The old man stopped walking, and held out his hand for the boy to take, and they shook hands.
“Weird. Isaac’s my name, too.”
“Small world. You know what that means?”
“Yes. Everyone has a name, and people used to be given names with meanings, sometimes as prognostications—you should learn that word, boy. It’s a good one—and sometimes, it was a reminder of their inheritance or beginning. Isaac just so happens to be—”
“I know. It means ‘laughter’. My mom got me this little plaque when I was a little kid and put it above the light switch in my room. She said it makes sense because I’ve always been a jokester.”
The man paused and pushed his long beard aside so he could rest his hands on his stomach.
For half a block, they walked in silence. The boy found himself trying to keep up with the man, whose gait had accelerated since he caught up to him only a few minutes before.
Breaking the discomforting quiet, the boy interjected that his bicycle had been stolen earlier that day, and that he wasn’t sure if he would be able to get it back.
“That’s unfortunate,” the man said. “Maybe something good will come of it. Someone else has a bike and you get to walk.”
“Exactly. That’s the problem. I hate walking.”
“Well, at least you can’t splash old guys without your wheels. I know some might appreciate that.”
Caught, the boy stuttered an apology while the elder Isaac smirked at him.
“Don’t worry about it. I just thought you should know I have a pretty good memory for an old guy, and it really is a shame you’ve lost your bike. From what I could tell, it could go pretty fast.”
Even though the man didn’t seem to care, Isaac (the younger) recalled the scene he alluded to with the sudden weight of unexpected guilt. So he changed the subject.
“I don’t like taking the bus, either,” he offered.
“Well, then. I guess you have a tough decision to make. It’s between your feet and the limits of your fortitude to withstand the taunts of your peers.”
“It’s not that. No one dares to bully me,” the boy said as he kicked some loose, wet gravel. “It’s just that I’m new.”
The unlikely couple reached Warner Street, where the younger Isaac would turn right to make the rest of the way home alone. There, scanty rosebushes planted in a cluster near the stop sign were still blooming fuchsia in the last days of October.
“This is where I leave, um, sir,” the boy stammered, looking for a title of respect, not knowing what to call the man who didn’t quite look like a “father” or a “reverend”—certainly not a “captain” but maybe a “doctor.”
“Sir? I think we can leave on a first-name basis. It’s a certain bond we have—having the same name, that is.”
“I guess so. It’s not all that uncommon, though.”
“True. But before you go, I think I might be of some help in clearing up something. You told me that your mother said your name suits you because you’re Mr. Funny Man at school, but I think you’ve been mislead—not maliciously, of course, but by a rather understandable misunderstanding.”
The boy looked toward his house and saw the bus turning from the housing development and back onto the main road.
“I really have to go. My mom doesn’t know I’ve lost my bike and that I’ll be late. The last excuse she’s going to want to hear is that I’ve been talking to an old man in an alleyway. No offense.”
“Of course, of course. None taken. But it won’t take more than a minute.”
“Sure. Fine. Let’s hear it. How has my mom lied to me all my life?”
“Mislead,” he corrected.
“Ok. Sure. Mislead.”
“Well, Isaac means ‘laughter,’ but the name wasn’t given to define or bestow humor upon the child. It was given because of doubting the possible, mocking a promise.”
Rolling his eyes, the boy asked if this was “some kind of Bible story,” to which the old man responded, suddenly standing straighter, “I don’t read the Bible.”
“Okay, sorry. Whatever. It sounded like a Bible story.”
The man sighed. “Another common mistake, really.”
“Well, like I said, I’m sorry. Have a good walk, wherever you’re going. I’ve got to start the macaroni if Mom’s not home.”
The boy turned his back to the old man at the corner, walked a few steps, clutched the shoulder straps of his backpack, and began to run.