tobacco Rock


The foaming waves licked the toes of his boots, a few stray drops of spray spotting his grey, darned stockings. The old man looked down. He vaguely noticed that his old black shoes were battered and faded, probably from years of doing what he was doing now. He was sitting on a rock outside his cottage, smoking his pipe and looking out to sea. He did this every day, sometimes for hours on end. On misty days he would sit and watch the pinstriped lighthouse illuminate the jagged, unattractive coastline, and counting the seconds until it came round again.

The old man’s name was Timothy. Not that anybody knew that of course. Not that anybody cared. He had no neighbours to speak of, and on the rare occasion that he was mentioned he was always ‘the old man’.

Timothy remembered a time when his friends had called him ‘Tim’ or ‘Timmy’. All of his friends were dead now. Probably.

The only thing Timothy was famous for was his pipe. He loved his pipe. Sometimes people walking on the beach below would see the thin trail of tobacco smoke gently curling into the air. Years ago, a pipe would have been a common sight. Not now.

With a start Timothy realised that the sky was now red with evening light, and that it was time to totter back into the cottage and warm up his supper of baked beans.

Suddenly he felt drowsy. He felt himself slowly sinking back onto the damp rock. His vision and thoughts became fuzzy. He felt so, so tired. A little worried voice was telling him not to lie down, and not to fall from consciousness. But he did. And he never woke up.

His ashes were to be scattered by a support worker by his cottage.

He did have some relatives. They ran a business in America, and flat-out refused to travel to some remote Scottish island to go to the funeral of someone that they had never met.

A column in the local newspaper invited villagers to come along to the scattering of the ashes. Nobody was expected to.

Everybody who read that article was puzzled. Who was this Timothy Gardener whom nobody had ever heard of?

Eventually, they began to put two and two together.

Not one of the people who knew of Timothy would ever have described themselves as liking him or even caring about him. But as they discovered that he had died, an inexplicable sadness filled them.

The sadness filled the postman, who had delivered his papers to the rusted post box at the end of the track. It filled the boys who had cycled past him puffing on his pipe as they went down the beach.

Because, like it or not, he, his rock, and his tobacco smoke were a part of their lives, and now they were gone.

There were about seventy people there, when they scattered the ashes.

There were men who cared enough to sacrifice a few precious hours of the harvest. There were women who silently wept into handkerchiefs, and there were children who buried their faces in their mother’s scarves to protect themselves from the biting autumn wind.

As they watched the ashes curl up into the sky, people were reminded of how his tobacco smoke had been carried by the same seaward wind that now made his earthly remains spiral further and further into the sky.

 

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