There was an old man who was so old that even the children who once considered him old had long since past from memory.
And with every passing day, he grew older, not only in days, but in body and spirit as well. His skin continued to wither, his bones grew more brittle and his disposition turned increasingly sour year after year.
But he kept going.
He had no family because he never wanted family. He had no friends because he never wanted friends. He had nothing because he never aspired to anything more.
All he had was time. Lots and lots of time.
Until death came knocking at his door.
“It’s about time you came for me,” the old man snapped.
“I did not come for you,” death told him.
“Then who did you come for?”
“You swatted a fly.”
The old man could hardly believe what he was hearing. “Why not me?” he complained.
“Because if I take a virtuous soul” death told him, “I get grieving. If I take a wicked one, I get gratitude, but if I take you, I get nothing. You are neither loved nor loathed, so if no one wants you or wants rid of you, why should I be bothered?”
“So what am I then, nothing?” the old man asked.
“I would not say that” death said.
That was a relief…
“What you are,” death said, “is between me and the fly I came for.”
And with that, death reached across the old man, snatched up the carcass of the fly and vanished in a puff of dust.
One reason the old man had lived so long is that he never tempted fate, but that is a far cry from being ignored by fate. So after years of not pushing his luck, the old man decided to give it a good hard shove.
He lived in a land ruled by a cruel and arrogant king who expected his subjects to grovel whenever he approached.
Anyone who didn’t, lost their head.
So the next time the king promenaded through the neighborhood, the old man made it a point to remain standing.
The King was incensed.
“Seize him!” he cried.
But his guards ran right past the old man and seized a bewildered old dog who apparently didn’t know that even animals were expected to grovel.
“Hey,” the old man cried out.
No one noticed.
“HEY!” he shouted again, “look at me; I’m not groveling.”
This the King could not ignore.
“Off with his head…..,” he commanded.
The old man smiled because he had just put one over on death.
But then the king relented.
“Check that,” he said, “shackle that old man to that old dog and toss them both on the garbage heap behind the castle. They deserve each other.”
Which is precisely what the soldiers did.
If he had it bad before, he had it worse chained to the old mutt, whose breath reeked of rotted road-kill and whose farts were so rank they were visible.
The dog was equally impressed with the old man.
But being bound together, quite literally, on a heap of stinking garbage where every foul thing imaginable came sailing over the walls, they had to make the best of it.
Over the years that followed, they learned to hobble in unison to scavenge the choicest bits of garbage before the crows swooped in and they learned to huddle together for warmth when the winter nights grew bitter.
One cannot say they became friends, because given their generally foul natures, friendship was not in the cards, yet despite this, over time they developed a fondness for each other.
Until death came along.
“Who have you come for this time?” the old man asked.
Death said nothing.
“My luck being what it is, I know you have not come for me, but I am glad you have come for the dog.”
“How so?” Death asked.
“He can’t walk, he can barely see. His breath stinks, and his farts hang in the air like fog.”
“I have let worse live,” death said.
“But it’s his time.”
“How do you know it is not yours?”
“Take the dog.”
At that, the old dog raised his head and eased it down onto the old man’s thigh. It was the gentlest of moments.
Even Death was touched.
“I’ll take you both,” he said.
At that, the old man turned to the old dog and the old dog cast his gaze upon the old man, and each sighed a deep sigh of relief.