Autumn leaves crumble as I walk on them. The sunlight dances between the tall trees. I walk up to sit on the old white bench, now stained yellow. I sit there for quite some time in the silence of the yard and observe the birds, gyrating in the skies . I dust off the filth that has settled on the pants of my suit. The last time I visited this park, it wasn’t as isolated as it is today. I try to contemplate the reasons for its isolation but all I can think about is that nothing seems to be as it had been years ago. Yet I still hear the creaking of the slides, the echo of the children’s laughter from the open grounds and the screech of the swings while little kids squeal with delight.
A gigantic oak tree has grown behind the slide, its branches blocking the slope. The rich grass has become barren ground with patches of green here and there. Weeds have grown around the merry-go-round. The balloon seller no longer roams around and I can’t see any kites in the sky. Now all I can do is think and stare at the wrath that time has showered upon the park.
An old man sits in one corner of the garden, desperately trying to maintain the hedges. Blind with time, the gardener doesn’t realize that the park he was once proud of, has withered long back. His familiar face tilts towards me. He senses my presence but doesn’t react. He is used to living alone in this little park that has been abandoned by the living. As a kid, I was afraid of him and his surly ways, afraid of harming his fine grasses and shrubs and frightened of his grumpy eyes and croaky voice. Even though I was afraid of him, I mocked at him, his job and his appearance. But today, I see an old man with grave eyes, awaiting his death in a park he loves.
I smile at him and sit on the swing, beckoning him to come and sit on the one beside me. He understands the gesture and shuffles towards the swing beside mine, sunlight bouncing off his bald head.
He sits and stares right ahead of him. I wonder what he sees. Does he see the dead garden or the life it once possessed? Is he happy that he doesn’t have to shout at the kids or does he miss seeing them?
“Do you miss its old glory?” I sweep my hand towards the garden. “Yes. But change is the rule of the Universe.” He says in his croaky voice, giving me the smile that one gives only when they’ve made peace with their life. He wears ragged clothes, dirty and stained with mud and dust. His hands are more withered than the leaves of the hedge he was trying to shape. His eyes are half-blind, yet I see boundless hope in them. “How do you still manage to be happy?”
He bends down and picks up a dry leaf, so shriveled that one might have mistaken it for a piece of grass. He hands it over to me, saying,”I am as old as this leaf now. Probably even older. But once upon a time, it was young and green. It may not appear as pretty as the flowers but did play a role. I believe it is happy with its life. Just like I am. I may not be wearing a suit today, like you are, but I did contribute to this world in my own way.”
He pauses and looks around at the mess the park has become. “A few years back, a company wanted this land. They wanted to remove this park from the maps and construct buildings, instead. I led a petition to prevent that from happening. My grandchild was born that year. My son works for various firms. He insists that I stop gardening here. You know what I say to him? I tell him that if I had stopped years ago, my granddaughter wouldn’t have seen this beauty. If I stop now, I might lose the one thing that I’ve done right. I don’t want his money. I don’t need his pity. I feel happy even if it is by gardening here. I don’t stay here all the time. I have to spend time with my family. But whenever I can spare some time, I come here and marvel at nature’s ways.”
He points around and says,” Look at that huge oak tree. Years ago, it was just a sapling. On one of its branches, there lived a little sparrow. She gave birth to two babies and I watched them grow. I watched them even as they flew away. Look at this swing. It surprises me that the metal still holds strong. In the morning, squirrels jump up and down the swings and trees, gathering nuts in their little abodes. I think I’ve raised a jungle. How can I not be happy?”
I smile at him and take the leaf. We sit there for a long time, not uttering a word. He was lost in the beauty of the garden he loved and I was lost in the words he said. Happiness for him is much different than it is to me.
The next time I look around, I see a beautiful landscape with trees and bushes swaying with the breeze, their leaves reflecting sunlight and the patches of grasses forming an intricate pattern on the ground. Leaves rustle with the wind, causing a soft symphony in my ears. It may have been my imagination, but I also hear the chirping of a sparrow and the squeaking of squirrels. The gardener was right. Change is the rule of the Universe. Change has occurred. In my surroundings. In my mind.
I look at the man next to me. For once, I forget our difference of thoughts, age and belief and swing with him till the wind forces tears out of my eyes.
Image credits: Google images
This post was also inspired by a quote that I’d read.
If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
Hope you liked this post and if you did then click the “Like” button below. Do share your thoughts with me regarding what you think “happiness” means and tell me what you think about this quote by commenting down below!
Also, for those who don’t know, I’m Rashi Singh and will be guest posting here for a while. If you liked this post and are interested in short stories or poems then do take a look at my site, Fictive Finesse.