“And can you imagine it?” The grizzled old man leaned in toward his audience and announced, “The third man stopped!”
The children sat, enraptured. Two were recording on their circlets, trying to figure out how to focus the cameras. They were still new at this.
“And this third man… well, he was Colonial!”
The children booed. Several spat. One little boy inched forward. “He’s gonna kill the guy!”
“Well, this third man, this Colonial, got off his car and turned off all the displays on his crown.” The old man crouched, inspecting the ground before him. “He saw the poor old traveler, that man who had already been beaten and ignored by the mayor and a teacher, and this Colonial…”
The children jumped up and started shouting.
“Helped him!” roared the old man with a laugh.
The children sat down, stunned. They looked at each other, their circlets blinking faster and faster.
“You! You! Get away from the children! Are you a predator?” A well-dressed woman scuffled toward the group. She eyed the bare head of the man as her crown scanned his face for database matches.
The old man chuckled. “Young lady, I am simply a neighbor.”
“There are rules against entering playgrounds unless you have submitted all the proper forms. Are you a grandparent?” She carefully enunciated each syllable.
“No. Just a neighbor.”
“Then I will have to ask you to leave.”
“Of course you will.” He sighed as he stood, looking at all those faces. “Sorry, kids, I have to go.”
The children vocalized a chorus of “No!”
He shook his head. “You heard her. It is more important for her to obey the rules than be a neighbor. And I have to obey her, unless you want to see me carted off by the police.”
A little boy grabbed his wrist. “Just tell us the end of the story! What happened next? Was it a Colonial trick?”
The old man’s lips curled into a smile. He took three steps backwards, his feet landing on grass. “Does this please milady?” He glanced down. “I am no longer in the playground.”
The woman crossed her arms, pursing her lips. “According to the database, you must be one hundred yards from any point of the playground.”
“Of course I must. You wouldn’t have known that, except you just looked it up, didn’t you?” The old man shook his head again and focused on the children. “Fill your heads. Don’t let the teachers tell you it’s only important to know things for tests. Keep learning; keep looking. And I bet that if you look long enough, you’ll find the story of the Good Clolonial somewhere.” His eyes twinkled. “But until then, I bid you farewell.”
He bowed with a flourish and walked away. The woman began ushering the children back toward the sad building they called a school. She scowled after the departing man.
He walked a short distance and sat heavily on a bench. For a few hours he smiled toward the sky, counting down until children began filing out from the school. They walked to waiting cars or rode away in the bus. A few children saw him and came his way. “Can you finish the story?”
The old man nodded. “Of course. It’s one of my favorites. Let’s see here, the Colonial had bent down and… what was he doing again?”
A little girl with a pink circlet cheered, “Helping him!”
The old man clapped. “That’s right! The Colonial helped him. In fact, even though this poor guy was all bloody and messed up, the colonial picked him up and put him on his car. They drove off to a nearby hospital, where the Colonial pinged the doctor the numbers to his own bank account. ‘Give him whatever he needs.’”
A girl’s circlet blinked as she received a ping and she looked back to an approaching figure. She vocalized, “Ah, Dad! I’m not bothering him!”
Once more, the story stopped. The old man addressed the father, “She isn’t bothering me. In fact, she’s giving me a rare opportunity. Would you care to wait a few moments?”
The father paused and tried to ping some words to the old man outside the range of his daughter, but was frustrated when he realized the man didn’t have a crown. Finally, he vocalized, “We really have places to go.”
“Of course, of course.” He looked down at the girl. “You, young lady, have given me great joy today. All of you have.”
The girl’s eyebrows scrunched together. “Why? I didn’t do anything.”
“You gave me an opportunity I rarely get these days. The second biggest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. When a man doesn’t have neighbors, he’s deprived of giving that love. These days, no one really is a neighbor. We’re all too caught up in our own things. You children allowed me to serve you with a story. Thank you.”
“Neighbor. Is that why the Colonial man helped the good guy?”
The old man savored the next words. “Yes. The colonial and the poor beat-up man were neighbors.”
The girl returned to her father, but three children yet remained. He glanced at them. “You should probably get going to your parents.”
The kids pinged back and forth to each other before vocalizing, “Our parents don’t get home until later. We can stay here if we want.”
“Well, then, what can I do for you?”
One boy in a dirty blue t-shirt stuttered as he vocalized, “You said that the Colonial obeyed the second biggest commandment. Is there a bigger one?”
The old man’s hand stroked his beard as he nodded. “Yes, indeed. Oh, but I don’t know if you’re old enough for it. It’s very big. So big it doesn’t fit in my head too often. And your heads can’t hold that much yet, you’re so young!”
A girl with long dirty brown hair pouted. “We got circlets. We can do everything you can and more!” She stuck out her tongue.
The old man chuckled. “So you do. So you do. Well, the biggest commandment. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your brain and with all your spirit.’ Just like he loved you.” The man paused. “Is there time for me to tell you another story, about that? It’s very important, and it’s about a crown. Except, this one hurt. Tell me, do you know what thorns are?”