A man stepped gingerly through the thick trees toward the distant sound. He was pretty sure he knew where he was, but he wasn’t too quick to get to the clearing. He had his arms wrapped around a little bundle, so he couldn’t use his hands to balance himself as he stepped over fallen logs. Every few steps he would stop and lean against a tree. He’d look around and smell the forest and take in the scene. Birds carelessly gliding above the canopy, butterflies flitting about closer to ground level, a couple squirrels chattering at whatever squirrels chatter at. The man smiled to himself as he admired everything he took in. He squeezed his bundle just a little and said “I didn’t think it’d be like this. Sure is pretty.”
He couldn’t remember how long he’d been walking through the woods, but he didn’t really care. The clearing ahead wasn’t going anywhere, and it sounded from the noises filtering into the forest that his appearance or delay wouldn’t change anything. He leaned up against a tree overlooking a short trail through the remainder of the woods, closed his eyes, and just listened. He could hear behind him the noises of the forest and in front of him such a strange and diverse collection of sounds that none of them really stood out from the harmony into which they blended. He wanted to stay where he was and at the same time he wanted to walk into the clearing. Finally, he leaned away from the tree and started walking along the path.
The clearing was very crowded. As he expected, nobody noticed his arrival. He had been slowly walking between stationary trees in the dense forest, but now he had to step more quickly between and around the milling crowds. Some people just seemed to be wandering, not noticing anybody or anything. Some people sat on the ground in small groups, absorbed in very deep conversation. Except for the tightly packed crowd on the other side of the clearing, nobody seemed to be in a hurry to get anywhere. It wasn’t a heavy load, but carrying his bundle through the forest had tired him out. Just as he was about to sit on the ground, he saw a park bench on the nearby fringe of the clearing suddenly open up. It seemed nobody else had noticed, so he stepped between a couple having a picnic and around a person studying the scene. He turned and took a small step back until he felt the edge of the bench push against his knees. Gingerly he sank down onto the bench. Next, he slowly leaned forward and moved his arms away from his chest until his bundle gently rolled onto his lap. “Well, we’re here.” He put his left arm across the back of the bench and started caressing his bundle with his right hand.
“That’s a beautiful cat.” This voice sort of took the man by surprise because he didn’t see anybody else sit down, but it was so soft and kind that any shock faded away before the speaker finished. Juan de Dios Garcia looked to his left and saw what he thought to be the oldest person alive. The hands and the skin on the face showed untold experience and wisdom, but despite a weary expression the eyes sparkled with what seemed to be misplaced youth. “May I pet him?”
“Uh, well, it’s been a long journey, and he’s very fast asleep. Go ahead and pet him, but please be very gentle so you don’t disturb him.” Juan watched as the feeble old man slowly scooted a little closer and then very gently rubbed a gnarled hand across the sleeping form’s tail.
“This beautiful animal must really love and trust you to just sleep so calmly amidst all of this din.” Juan looked away from the cat and his new companion to survey the crowds in the park. He saw that some people were just watching, some people were conversing quietly with each other, some people were jogging through the park, some were talking very animatedly, and a few seemed just to be walking around looking a little lost.
“Like I said, it was a really long trip. My name’s Juan.” He looked over at the man and noticed that he had stopped petting the cat and seemed to be watching others in the crowd, too. The man didn’t acknowledge his introduction, so Juan thought maybe he didn’t hear. Well, that’s fine. No telling how long they’d be sitting here, and he didn’t want to try too hard talking to somebody who was hard of hearing.
The man passed his steel blue eyes over the crowd. “Yeah, quite some din. Nearly too much to hear yourself think, but I still find this park bench relaxing. I come here occasionally, and usually I see the same people. That couple over there comes I think as often as I do. Come to think of it, maybe they never leave.” The man jabbed at the couple sitting on a blanket with such speed that Juan thought the old man would just follow his arm off the bench, but he seemed to be stuck to the back of the bench. “Yeah, really crowded today.”
To be continued in The Cat part 3
- I once got paid to spend the summer telling lies to little kids. I ran a mountain man program at a district Boy Scout camp. I told my guests I was born in my log cabin and I traded for everything I had. Late evenings I shot muzzleloader rifles with campers and then told ghost stories around the fire. Oh, how I wish that would pay enough to be my career instead of just a one-time summer job.