The Old Watchmaker
I skidded to a halt in front of the shop, my hand gripping the small paper bag in my hand.
Crazy. Weirdo. Loony. The words floated through my head as I stared at the lettering on the glass window the shop: Watches Made and Fixed.
Snow drifted onto my head, and the tops of my shoes began to be covered with a fine mist of flakes. I tried to see into the little shop, but couldn’t make out anything definite from my position on the street. Should I go in?
Nutty old man. The words of the boys at school rushed at me and I started to turn away, then stopped, looking down at the bag in my hand. Dad had no hopes of getting his watch fixed. With money tight, and mama about to have my seventh sibling, we couldn’t afford to get it repaired, no matter how precious it had been to him.
I remembered how quiet I had had to be to sneak the watch out of my parents’ dresser drawer, and then how innocent I had had to act as I slipped down the stairs and out into the cold street. I couldn’t have done all that for nothing. I had to at least go in.
I stepped onto the small doorstep and pushed open the door. A small bell tinkled, and a shadowy form rose from behind a pane of glass that separated the entryway from the workroom.
“Can I help you?” The man had soft white hair receding from the top of his head and falling in wispy strands down to the edge of his collar. His glasses had many lenses in one eye, like a small telescope, and his hands were wrinkled. He didn’t look crazy, only very old.
I grasped at my courage, prayed quickly, and stepped forward. “My dad’s watch... can you fix it?” I emptied the sack into my hand and held out the smashed watch.
The watchmaker took the timepiece from my hand and examined it carefully, his eyes peering closely at the tiny springs and cogs. “What happened to it?”
“It got run over by our car,” I replied, pulling my coat off and dropping it by my feet. The shop was very warm, and my cheeks already felt heated and dry. “Can you fix it?” I repeated.
The old man sat down and pulled the goose-neck lamp closer to his desk. “With God’s help, yes, I can.”
I rested my fingertips on the wood partition and leaned my forehead against the glass panel, watching as he slowly began to work, using tools I had never seen before to tinker with the tiny parts of the watch. The back and front were separated, he removed parts, added others, carefully tapped the back into its proper shape again and lined up a new glass front. I shoved my hand into my pocket and felt my money, nervously wondering how much this would cost. Would I have enough?
Suddenly the old man looked up at me. “Why did you come here?”
I stared at him.
“Why not go to the other watch shop on the next street over?”
I shuffled my feet a little, then looked him straight in the eye. “You helped out my grandpa once, my dad said. You got him out of jail and helped him start over. My grandpa said you were the best watchmaker ever.”
The watchmaker picked up another foreign tool. “But everyone thinks I’m crazy. The children, at least.” He looked at me again. “Somehow that hurts the most, you know. I’ve never had children, and all the ones around me think I’m a daft old man who still has this shop only because the town is afraid to turn me out. They don’t care to actually get to know me.”
I swallowed hard and rested my forehead against the glass again. “I don’t think you’re crazy.”
He looked at me carefully. “When did you stop thinking so?”
“Just now,” I admitted quietly. “I’m sorry. Why do the kids think you’re crazy?”
His hands gently maneuvered the watch dials into position. “Just as I said. They don’t care to get to know me. People can imagine all sorts of things about people they don’t know. It’s called jumping to conclusions, making assumptions that are not based on fact, but on prejudice. Old people... some of them do go a little off it in the end, but not all of them. It’s not fair to assume that all are the same as some.” He glanced up once more, his voice still as quiet as when I had first entered the shop. “As you grow older, remember that.”
I took the watch back as he stood and handed it over the glass partition. “Thank you, sir. How much?”
He shook his head. “No money, if you will promise me something.”
I moved around the partition so I was standing by his side. “What is it?”
“Never let anyone make your judgements of people for you. Be discerning and make your own assessments of people’s character and personality. Don’t be swayed by what others think.” I wrinkled me brow. “Now I’m not saying don't listen to those whom you respect, like your parents,” he said. “When you’re young, your parents protect you by deciding whom you should be around. But, especially as you get older, don’t let one single person’s words sway your opinion of someone whom you don't actually know.”
“I’ll try,” I whispered, tears coming to my eyes for some hidden reason.
He touched my shoulder gently, then sat down again and smiled. I hadn’t seen him smile before. “Take care of that watch now, son. I hope your father enjoys many more years of using it.”
I slipped the fixed watch into the bag and started to walk away. Suddenly I turned back and gave the old man a gentle hug. I felt his fingers pressed tenderly against my back, and then he held me away.
“Merry Christmas, boy.”
“Merry Christmas, sir.”Outside in the snow, I glanced back at the shop, once more unable to see anything definite about the inside. But this time, I knew that even if I couldn’t see anything clear from here, all I had to do was come closer, and find out.