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A Walk in the Park

September 25, 2008 by · 3 comments

Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

Photo: friggy_30

The eighty-five year old widower was crossing the park with his cane, working to maintain a slow, steady speed. He knew his friends were waiting for him – a thinning group of retired grandfathers, spotted with age like leopards, wearing wrinkled berets and hand-me-down clothes from their children.

The group liked to sit on the park benches by the tall grass mixed with overgrown weeds to discuss the current political disasters or their own poor health. Each grandfather sat with a straight back and a varnished cane propped between his legs, holding the crooked handle of his walking stick with both hands.

All of them were half deaf and spoke loudly, which was why they ended up on this particular group of benches. The old men favored the less drafty seats under the big oak by café Mistral, but a month ago a teenage waitress with a skirt so short that one could check out her tonsils came out and told them to move, because they scared off the clients who prefer outside seating.

The widower was tottering through the park, when exactly half way between his apartment and the appointed meeting place, he felt a powerful urge to go. To the bathroom. Not to pee, either. “What now?” he thought to himself, and looked around.

This was the last remaining park in the city of B., and on the evenings, on the weekends, and whenever the weather was nice, the place was busier than a train station. Kids were learning how to walk, teenagers how to kiss; middle age couples arranged blind dates to try to find love again, and old people sat still and aching, criticizing everyone.

Now, with the sky gray and drizzling, at 10 in the morning the park was deserted, as it was a Tuesday – still considered a work day despite the latest unemployment record. A few dutiful mothers pushed strollers through the alleys, but other than that, the old man was the only living soul in this place.

The municipality had given up on maintaining the park, and nobody had mowed the grass since the fall of communism. Once every few years, ambitious, generous fathers got together with sickles and a few linen sacks to clear the areas where their children liked to play. These men never repeated the good deed, as most of them needed to go to the hospital right away with hungry ticks clutching their armpits or bellybuttons.

The widower had to go – there was no way to postpone it or otherwise ignore the issue. He chose to walk into the bushes on the left, and there, he dropped his pants and squatted over the ground.

Answering the calls of nature outside the privacy of a toilet or an outhouse was nothing new for him, as sixty years ago, he had lived for over a year as a guerilla in the mountains, while fighting with his comrades to bring the Communist Party to power. He knew which leaves did a better wiping job than others, but there wasn’t much choice now. Hidden in the bush, he had to do the best with what he had.

He caught onto his walking stick to help push himself off the ground, and strained to rise back to his feet. But he couldn’t. Blindsided by the forgotten act of squatting, his legs, stiff and numb, refused to obey. The widower made several further futile efforts to get up. However, his legs continued to stick together like dry twigs broken in two.

The widower was worried. “What now?” he thought to himself again. Completely hidden from view, he had to call for help, if he wanted it. But he didn’t. Instead, he decided to lie down on the ground, stretch his limbs and wait.

The clouds above the old man cracked, and sunshine seeped into the park. He could hear more and more voices of men, women and children. Barking of dogs worried him and he tested his legs again. The numbness had started turning into pins and needles and soon his muscles felt like scrap pieces of cloth in the hands of an eager seamstress.

He bit his blue, shapeless lips, and made no sound. At that point, he heard the loud voices of his friends, who were returning from their daily reunion. He closed his eyes and held his breath until their voices died away completely.

He remembered the time in his youth when he was wounded in the leg in a gunfight with the Nazi government and had to wander around the mountain for days to find his comrades. It was hard to walk in that case, too, but he had managed on his own then, and he knew that he could manage now, as well.

Little by little, the widower regained motion in his legs. He stretched them carefully, tried to lift them in the air and massaged the shrunk and stiff muscles. He emerged from the bushes in the early afternoon, and headed home. He was tired, dispirited and hungry. Besides, he needed to go again.

Categories: Frontpage · humor · Prose


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