Otto – Joyce Janes

George and Charlie always walked home from school together.

That was when they first met Otto.

The handle of his carrier bag broke and the boys gathered his shopping as apple and potatoes rolled along the pavement.

They had often seen Otto as they passed the house but this was the first time they had spoken to him.

The boys knew all the rules don’t talk to strangers, come straight home and all that but Otto wasn’t really a stranger was he?

The youngsters saw him most days either through the window of his house or working in his garden.

The garden was amazing, it was immaculate.  A blaze of colourful flowerbeds edged the neatest vegetable patch George had ever seen.

No one spoke to Otto although he was a familiar sight in the neighbourhood.  His house backed on to the lane from school and everyone avoided him they said he was foreign and weird.

George wondered why everyone made fun of this harmless, shaky old man.  Otto did shake, his hands, his head even his legs seemed to quiver.

The boys collected the shopping and helped him the few yards to his house, he was very grateful.  ‘Thank you children,’ the old man said, well that was what he meant he actually said ‘danke, danke kinder.’

Otto offered to make the boys a drink but they both refused dashing off as soon as they could.

After that whenever George and Charlie saw Otto they always waved.  It was as if the shopping incident had suddenly made the old man visible when he hadn’t been before.

Over the next few months George and Charlie saw Otto more often, they would shout hello and sometimes stopped to chat as they passed.

These times became the highlight of Otto’s day.   He made a point of being at the window when he knew it was time for the boys to pass.  Sitting in his chair he would watch for the friends, worrying if he didn’t see them, wondering if they were all right.

He loved his garden and if the weather was nice he would be out there when the boys walked home.

One day George and his mum were at the shops and they bumped into Otto.  The old man asked mum if George and Charlie could stop on their way home sometimes for a drink or an ice cream.

She said she would talk to Charlie’s mum but thought it would be ok.

‘What a nice man,’ she told George afterwards.

All that summer the boys called to visit Otto on their way home from school.  The three of them sat in the beautiful garden enjoying lemonade and ice cream and best of all homemade cake, Otto was a really good cook.

He would tell them stories of when he was a child and talk of his family.  He was born in Germany but his parents and grandparents had been taken during the war, they were never seen again.  Otto only escaped because he was visiting an uncle in England.

‘All dead,’ he would say sadly, then he would smile, ‘ah well it is how things are and anyway I will see them in heaven won’t I.’

When it was time to go home the boys would leave arms full of fresh vegetables.  ‘There’s far too much for me, take them kinder give them to your mothers with love from me.’

Then one day Otto wasn’t in his garden when the boys arrived and although they knocked on the door he didn’t answer.

It was only later that George and Charlie discovered Otto had fallen in the garden and hit his head.

Although a neighbour had seen the old man in the vegetable patch by the time the ambulance arrived Otto was dead.

It was strange for the boys passing an empty house seeing the once beautiful garden slowly deteriorate.  Flowerbeds and vegetable plot merged together becoming a wilderness, disappearing under a tangled mass of greenery.

Eventually Otto’s house was sold and a family moved in.

Building work began.  Foundations for an extension where vegetables had grown whilst decking replaced the colourful flowerbeds.

George and Charlie grumbled to each other then stopped as they heard the sing song voice of the old man.

‘Ah don’t worry mein kinder, it’s how things are, one day we’ll meet again, I will see you in heaven won’t I?’

 

Joyce Janes writer for children

 

 

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