Can you hear me?
I stop, staring at this little old lady sitting on the park bench. Of course I can, but I'm really too busy to sit and chat. Besides, she doesn't even know me. Why would she want to talk to me, someone who's clearly got too little time to waste with her? I lift my feet to continue, already calculating how long it'll take me to get to my meeting. Maybe if I run...
Sit down, please.
This time, I know she's talking to me. Her eyes are clear blue, and are totally focused, unlike all the old people I see. And they're looking right at me, piercing me with this look that says "You're not too busy to talk to me for a bit." My heart gives a little twinge, as if already resigning itself to this lady, and thus to being late.
I sit down on the bench, shifting uncomfortably, trying to get as far as possible from this lady as this two person bench will allow. My briefcase bounces on my lap as my legs jitter in anticipation. I'll be running. That is for sure.
Her voice creaks, like she hasn't spoken in a while. And she begins to tell me her life. How she grew up during the depresson. How she fell in love with a man ten years her senior, and married! How he broke her heart, like she knew he would, and how he had a name she loved; Richard. (In turn, I told her Richard was just a fancy way of saying Dick.) Her hands swung around, making all sorts of gestures that seemed to fit the story. I wondered how such a small woman, somewhere in her 90s, could find the strength to keep swinging her arms like that. She said that she'd wanted to be a writer. To her, it sounded artsy and sophisticated. But she'd never had the talent, and so she gave up and became an office worker. But when I listened to her, I could practically hear her writing leaping off the page, and I almost felt sorry for all the fools who'd most likely turned down a genius. She met her husband in the office. By now, she was in her thirties, and everyone wanted her to get married. When she complained to her coworkers about this, a boy five years her junior came up and offered to marry her. At the time, she'd laughed it off, but he was nice, she said. And eventually, they got married on a warm summer's day.
"Where is he now?" I asked, finding myself unable to hold that question back. I also found that I'd scooted closer to the lady, and I was no longer jittering.
She stopped for a moment. Her blue eyes clouded over, and her head drooped a little, and suddenly she wasn't the animated woman with a story to tell. Suddenly, she was every other old person I'd met, with those eyes that didn't see the future anymore, and couldn't see the now. It was like she was there, but no longer living. Now, she merely existed in the seat, and I thought fleetingly about bringing her to a nursing home where she could merely exist without being a hazard to those on the street.
Then, she looked up. Her cloudy eyes disappeared, the storms dispersing and now leaving behind only a little perspiration. She whispers in a voice like old paper, her words fluttering in the air, then falling like gravity is pushing down on them.
I swallow hard, feeling that little twinge again. My hand leaves my briefcase, reaching to pat her back, offer her some form of comfort. But the moment's gone as quickly as it appeared. And now, she speaks a little faster, like she's running out of time, and she wants someone to hear this. I listen and watch as her sentences smush together.
"A year after we got married, the boy was finally brave enough to touch me. To hug me. We had a baby about another year later, and named it after his favorite uncle- Mike."
Here, I jerked a little at the coincidence. My name was Michael, but for years in my childhood, I'd been known as Mike.
"Mike was soon joined by a girl named Eliza and another named Sophie. Our house got crowded, and we got busy. I quit my job. Watched the kids. Felt my life slip away, stared as these kids devoured all my time like candy. One day, I left. Not for long, and I made sure someone stayed with them. I just took a train and escaped for a couple hours, sitting in a park just like this, and I talked about my kids to anyone who'd listen. The boy was worried sick about me, and we sat in our bedroom for hours just talking. I got a part time job bagging groceries. He made sure to leave work early. And we were fine."
I smile here. This, I can relate to. I mean, I want to run away all the time, and this little lady reflects that feeling back. This story sounds like a happy ending to me, and I wait for just that...
"Soon, my kids moved out. They wanted nothing to do with some crazy old lady who once left them, even if it was just for a couple hours. My husband, the boy, grew sick and soon he was coughing up his lungs in a hospital bed. We said goodbye there. And afterwards, I got rid of that house. Sold it dirt cheap, and moved into a dinky apartment with a sink that hardly ever worked. I got a full time job, tried to learn a second language, met up with old friends. I laughed, and lied, a lot."
My little twinge has grown to an ache. A big old ache in my heart, pulsing in places that should echo with the steady beats of my heart. It hurts. It hurts a lot.
"Eventually, I was moved to the hospital too. Got a cold. Then, I had this revelation..."
I lean in, practically pushing my ear to her mouth. "What," I whisper, waiting for the end of her tale.
"The Lord spoke to me. And he told me I had to find you."
I blink a little. Squint my eyebrows in a look that practically screams "Are you crazy?"
She chuckles a little. Leans into me some, giving off this scent of dried flowers, hospitals and home. She whispers something into my ears, and the throbbing turns to a burning throughout my whole body. Tears roll down my face, falling onto my briefcase and turning that shiny brown leather to a dark dull black. I turn to look at her, to ask her to repeat those words I haven't had spoken to me in at least thirty years and a lifetime ago, but she's gone.
I curl up on the bench, and cry.
I love you, son.