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.