The Man Who Stayed Inside: An Urban Fable

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The old man lived all alone in a three-story house in the heart of a bustling city. Each day, he would put on his old gray hat and head outside for a walk. The city was full of good things to see and do. Skyscraper canyons and cobbled streets that time forgot. Little shops filled with trinkets and treasures. Parks with trees, flowers and birds, and of course, the zoo. And best of all, an outdoor cafe where he could sit and watch the cars and people flow by.

But lately every time the old man went outside, something bad would happen to him. One day, he was almost trampled to death by a herd of wild pedestrians on their way to work.

Another time, while walking in the park, he was mugged by a gang of punk squirrels with pink spiked hair, who took all he had—a bag of peanuts and a gold pocket watch.

Then one day, as the old man was sitting outside his favorite cafe, a sharp-dressed cat, wearing dark sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, strolled up and sat right down at his table and then slurped off all the whipped cream from his hot chocolate and, for no reason at all, tweaked him on the nose, which made the old man jump into the street, where he was nearly run over by a runaway shopping cart filled with 47 TV dinners and a sack of potatoes, which knocked his hat straight under a passing garbage truck, where it was made very flat … well, that did it! The old man decided, then and there, he would stay inside for good.

“And why go outside?” he said to himself, “when there’s plenty to do inside? I have a house three stories tall, with stairs that wind up and down and corner nooks where I can poke around. I can sit all day in my soft, comfy chair with all my books, computer, and color TV to look at. And whenever I’m hungry, I can just pick up the phone and have pizza delivered.”

For a while, the old man was as happy as could be in his safe inside world where nothing bad ever happened. But then one day it seemed that something was missing. “It’s too dark in here,” he said to himself. “I need more sunlight.”

So he called a carpenter to come out and put big picture windows on each side of the house. And that afternoon, as the sunlight streamed into every nook and corner, the old man sat and sunned himself, like a big happy lizard, in his soft comfy chair.

But after a while, it seemed to the old man that something was missing inside again. “There aren’t any trees in here,” said the old man, who missed his walks in the park. “Every home should have a few trees.”

So the old man called the carpenter to come out and put two big skylights in the roof. And while he was at it, he also asked the carpenter to knock out the second and third floors so that sunlight could reach all the way down to the first floor.

Then the old man called the garden shop to deliver two dozen big trees, each exactly three stories high, two dozen big pots, and a ton of potting soil. There was a fig tree, an orange tree, and even a coconut tree, and a giant saguaro cactus for the sunniest part of the house. And that night, as he peeled an orange and sipped some coconut milk from his very own trees, the old man was happy indeed.

But after a while, it seemed to the old man that something was missing inside again. “I miss seeing and hearing animals,” he said. “What this house needs are a few critters and twitters.”

So the old man called the pet shop and asked them to deliver three dozen animals, including a gecko for the ginkgo tree, two finches for the fig tree, three tree frogs for the palm tree, and even a koala for the eucalyptus tree. And of course, a couple of pigeons to roost in the rafters. And that night, the old man fell fast asleep to the sweet sounds of tree frogs trilling and pigeons cooing.

But after a while, it seemed to the old man that something was missing inside again. “The trouble with staying inside all the time,” he said to the nearby gecko on the wall, “is that there’s no weather in here at all. What this place needs is a little wind, rain, and snow to blow sometimes.”

So the old man again called the carpenter to come out and remove the two big skylights in the roof and all the picture windows so that inside rain and snow could now fall, and the wind could rustle through the trees. And that night, he fell fast asleep as a cold north breeze whistled through the rafters and wet snowflakes fell on his nose.

But after a while, it seemed to the old man that something was missing inside again. “I miss the hustle and bustle of the city,” he said as he sat holding an umbrella in his chair. “What this house needs is some traffic inside.”

The old man called city hall to ask if any new streets were planned. The city planner told him, yes, the city was going to build a new small street in the old man’s neighborhood. And much to the city planner’s surprise, the old man told him that they could build it right through the middle of his house.

So the city constructed a brand new street that went straight through a tunnel where the old man’s front door used to be, through the living room and into the kitchen (right over the linoleum) and out through a back door tunnel. And the next morning, the old man sat at his breakfast table and sipped his hot chocolate while watching the traffic whiz by.

But after a while, it seemed to the old man that something was still missing inside again. “But what could it be?” he said, as he scratched the bare spot on his head. “My house has everything that a house in the city should have, and then some.”

Suddenly, the old man knew just what was missing. Except for himself, there were no people inside. And just as a city without people is but an empty space that sprawls, a house without people is but a roof and four walls.

So the old man again called city hall to ask if a sidewalk could be built along the small street that now ran through his house.

The very next day, the city sent out a cement truck to pour a new sidewalk along both sides of the old man’s street. Why, he even got to write his initials into the wet cement, and no one complained a bit. And that night, the old man sat in his soft comfy chair in the living room, and instead of watching color TV, watched a stream of colorful people flow by, each on his or her way to this or that business in the city.

At last the old man was happy, for now he had everything he needed inside. Then one morning, as he sat at the breakfast table sipping his hot chocolate, a sharp-dressed cat, wearing dark sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, strolled down the sidewalk, through the front door tunnel, and up to the table. The old man jumped from his chair, but this time the cat didn’t try to slurp the old man’s hot chocolate or to tweak his nose. Instead, the cat gave him a brand new hat and held out his paw for a shake.

Then he and the old man walked, hand in paw, straight through the front door tunnel … back inside the city.                                                                                                                                                                 © Gene Twaronite 2012

Originally published in Read (Weekly Reader) 2003 and just one of the 21 wacky stories included in my book Dragon Daily News. Stories of Imagination for Children of All Ages. Available at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Dragon-Daily-News-Imagination-Children/dp/1481998080