167 - marshal
nother drop of rain hit Brendan's cheek. The skies were blue when he exited his room ten minutes ago. Still, he had grabbed his umbrella as he walked out the door. He always did. He knew how quickly things could change.
More tiny droplets pittered and pattered around him now. A large one struck right below his left eye, finding a home in one of the many wrinkled folds on his face. Brendan considered how it might appear as if he were crying if his face were taken out of context.
The thought briefly embarrassed him. He knew it was ridiculous. By now, he had earned the right to shed tears, and if there was a place for crying, this was it. The younger generations could accept emotions in a man. Weakness.
He was still getting used to it.
Suddenly, the heavens opened above him and released a great deluge. Brendan ran his fingers over the small umbrella in his hand. It was already too late, he thought. The action of releasing the velcro strap holding everything closed and then pushing the button to pop it open would only take a few seconds. But he was already wet.
Something else compelled Brendan to not use his umbrella. A sudden memory, from decades prior, of being caught in the rain. The pellets of water had felt good on his head, then. They felt good now, too, though he had been unaware of the pleasant sensation until this very moment.
He pulled the bag at his side to the front, and flipped the flap over. Careful to not expose the bag's contents to the rain for more time than was absolutely necessary, he tossed his umbrella inside and quickly sealed everything shut again.
An old man walking through the downpour with abandon would look strange enough, Brendan figured. If he were carrying an umbrella in his hand, passersby might have thought he'd gone senile.
In normal conditions, the cobblestone trail was difficult enough for him to manage. The injuries from the accident had left him with a limp, a condition only exacerbated by the weathering effects of time. Balance was a precious thing, and the uneven levels of the footpath sought to rob him of it.
Naturally, the rainwater added another layer of difficulty. Brendan's sandaled feet thus moved even more carefully, deliberately, and slowly. They emitted a small squeak with each footfall that could never quite blend into the sounds of this place.
Moving so slowly was okay to Brendan, though. He could see things with a new perspective, even though he had made this pilgrimage every month for the last three years. He took in the surroundings differently, especially with the rain making its way through the canopy above and down to the shrines and tombs below.
He followed the familiar route until he arrived at the memorial that meant something to him. Brendan admired the progress that the moss had made on the stonework. He was always careful to clean away any debris that accumulated since his last visit, but he never wiped away the moss.
Not so long ago, this stone had been new. For him, it felt like a lifetime. The moss helped him to reconcile the discrepancy between reality and the way he felt.
Brendan opened the decorative latch that covered the shrine's lantern box. He pulled out the husk of the old candle, and placed it in his bag. He produced a fresh wax cylinder from the same pouch, and replaced it in the box. With a match struck on the stone of the memorial itself, he lit the new candle's wick.
He shut the latch, and watched the flame in the box struggle against the elements.