The Old Man of Akaroa

Sitting at the bar you see things. You see things you wouldn’t see or perhaps notice outside the sanctuary of a bar.

You see old people, young people, happy people, sad people, those who wish to drink away their sorrows, those celebrating a birthday, a promotion.

Or you’ll see people celebrating someone’s life, whatever the occasion the local bar is the perfect place to sit and people watch.

It’s those who don’t want to be noticed, the ones who sit quietly at the bar, simply sit there staring ahead at nothing. These are the people I want to meet; these are the ones who interest me.

Take the old man down the bar from me, his gaze is set firmly, his half-drunk beer cusped firmly in his well-worn hands.

He pays no attention to the comings and goings of the bar, the jingle of the pokies, the cricket on the TV. His gaze is fixed on something distant; he sits there deep in thought.

How did this man, who looks like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders, end up in a place like Akaroa?

Akaroa is postcard-picture perfect, with street names like Rue Benoit and Rue Jolie it is immediately clear to visitors they have stumbled upon what was once the only French settlement in New Zealand.

The cosy and cultured buildings display French flair, what was this seemingly troubled man doing in tranquil and peaceful Akaroa?

The old man with his cap pulled tightly down over his head looks like he should be out at sea.

Deep wrinkles carve lines through his sun-baked face; it is easy to imagine the hard life he has lived.

Where did the old man work, did he have any family?

How did he end up in Akaroa?

The tiny coastal inlet of Akaroa is now a thriving tourist destination, with charter boats taking visitors out into the ocean to spot dolphins, seals, penguins and if you are lucky whales.

Could this old-timer work on one of the boats?

His weather beaten brow suggests he worked outdoors for most of his life.

The doors to the quiet pub swing open and I jump, a large group of backpackers storm into the bar.

The old man doesn’t flinch, as if he didn’t even hear them. His gaze still fixed.

I’m just about to slide over and ask the old man if I can buy him a beer but he suddenly springs up, mumbles something to the barman and shuffles away towards the door.

I’m left sitting there in the now noisy pub wondering how in the world this old man came to be in Akaroa that stormy day in April.

If I did have the chance to speak with him, I half expected the conversation to go something like Neil Young’s song.


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