Conversation in the Park

Conversation in the Park


The entire week I worried about the chores for Friday, my only

day off. Tasks I’d postponed for months. The gutter was falling

off the wall, letting rain to seep under the foundation was one;

and the other; our lack luster antique dining chairs. I’d already

bought sandpaper, a paintbrush, thinner and varnish to re-

varnish them.


Friday came but I just couldn’t bring myself to get started on any

of those chores. First I debated which was more urgent, the

gutter or the chairs? A broken gutter could cost us dearly as the

rainy season was approaching and shabby looking chairs were

reflection of us.


Twice to distract myself I started doing a crossword puzzle but

forgetting the name of Napoleon’s lover crashed my hope of

doing so. The entire morning was wasted; all I’d done so far was

smoke and monitor the time. A peculiar sentiment was inundating

my entire being; an old anxiety, an erratic heartbeat. Whatever it

was, it stopped me from doing anything productive.


Later in the afternoon, I put on my coat and hat and left the

house for a walk. After I was far enough to return I realized I’d left

my favorite plaid scarf at home. Any other day I would’ve gone

back for it as the doctor advised me not to expose my chest to

cold it triggered my asthma.


But today, I kept walking until I entered a park. It seemed more

crowded than usual; the main trails were all filled with groups of

people sitting cozily on the grass as if they’d been sentenced to

waste their Friday afternoon there. A few people played cards;

some backgammon, others gobbled sunflower seeds as if

competing for a prize. And circle of friends and family had a

samovar in the center boiling and a teapot on top steaming.


On the hedges further down, a flock of black ravens were

arguing. A dark raven croaked ominously and three responded;

another one croaked in disagreement and suddenly all frantically

croaked in unison.


In a quiet remote and secluded corner, I finally discovered an

empty bench, just perfect spot to take the load off. The sun was

shining right in my eyes, in an hour or two it would to go home

too. I pulled my hat down a little to shield my eyes from its daring

gaze.


I don’t know how long it took until I sensed the presence of

someone next to me. Politely I shifted aside to get a better look

and when I recognized the stranger, a feeling of serenity

permeated my soul. Calmness replaced the anxiety I’d felt all

day. It was Ali my childhood friend; surely it was him sitting right

next to me indifferent to my presence. He was my next-door

neighbor and my classmate; we went to school together every

day in childhood and when we grew up, we exchanged books

and passionately debated about our political views and

convictions.


But how could that be? How could he be sitting shoulder to

shoulder with me after more than 40 years of not having any

contact? He looked exactly the same as I always remembered;

long nose, bony chin and now with his sunken eyes staring into

the sun; like we used to do together when we were kids; betting

on who could stare into the sun longer without blinking.


He must have not recognized me. Unlike him, I had changed a

lot; I’d gained 20 Kilos, lost hair and now wore glasses.


“Is that you?” I asked in wonderment.


Nodded apathetically, he didn’t say a word. He kept staring at

the sun, gazing far from the park and much farther than the

bickering ravens on the hedges. He was looking into sky, much

higher than mountains and beyond the horizon.


“Don’t you recognize me?” I pried.


His affectionate eyes turned to my face for the first time and

gave me the same look he gave me in childhood. But the

passage of years had paled his gaze; something was keeping

him from warming up to me.


“This is a bizarre coincidence my friend; I had a hunch

something would happen today. I came here for no apparent

reason. I was anxiously waiting for you the entire day without

knowing it. I can’t believe after all these years we meet again.

God knows how many sweet memories we have together.

Believe me my friend; nothing replaces sweet memories,

nothing.”


I kept rambling without letting him respond.


“Do you remember we paid three Rials each and walked a long

way to buy a half bologna sandwich? Do you remember the

sandwich shop called the Golden Rooster? I could never

duplicate that taste. Do you remember we could only afford to

buy one movie ticket and watched the movie in one seat twice in

a row? They don’t make movies like that anymore; do they my

friend?”


“You’ve changed a lot,” he responded in a cold tone of voice.


“That’s life; after youth you change so much you can’t

recognize yourself anymore.”


“What happened to our old friends?” he asked.


“Do you remember the guy we called the psychologist? He

always said if we had a sexual revolution, class struggles would

vanish all together? He abandoned his dreams when he

inherited a rug store and now making tons of money; doing what

he always hated, following his father’s footsteps. And the rest of

the gang, I have no idea what happened to them.”


His mind was wandering elsewhere as if ravens had snatched his

attention like they snatch bars of soap from unattended wash

buckets. I wished I could repeat the past, all of it, the bad and

the good. I wished we could drink so much water after playing

football in the summer heat of the south. I desperately wished to

relive the taste of hot baked beets we bought from the street

vendor in the bitter cold of winter. I wanted to ask him how he

studied that made him a better student than me? I had lots of

things to say but he was melting in the sun before my eyes; I was

losing his presence.


He showed no interest in the past; he was relentlessly staring

into the sun; as he did in our childhood. I followed his gaze to go

beyond the park hedges, beyond the city limits and beyond my

horizon. I emerged from the smoke filled city and ascended

higher than the snow-capped mountain. The air was no longer

polluted and I felt like a bird soaring in infinite sky, to eternity and

approaching the sun. Just like him, just like our childhood; I was

getting closer and closer to the immense fountain of light and

about to enter the house of sun. After so many years once

again I was able to take a deep fresh breath of air and exhale

freely to purify myself; now I was able to stand against all odds

and empowered enough to stop typhoons. Crystals of light

inundated my entire being and rays of fire rushed through my

veins. The sun exploded and its rays illuminated the galaxy and I

was standing in the center of it all absorbing every crystal of light

with every fiber of my being opening my arms to embrace the

world.


Suddenly I trembled and jolted out of fantasy thinking of my

upcoming retirement, my pension plan and my coin collection.

What if the gutter falls off the wall? The dining room chairs are

waiting patiently for a varnish.


My eyes burned; my frail body could not tolerate the enormous

flow of light. Desperately I covered my chest with both hands to

prevent it from crushing and closed my eyes. Darkness and

vacuum crept inside me and purged every piece of shattered

light from my being.


I buttoned my coat to keep the cold out and cautiously opened

my eyes to adjust to darkness falling on the park. The sun had

already set and I found myself sitting on the bench alone.