The gentle stranger

My 'own' bench was occupied, to my surprise

The gentle stranger

On a blue Monday I was sitting on a park bench again. My ‘own’ bench was occupied, to my surprise and that was for the first time. From my daily spot I could overlook almost the entire park. I saw couples walking on the paths, laughing and kissing or arguing unabashedly. I saw ducks, swans and lately a lot of geese in and around the pond. Dogs were running around the off-leash field; there is nothing like a happy dog. Everything about them is flapping: their tail, their ears and their hair when it’s long. Looking for a free bench, I stopped for a few small children, who clearly could just walk and for whom a duck is a wonder of the world. They are right about that, by the way. Strange, like people sometimes don’t find animals that come in large numbers special anymore. I once talked with a birdwatcher who made me stare at a chiffchaff through his viewer. He wouldn’t do that with a sparrow, because that was an ‘ordinary bird’. As if those existed. That’s how I often sat musing in the park, if it wasn’t raining hard. I did not mind a little drizzle and it freshened everything up. The green became greener and the air cleaner.

Now that I was forced to look for another place, I thought: that doesn’t hurt a person, because then he looks at things from a different angle. I found a nice new bench opposite ‘mine’, on the other side of the pond. Here I was a bit sheltered and I didn’t have such a wide view. For example, there was an island in the way, to which I had never paid so much attention. It was very beautiful – probably because hardly anyone ever went there. Suddenly a kingfisher flashed past and I heard a lot of twittering to my left in the bushes. Slowly I slipped into a dreamy state and I no longer focused on people, dogs or geese but sank into the atmosphere as it were. A silly kind of senseless joy came over me and I let myself go.

I didn’t know how long it had lasted, but I came to my senses again when someone rather noisily took a seat on the bench, next to me. A man my age, also with glasses and a cap and a beard. He greeted me and gave me a wink as well, which I found odd. You don’t usually wink at a stranger, at least not without reason. He sat a little too close and I pushed aside as inconspicuously as possible. He laughed a short, funny laugh, so he had noticed.

I am not a very talkative person; I enjoy watching people, but I don’t need to talk to them. So I looked stubbornly ahead for a while but that situation was not tenable. I kept having the tendency to look to the side of my bench mate, who looked around quietly, sometimes humming softly. I could see that out of the corner of my eye. As soon as he turned his head towards me, I turned my eyes away. I managed to do that several times, but whether I was too late to turn away, or that I decided to just look, I don’t remember, but I looked straight at him. I wanted to say something because that’s what people do in a situation like this, but my lips didn’t want to. I looked and I saw him – how should I explain it – I saw him from the inside and he was so familiar to me… There came another short laugh and I really loved that sound. You must know that I’m not used to experiencing such things and I don’t know the words for them either, but it was beautiful and I would almost say: miraculous.

Just when I could almost say something to him, the man got up, tapped his cap and walked away. There I was, all full of feelings and confused. What was wrong with me? My quiet park pleasure had turned into a whirlwind of feelings. It wasn’t excitement, more wonder and joy – plus a lot of incomprehension. What should I do with this? Thinking about it didn’t help and trying to call it into mind again didn’t work. It even seemed as if that wasn’t allowed. I sat there and just sat there and the whole world had turned upside down. When it started to get dark I got up and walked home but I almost fell over a kerb and bumped into someone twice. At home I told the whole story to my cat but it didn’t know what to do with it either.

Since that day I kept going to the new bench and I longed that he would come again, which I thought was very weird of myself. I never got into that dreamy atmosphere again and my memory still didn’t cooperate. In the end I began to think I had imagined the whole thing. That dreamy atmosphere had just been a dream, I thought. But that didn’t calm me down.

Every day my thoughts wandered over and over to that special moment and it became almost an obsession. Sometimes I would hang in front of the TV to distract myself but often I fell asleep and that combination was not pleasant. I had the idea that while I was asleep I absorbed all that superficial talk and decided in the future to go to bed in such a case. I did the same this afternoon and then I had a dream, a real dream because I was asleep. In my sleep the same man came in, sat down on the edge of my bed and laughed his little laugh. He looked at me and started to sing a song. I knew that song, although I couldn’t hear what it was about. I had known it for centuries. He looked at me and winked. Then he left.

And now I sit on the couch and sort things out.

a. I sit on a completely different bench than usual and go into a dreamy mood.

b. A man I don’t know sits next to me and gives me a wink.

c. He behaves strangely, humming and laughing as if he is a good friend of mine, but that is not possible.

d. Yet I trust him and even feel very much for him.

e. When he is gone, I miss him very much and long for him.

f. I don’t see him for so long, that I don’t believe he’s real anymore.

g. In my dream he comes along and that dream doesn’t seem like a dream, even though I was asleep.

I suddenly think I was more awake when I was asleep than now, now that I can think clearly. Extremely confusing and there is nothing left that resembles any logic. My life has taken a strange turn and a thought is flowing into me that it was really about time. The flow is accompanied by a strong memory of him whom I thought I did not know but whom I trust blindly and who warms me with the gentle look in his eyes. He will always be with me, I know that, but what about him? I have no idea. But I do know I’m on the right track. I smile at the cat and it grins back at me. It does that often but never so widely.

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Date: January 25, 2020
Author: Amun (Netherlands)
Photo: Josephine Baran on Unsplash

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