The man who could not read

A boy walking down the street met a man sitting on the sidewalk.

The boy was on his way back from school. The man was resting after a hard
day’s work.

“Please, what time is it?” The boy asked.

The man said he had no watch, and, to tell the truth, he couldn’t even tell the
time. The boy did not get it. The man explained:

“I do not know what that big hand and small hand are for. They go round and
round but I do not rightly get how the thing works.”

“But that is so easy!” Said the boy surprised. “The little hand points the hours
and the big hand the minutes. For instance: if the small hand is at the ten and the big
one at the five, this means it is ten and twenty five minutes”.

The man shrugged

“But which is the ten and which the five? I always get the numbers wrong”.

The man was old enough to be the father of the boy.

“You don’t know the numbers?”

“Not the numbers, nor the letters”.

“Can’t you read?”

“Neither read nor write.”

The boy stared at the person sitting on the sidewalk.

“Sometimes in the street” – the man told him –“ I stop to look at the letters in
the posters and ask myself what they can mean. At other times at the newsstand, I
admire the magazines and newspapers. I so wish I could read the news, understand
what goes on in the world; read the street signs, make out the words in the packages,
read the destinations on the buses and know where they are going…”
he man sighed.

“There are times I am so ashamed!” – he confessed. “I have to ask everybody
about everything. I seem to be always on the outside of things. I would love so much
to sit under a tree, open a book and read a story!”

A man in a trenchcoat walked hurriedly by, reading a newspaper. On a bench,
in the square, sat a girl, reading a small magazine. A young man parked his
motorcycle and took a city guide from his backpack to check the place of a street.

-“ I am not from here” – explained the man – “My city is far away, beyond the
hills, taking the road, going over more hills and more after that, near the sea. Some
three days travelling by bus.”

And his eyes shone sadly.

“I was just now recalling my house, my mother, my father, my brothers, my
people over there…”

The boy looked for a place to sit down.

“What about you?” The man wanted to know, examining the boy. “Can you

The boy pushed out his chest.

“I am almost in the third grade!”

The other smiled:

I have a bride, back home. She looks like a princess. The most beautiful thing
on earth. We shall get married some day…”

The man had an idea. He asked:

“Would you write a letter for me?”

The boy nodded and from the bottom of his backpack he took a notebook and
a ballpoint pen.

The man straightened up. Thought a little. There was a warm wind blowing.
The man spoke that the big city was full of smoke and the noise of car horns. He told
he felt lonely. He said he was afraid sometimes, that he was working a lot; making
little money and that in this city everything was too expensive. He asked after the
mother, the father and the brothers. Asked about the rain. Asked if the cow, Lindoia ,
had calved already. Asked if Joan was well.

The boy wrote and wrote.

The man went on. He told that he rented a room in a lodging house, that he
lived with other three people and had to take two buses to get to work. He promised to
save some money. He ended saying that missing them was killing him and that, by the
end of the year, with the help of God, he would take the bus and go back home.

The boy wrote all that in a careful hand, folded the paper and gave it to the man.

Night had fallen. The boy had to go.

A light shone unnoticed in the sky.

The man shook the boy’s hand.