On the Receipt

‘Do you still remember: falling stars,’

– Rainer Maria Rilke, Untitled

Photo by Carli Jeen on Unsplash

Photo by Carli Jeen on Unsplash

‘You have been served by Sara today,’

It says on the receipt, the latter printed on cheap, grimy paper rolls in smudgy purple ink. Underneath, the cost of mediocre weekday takeout – dinner in a cardboard box – and just over the dotted signature line, a presumptuous request:

‘Tip:’

The curmudgeonly, supposed recipient does not even try to smile. Black grease wedged under her long fingernails. Peeling polish that once was cherry. Hair in a messy bun, strands of black and silver falling onto her forehead. Sweat. Impatience, though there are no other customers waiting behind me.

Sara must have been beautiful once. I do not know how I know. Or why that matters on a weekday nine p.m. I just want to go home. All Sara is, is a face and a hand at a register on a counter. All I am is her worst kind of customer: modifications to the order.

Sara must have been happier once. She looks different on her photo. At one point she must have actually smiled and even had ambitions. The American Dream may have even woken her up every morning before the alarm set for four a.m. and scurry for the bus at four twenty.

The tip must have mattered at some point. Been expected, or at least sought. But perhaps that was before the boys shooting heroine and cocaine up their veins in the bathroom. Before she had to call an ambulance, and the cops. Before the overdose. Before the cold tip of the gun on her temple one night as she emptied the contents of the register– forty dollars and thirty cents – into an angry man’s knap sack.

Before the forty dollars and thirty cents were deducted from her pay. Before the cameras were installed and supervisor hired, just in case. Before the proposition, declined. That it had ever been made, denied. Before the rumours: ‘Dirty Latina.’ The insults: ‘Mexican whore,’

‘why don’t you go back there?’ Because, actually, Sara is from Honduras.

Because she has two young boys waiting at home. Because they have been since seven. Because that is when her shift ends, but not her work; the morning’s orders, also, are waiting.

And because tomorrow there will be other, similar orders to fill. Other receipts on which the same request will be printed, ignored, for a tip.

As will her name: ‘You have been served by Sara.’ She will be called ‘Excuse me,’ ‘Hey,’ ‘Please,’ and ‘You! What is wrong with you? This is not what I ordered!’

‘Do you still remember: falling stars,

how they leapt slantwise through the sky’

Sara does not remember the last time she took a whole day off.

She does not remember that I had asked her for the dressing on the side. I do not remind her. Falling stars,

‘like horses over suddenly held-out hurdles

of our wishes—did we have so many?—’

I include a tip on the receipt.

On the Counter

‘You know the fairy tale about the man who died, don’t you? He was waiting in Eternity to find out what the Lord had decided to do with him. He waited and waited, for one year, ten years, a hundred years. He begged and pleaded for a decision. Finally he couldn’t bear the waiting any longer. Then they said to him: ‘What do you think you’re waiting for? You’ve been in Hell for a long time already.’

― Anna Seghers, Transit

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

Documents fanned out on the counter like a hand of poker, not a good one. Not the good side of the partition to be standing on, either. The agent glances at them, unimpressed. I attempt, and fail, disinterest. My forehead hits the glass – too well-cleaned. I had not noticed I was leaning.

My passport is blue and not good either. An accident of birth whose pages labeled, packaged, and have since followed me around, weighing in on my life choices. I glare at the booklet, resentful and overcome with self-pity. If only … thought every person who, by one digit, ever lost the lottery.

Passe. Port. Un passeport, historically, was a note that gave its owner the freedom to go past the limits of the kingdom. Past the limits of the familiar, to travel safely across foreign lands and seas into foreign ports that then stopped being so foreign.

Pass. Port. A passport, eventually, became a leatherbound record of a gentleman’s agreement between the leaders of nations: ‘I will respect and protect your citizens. You will do the same for mine.’ Implied: a universal recognition of the freedom of movement.

‘Your passport please.’

I place it on the counter. Who knows, today, what it means.

Feet starting to ache, I shift my weight around. The agent does not look up. The agent could not care less; she has never stood, will never stand on this side of the counter.

She will never have to; she rolled her hard six. I wonder, though, at which point in her own family lineage another immigrant must have stood. At which point and at what counter had someone raised eyes like hers, hopes like mine? I think of the twelve million someones who landed in the port on Ellis Island.

The ‘tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe, the wretched refuse of teeming shores. The homeless, tempest-tost.’ I wonder: Did they find safe harbor here?

Would they still if they were standing here today? Would their passports be deemed worthy of a stamp? Mine is retained by the agent.

I am told to return to the waiting room. My former seat has been taken; there are at least one hundred other people here. Each, like me, has a number. As do the counters behind which our applications are being read. Seven of them reviewing, mechanically, who knows how many of us. This number system is septic, I observe,

As is the silence in the room. All eyes are raised toward the blinking screens calling the hopefuls one at a time to counters for their passports and verdicts. My four digits flash next to Counter 5. Purse, folder, heart in my hand, I scramble over. The agent – another one this time, but with same face – has my answer: not a good one.

I walk away from the counter. I can. There is freedom in that too. A chosen one. Outside, I exhale. Inside, others are still waiting.

On Top of the Eiffel Tower

‘It happened in April, and took place on a day

So mild you’d say love purposely made it that way.’

– Victor Hugo, The Party at Therese’s

Photo by Rafael Kellermann Streit on Unsplash

Photo by Rafael Kellermann Streit on Unsplash

A walking, hand-holding, kissing cliché. That is what we were; just two more lovers to add to the 250 million who had come here before us. Who had stood in this queue, as we were doing, for tickets to climb or ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower, gaze at Paris and at each other.

Sparkling lights.

‘The sun itself was our chandelier;’

20,000 lightbulbs in fact,

‘while the spring

Embroidered the lawn-‘

Not that, busy kissing, we noticed.

What a hashed, rehashed, and overhashed story. Unoriginal to the point that it can only be true: six years ago, we had a date at the Eiffel Tower.

When it was first revealed in 1889, Gustave Eiffel’s tower took its aghast public by storm. It was the world’s tallest, most imposing man-made structure. 7,500 tons of wrought iron, cut in 18,000 pieces, held by 2.5 million rivets, costing 1.5 million dollars.

It shocked and angered some, surprised and charmed others, left no one indifferent. Then the dust settled, the paint dried, the North winds blew the confetti away. Newspapers printed fresh headlines commuters read on la ligne 6 every day. From the train’s window, the Eiffel Tower faded into the landscape.

Habituation. Time and the human eye can do that to anything, even a sparkling view 1,710 steps over a city. Even the nervous thrill of a first date. The skipped heartbeat at the kiss. The giddy smile of disbelief at our luck as we both gazed at the lens.

Cliché. Cliché. Our camera flashed in synchrony with those of others who stood, like us, in that queue on that Thursday night. Same dim photo of the same moment. Our faces so out of focus as to be interchangeable with the hundreds of millions on all the infinite photographs taken here, in this position.

Nearby, a cart was selling Eiffel Tower replicas in different colours. Made in China, of course. And of course, we bought a small one in silver. It still stands proudly, six years later, on our sill, a testament to the most hashed, rehashed, and overhashed story. But ours.

To have been to the top of the Eiffel Tower. To have been to the top with you. To have reached it by running up 1,710 steps, stopping for kisses. To have been left out of breath by those instead of the actual climb. To have finally made it, you pulling me, and I you. To have made it, since then, this far.

To have seen that hashed, rehashed, overhashed view, but to have seen it with you. To have been two of 250 million lovers, but to have been those two, with you.

‘Nothing more. It was simple, beautiful. Now and then,’

Our picture still hangs on the fridge, six years old, our faces still out of focus. You have not changed. Nor have I. Nor we together, not in what really matters; we still hold hands and run up flights of stairs and still stop for long kissing bouts. I still get nervous on dates with you. You still take me on those. Friday nights at the movie theater, Saturday nights in a quaint Italian restaurant, always the same one where we order the same things.

We have grown up but not outgrown that story. I would not change a word of it:

‘It happened in April,’

on a night like this one, on top of the Eiffel Tower.

On Fire

‘The towers of Notre Dame cut clean and gray

The evening sky,’

—Willa Cather, Paris

Surely there are worse things one can witness than a cathedral on fire. Homes and villages. People. Crops, buildings. Flags. Stock markets. Savings. Surely stone, glass, and wood are only stone, glass, and wood even if they were once part of a spire, a statue, a pew in Notre Dame de Paris.

Surely the human mind does not need to find itself underneath a ceiling thirty-five meters high to experience humility. The human eye does not need sunlight streaming in rainbow rays through rose windows, flooding the space with colour in order for it to experience awe. The ear does not need to hear the chimes of a bell, the same that rang for kings and emperors, and to end two world wars, for it to recognize greatness.

A spire housing the relics of two saints. An organ; 8000 pipes, five keyboards, and one hundred and nine stops. A piece of cross, crown of thorns. Statues, paintings, a wooden frame made of 1,300 oaks. A cathedral is just a building of stone, wood, cloth, and history.

Just a building, even if that building is ‘the incarnation of an idea, a time, a spirit.’ An attempt to live forever. Man’s fight against the finitude of his own humanity.

Except even cathedrals catch fire. We are all fragile and fleeting.

To witness Notre Dame de Paris in flames bears a similarity to surviving a tsunami, an avalanche, a volcano erupting. Unnatural to the point of cruelty, it forces life to a standstill, like a train on la ligne 6 of the métro, stopped in its tracks on a bridge. Frozen in horror and over the Seine, from the window one can see the flames rising over the Gothic spire, the water flowing indifferently.

A cathedral on fire is surely not the greatest tragedy. No loss of life, no damage beyond that to the actual building. Still, today I grieve a world in which there existed a place where any feet could find rest, any mind stillness, any heart safety in meaning.

On a Trolley

Suppose you are the driver of a trolley. The trolley rounds a bend, and there come into view ahead five track workmen, who have been repairing the track. The track goes through a bit of a valley at that point, and the sides are steep, so you must stop the trolley if you are to avoid running the five men down.

You step on the brakes,

but alas, they do not work. Now you suddenly see a spur of track leading off to the right. You can turn the trolley onto it, and thus save the five men on the straight track ahead.

Unfortunately, there is one track workman on that spur of track.

He can no more get off this track in time than the other five can,

Photo by Marko Mudrinic on Unsplash

Photo by Marko Mudrinic on Unsplash

To pull the switch or not. Divert the trolley and kill one man to save five, or let the wheels run their intended course and watch the five workmen die.

Pick an option. Whichever one you do, it will not matter at all. If you ever do drive a trolley with no brakes, then you will have a real answer.

A Monday at six p.m. and the train between Boston and Rhode Island was full to crack with humans; rush hour. No breath, air, space in the compartment.

Heat and sweat and the painful grinding of wheels against the metal tracks. Rust and friction, in the atmosphere too. Their smell, and suddenly, another.

Facing the back of the train, far inside, caught between the crowd and window. He could have been my grandfather, yours. He could have been a lawyer once, too. A businessman, doctor. A pastry chef, a hiker, who could have had a family. At that moment, he had a lost smile on his face and around him, a smell of feces.

On that Monday at that six p.m., the unshaven, haggard man had no idea he was losing control of his bowels. His pants. They dropped lower toward his knees as they got darker, wetter, and heavier. The putrid smell spread further but his dazed blue eyes only got lighter.

He was there, but he was not there, the old man. Past his face, through the glass, streamed time and green fields and farmhouses and a few clouds in a sky otherwise clear.

Setting sunshine in the train compartment. Eternal sunshine in his mind. How happy he seemed, smiling at the outside world. Inside, some passengers screamed.

A station. A stampede as soon as the light lit and the sliding doors were opened. The jeers were cruel. The man did not notice. Nor did he, fortunately, the far more hurtful embarrassed side glances, the academic interest, the pity. His eyes remained candidly open, his back and shoulders upright. The hunched ones belonged to those who rushed past him and pretended not to notice.

A Monday at six o’ seven p.m. and a single car on a train from Boston to Rhode Island was empty. The others, packed to the brim. In that compartment, ‘the world forgetting, by the world forgot,’ rode a man who could have been, who was somebody’s someone once. Now he is just old and confused.

Suppose you are a human on a train full of humans at rush hour. Suppose you are tired and your shoes hurt your feet and you still have to make dinner. The train rounds a bend, and as the crowd shifts, there comes into view a man. Not your father, grandfather. Another lost human. There are so many of them.

You reach your stop and you hesitate, but the light goes on, the doors open. The wave pushes you out of the compartment, away from the old man. From the platform and safe distance of intellect, you watch him stare out the window, pants at his ankles now, dignity still upright. The light, the doors. Off he goes.

On the Horizon

‘Every now and then a man’s mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.’

– Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., The Atlantic Monthly, Volume II

http://gph.is/28NxbB8

Click on image for source

‘Once upon a time, there lived a little prince on a planet barely larger than he, and who needed a friend.’

But Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novel does not begin like this, for such a sentence would have discouraged non-children from reading it.

Non-children, though they tend to be big in size, are afraid of big horizons; they need the safe confines of the useful, the concrete, the factual. So, let us tell this story differently:

‘Once upon a time, there lived a boy on Asteroid B-612, a planet whose dimensions allowed for only him to live on it, and a rose.’

On this planet, the child could watch the sun set as many times as he wanted, simply by moving his chair a few steps to the right. One day, he watched it set forty-four times; he was feeling sad that day. Sunsets can cheer a sad person up. A non child would not understand that.

Non children live on a planet and in a world in which the sun only sets once a day. Sometimes they miss even that, and sometimes, do not notice that they did. Perhaps the bigger a person becomes, the smaller the horizon does.

It does not have to. A story for non children:

‘Once upon 1998, the International Space Station was launched from the earth into low orbit. Two years later, humans boarded it.’

(And because non children like the useful, the concrete, and the factual,)

‘The station travels at a speed of 27,700 kilometres per hour, resulting in a full trip around the planet every 92 minutes. Thus, in 24 hours, the 6 astronauts on board the station could see 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets,’

if they look out the window.

32 moments of happiness a day. The horizon is the same. It is simply the children and non children who see it differently.

‘Only with the heart can one see rightly; the essential is invisible to the eye.’

What is essential is also a decision, like looking out the window.

Once upon 2002 (for the non children), I went on a journey with a child who turned carboard boxes into spaceships. Colored crêpe paper to rainbows. Bits of paper into drawings; the most precious art I ever owned.

We explored distant lands as we rode back and forth on rocking horses. Stopped to look out of windows, kaleidoscopes, telescopes, and beyond walls on which a nightlight projected the stars and moon. He could make the walls vanish.

‘How old is the Little Prince? We never do find out. We know he has hair of gold. That his laugh is like the sparkle of the stars. That he loves a rose. That he tamed a wise fox and made him his friend.’

And that today is his birthday.

Happy birthday, little prince. Today, I hope that you watch as many sunrises and sunsets as there are minutes. I will only get two from where I stand, but will stop for both, I promise. And I will always love you.

On my Heart

‘In the fresh forest depths, no sound…
I am going
Home.’

– Anna Akhmatova, My Heart

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

‘It was wintertime; the air was cold, the wind sharp, but indoors all was snug and well.’

Indoors was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. On the tenth floor, on a March Monday night, on the side overlooking the frozen river and bridge and the real world. A big, wild, scary one sometimes.

The incubators were lined in two neat rows. Monitors blinked overhead. Aside from the numbers they flashed in red and green, there was no other light. In each plastic box, somebody’s little one. Two of those little ones were mine. My chest hurt; too many wires between us. I could not pick them up.

Unnatural, this situation. Cold, like the air in the gap I tried to close with my hand on my heart,

‘but summer was far off; snow remained on the earth, and ice formed on the water in the streams,’

and my heart and I remained standing outside the boxes.

Perhaps if they could hear my voice, we would all feel less alone, even through the clear plastic walls between us and in spite of the cold.

A lullaby my mother used to sing on nights when planes dropped bombs from the sky. Shards of metal exploding like confetti while she rocked me in the shelter. ‘Oh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world,’ and it is hard to get by, and you are too tiny and frail just now, little ones, for the winter outside.

One of them moved. Ten fingers, a whole hand about the size of my thumb. An IV line and feeding tube as thin as the eyelashes. Silk threads.

I could not sing anymore. A story then… but I could not think of one. Hand on my heart again, my fingers pressing down to keep the winter outside. I thought of the winter, frozen earth under snow not even sunbeams could pierce. Then I thought of what could. Then I looked at my two sleeping ones and told them their first story:

‘The snowdrop burst forth beneath the snow, with a white and green bud on its green stalk, with narrow, thick leaves, curled around it as if for protection.

“You have come a little too early!” said Wind and Weather. “You should have remained indoors, instead of rushing out here to display your finery! It is not the time for that yet!”

It was bitingly cold. It was weather to freeze such a delicate little flower to bits.

“You’ll break! Wither, freeze! What did you want out here? Why did you let yourself be enticed? The Sunbeam has hoaxed you! Now make the best of it, you snowdrop, summer fool!”

‘Snowdrop, summer fool.’ A tiny white flower, the first and bravest of them, piercing through the snow, it also no bigger than the length of my thumb.

‘But there was more strength in it than even it realized. That strength was in its happy faith that summer must come. And so with patient hope it stood there in its white dress, in the white snow, bowing its head when the snowflakes fell thick and heavy or while the icy winds swept over it.’

Summer did come at the end of my story. It will again, I told the little ones. And they will come home, I told my heart. I knew because, on my way over, I had seen a snowdrop.

On the Metro

‘So it’s a matter of perspective, really. The human is there if you look for it, if you want to find it.’

– Scott Bergstrom

Photo by Justin Natividad on Unsplash

Photo by Justin Natividad on Unsplash

The city looks soulless, skyscrapers in angled steel and concrete haughtily draped in cloaks of reflective glass, meant to keep the viewer outside, alone.

The darkened sky does not help. It darkens further. The clouds are just silver outlines. The streets are empty and the pavements treacherous, mined with patches of black ice.

Underground, two strangers do not speak as they wait on either side of the platform for the train to come. The thick coats and hoods, earphones in and eyes down, fingers zooming across screens, are even thicker walls, more ominous than the facades of the buildings.

Each human keeps the other human out, but neither of them the cold, which seeps through and makes them both shiver, separately. The clock on the wall is slow.

A third commuter joins them: a stray dog, its ribcage clearly defined on its black coat, clearly too thin. It shivers too, waiting, gaze forward.

This sight is not an anomaly; many of the dogs in this city have learned to take the metro; they know the stops by the voice of the announcer. They keep to themselves, respectful of others’ walls, unless invited in by a proffered open hand or piece of sandwich. They love both, mostly the sandwich.

The other two look up from their screens and out of their glass bell jars at the dog. Their gazes meet in the process; two slight nods are made in acknowledgment. The man on the right rummages through his briefcase till he pulls out … a piece of sandwich. Rye bread, ham, and Havarti cheese are extended over the wall. In response, the nose turns, the tail wags, and the skinny four legs trot over, light, unburdened by the weighty anxiety only humans carry around.

Its bite-sized feast happily lapped up, the dog now sits by the stranger, angling its head just enough to fit underneath the dangling hand: invitation. Accepted. The pat is received, and the ears lightly scratched, and the tail, once again, wags. A silent friendship is established between two now less lonely commuters.

The train arrives. The passengers board. A few stops later, the friends part. Up the stairs and back out into the cold night and the city wrapped in tin foil.

The last five-minute walk of the day is dark and solitary. There are gems on the way, though, if one bothers to stop and look for them:

‘The little patch of forest behind Saint Basil’s where there is a gypsy camp. Romantic passageways beneath the thoroughfares where old women sell kittens from cardboard trays and teenagers play guitar and drink.’*

The hungry lined outside the Polish bakery that, at the end of each day, gives away its unsold rye bread and challahs, and, on a Christmas Eve, gingerbread piernik and makiełki. There too, the dogs are welcome, and wait their turn, and though the humans do not speak, they always share what is given; no one, two or four-legged, goes hungry.

A little further, from the Soviet style blocks of stacked, identical flats, lightbulbs shine tangerine warmth onto the snow through a dozen random windows. Powdered snow, sugar, on slanted rooftops. Where there are no street lights, some stars. And behind some doors, barks and paws scratching excitedly, saying: Welcome home.

The human is always there. Some humans just miss it in the dark and cold commute of the end of the day. Fortunately, the dogs take the metro too.

*You did it again, S. You captured my heart and imagination. Thank you.

On the Snow

The view from the roof is breath taking: the city covered with snow. Stark, sparkling white against red terracotta tiles on the slanted rooftops. Smoke from brick chimneys, the image of wood fires burning in warm reading rooms underneath; someone’s afternoon, with a drink, a book, perhaps a view too.

Photo by boris misevic on Unsplash

Photo by boris misevic on Unsplash

The footsteps on this snow covered rooftop lead to the ledge. Just one pair. Fresh. At the end of the trail, pure blue sky and feathers a little bird must have left. The feet that leapt from here into the lightness did not leave feathers behind. Just those footsteps and a million pieces of life scattered, like diamonds, all around.

They must have weighed, those diamonds, like ballast hung from a hot air balloon. No longer needed, they now glisten on trees, park benches, the tips of street lamps. Those will light up soon, once the sun has set, and tomorrow, life will resume. Not all of life. Not the same life. Weltanschauung. The view will not be the same.

The sun will not hit the world the same way, but the diamonds will shine, I promise. ‘No love of life without despair of life.’ One piece will sound like his voice. Another will smell of his hair, and another will feel as soft as each time your fingers ran through it and he protested and you teased him and he pouted.

One piece will glisten brown, the shade of his eyes. One will be too sharp to touch; a fight you had that is still too vivid, but as the snow melts, it will dull. One will taste of every birthday cake he cut, all chocolate of course. The other of his coffee, exactly as he took it every morning in the same cup.

You will keep finding pieces on the snow, millions all over the city, for years after today. They will make you cry and make rainbows as they reflect the light. You will be grateful.

And you will wake up and will keep waking up, because though the world is heavier, the boy whose feet kicked away from that snow covered rooftop today is flying.

For you, J. I am so, so sorry.

On the Go

‘Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry.’

– Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

By ten to twelve, the queue is already long and stretched around the pavement. At its head, an order is placed, payment made, the payer given a number:

54.

Number 54 moves aside and is swiftly replaced by 55, who places the same order, but with extra cheese. The interaction lasts two more seconds.

‘Next!’

while in the back, thick disks of meat somersault in quick succession at furious speeds, and buns are sliced and strewn on a counter like cards dealt in a poker game.

Except here, face up and

Heads up! For ketchup, mustard, and the occasional pickle or square of cheese for twenty-five more cents, because, naturally, time is money. Condiments layered, then the meat lands deftly on top, perhaps with a lettuce leaf. Combine, wrap, and seal.

‘50, 51, 52, 53! Pick up!’

Your lunch is ready.

Already on their marks and set, the anonymous 50 1 2 and 3 grab their brown paper bags and go. Almost immediately:

‘54, 55 with extra cheese!’

Time: Eleven fifty-eight.

By twelve o’ eight, both 54 and 55’s bags and the foil they contained – one distinguished by a C for cheese – are discarded in waste baskets. Mouths are wiped hurriedly while feet are urged onwards, because, again, time is precious and must be saved, from…

From?

Being spent. Life simply takes too long to live.

By twelve thirty, the pavement is empty, as is, entirely, the burger stand. Not a crumb remains for the birds who let time pass and the winter sun warm their feathers.

They wait. The steel shutter slams down on the window. The sign says:

Burgers and Hot Dogs

On the Go. Weekdays only. Lunch. While they last.

But birds do not read or read time. Nor do they save it under their wings for a cold day. Nor do they, by the way, go hungry. These pick at a few grains, here and there, and chirp about, then they flutter away.

Around the pavement and onto a side street, to join another group of misfits, also lingering in the sun, enjoying its warmth against the icy chill that seeps into everyone’s bones. Those are not birds, though, but humans. Mostly artists, children, or elderly, and the occasional nondescript reader sitting on a bench, book open on his or her lap, that Thursday.

A public park at twelve thirty-three on a cold weekday. No one seems to be busy or in a hurry. Some people are even chatting. There are a few metal tables and garden chairs beside a kiosk whose sign says it serves coffee and tea and hot chocolate, popcorn and nuts, a few pastries and sandwiches, and even on days like this, ice cream. Soft serve.

‘Chocolate, vanilla, or both?’

Many choose that option, and both. And not just the children. And lunch lasts longer, much longer than the time it takes for the cream to dribble down cones. The older misfits share napkins, names, and pleasantries over hot drinks, while the younger play on the swings and slides, feed the birds, or do cartwheels on the grass.

These people do not seem to have been initiated to modernity’s highly praised values of self-assigned busyness, hurriedness. They do not eat on the go. Instead, they dunk bread in the soup of the day, watching the rain or passers by, then when their meal is served, save the French fries for last with the last sip of red wine. They can be found in tea houses, sidewalk cafés, sipping coffee on balconies in the early morning, and late at night still talking at the now-empty dinner table.

It is twelve thirty-nine, but they do not care. Their time is, at least now, their own. They know it will go and cannot be saved or chased, only spent, and so they do.

A single cloud floats over the misfits, taking its time, as will the rain it will drop, and the trees those will touch, which will grow. The reader on the bench, sitting still, looks up at it and sees the logger, the paper, the book, the poetry someone will write and he will read, in time, perhaps on this bench.

Perhaps, but for now, he looks back to the book on his lap and reads the next sentence.