We met under a tree. It was on the day I had slipped out to a little park. I had found it on one of my many trips of discovery.
It wasn’t much of a park. There was a children's play area, a track and field, a basketball court, a patch of grass and some woods. Well, some would call it a wood but, having grown up in a wood, I saw it merely as a garden of trees. Still, it was tranquil, and that so happened to be the one quality I was looking for on that day.
I sat on the bench that had its back to the trees and faced the playing area. I would have preferred it the other way. The bench was awkwardly high, as if it was placed there for very tall people. I am of that kind but it was even too high for me. It was old, painted black and an object of amateur carvers. The one redeeming feature was the tree stump. It was nicely positioned in front of the bench, acting as a foot stool; a feature I had rarely found in other parks. So, what was awkward became comfortable.
I had not been there for very long. I had surveyed the activity of the park, wrote a few notes and started into a page of “Huckleberry Finn”, but I was not to get any further. Just as I began to lose myself in the misadventures of dear Huck the rain began. I tried to ignore it at first, hoping that it was just a few isolated drops from a stray cloud that was being rebellious on this beautiful day. I realized it was not to be when it began to rain in earnest.
I must say, I was annoyed. This day had begun with such promise. Sure it had rained early. In fact the rain had awakened me just after 5 am but it was shortly after that the sun had broken through and had made its promise to bring warmth to the day. Yet, I could not ignore the fact that I was getting wet and so were my books. I scrambled to gather them up and then, assessing I could not make it back to the shelter of the metro station, ran for the familiar covering of the trees.
The green canopy was not thick enough to keep all the rain off but it was far better to be there then standing out in the now torrential rain. I moved from spot to spot until I found one that had the least amount of leaks. I stood there in the garden of trees, weighing my options. The cars rushing by on the nearby city street ignored me as their wipers madly worked at keeping the rain out of the drivers’ vision. The children had all scurried inside except for two brave souls who found this to be a grand adventure, hopping from newly formed puddle to newly formed puddle. I smiled as I imagined the reaction of their parents when the children walked through the door.
There was a bus shelter on the corner. For a moment I contemplated joining the others who had crammed themselves into it as they attempted to avoid the sheets of rain that moved across the quiet neighbourhood. I quickly dismissed that idea. The reason I had come to the park was to make an attempted escape from people, for a few hours. I did not fancy even one minute in an already overstuffed bus shelter with people who would politely avoid my eyes and try to pretend they were alone. No, I would rather take my chance with the trees.
As I turned from the bus shelter to see if there were any other options I was shocked to realize I was not alone. It seemed I was not the only one who considered the trees a good option to hide from the storm. As I had turned from the bus shelter our eyes locked on each other. We seemed frozen on the spot. I was startled to see him as I am sure he was startled to be seen. So there we stood, under the tree as the rain fell around us. The only sound was the muffled noise of the passing cars and my heart beat.
He looked me over as if to assess if I posed any particular danger to him. I stood as if fixed in this brief moment in time, not wanting to frighten him. I could tell by the quick rising and falling of his chest that his heart beat as fast as mine as we stood no more than a few feet apart. His eyes were inquisitive as they darted about, taking in as much information as he could. His head and body did not move, only his eyes. From those eyes I was left with little doubt of his intelligence.
I wanted to ask him if he was from this neighbourhood. I was not. I decided against it. I was afraid that any spoken communication would shatter the spell of the moment. That’s what it was or at least felt like in that city park, standing in front of him; a spell.
It was not much of a move, more like a test of motion to see my reaction. I refused to react, standing as if I were only another of the many statues in the city’s parks. I had no desire to move toward or away from him but remain a simple observer of the events that were to unfold.
He moved again.
This time there was more boldness to the motion. It was a full and confident step. It was a step toward me. My pulse quickened. Why would he move toward me? I questioned myself. It seemed contrary to his nature. The glint in his eye told me of his intent to take another step.
Suddenly disappointment came crashing in as I examined his intended path. I realized that he did not have the same motive as I had for seeking shelter under this protective tree. It would appear that I had been a mere interruption to his lunch, no more than a passer-by. Even as the scene registered upon my consciousness he triumphantly dashed forward and grabbed up his bread. To my surprise he did not dash away. He was bold, I had to admit. He stood with his bread in hand and stared at me, as if to see if I would challenge his claim. I remained a statue.
It ended as quickly as it had begun. Without so much as a wink he scampered up the tree to some secret lair where I have no doubt he would share this adventure with his buddies. I was once again alone, under a tree, in a garden of trees, in a city park, caught in a summer storm.
As I stood there, deciding my next move, I had a feeling that became a thought. I did not act on it and that lack of action has turned into a regret today. The feeling was that he did not simply disappear up that tree. I had this notion he had stopped his ascent part way up to take one last peek at this strange statue that had suddenly appeared in his garden of trees. Or perhaps it was a wood to him. I will never know; my respect for him would not allow another glimpse.
I walked home in the rain that day, a rain that refused to stop, strangely pleased with myself. As I walked I also wondered. I wondered what became of the children. I wondered how long the people in the shelter waited. I wondered who was the first to venture out into the storm. I wondered about the reaction of the bus driver when no one in the shelter moved to get on the bus. I wondered about many things that day on my way home. But I did not wonder about him. Him I knew.