Every day she came and sat on the bench beneath the oak tree at the edge of the playground, ate her lunch, and watched the children play. No one sat with her. No one intruded. It was as if she had this wall around her that kept everyone out. She never spoke to anyone or sat anywhere else. The only days she didn't show up was when it rained or the temperatures were too cold to allow children to play outside.
It was June and the weather was usually nice this time of year. She must have come early today. When she finished her lunch, she sat back, crossed her ankles, folded her hands in her lap and with a small smile, she watched the half dozen children clamber over monkey bars, swings, and spin on the merry-go-round. They screamed and yelled and giggled, but she just kept smiling.
I'd watched her for several years now and I knew no more about her today than I had when I'd first seen her one hot August day. She never seemed to notice me. I don't remember what drew my attention but after a few weeks of seeing her, I found myself trying to figure her out. Weeks grew into months and months into years. I still hadn't figured her out.
A friend of mine asked me once, after I'd told them about her, why I didn't just walk over and talk to her. I couldn't explain it to them. I just said I couldn't do that. I wasn't embarrassed, well maybe I was a little, but that wasn't it. There was something about her, something... that felt fragile or... oh, I don't know. That wall I sensed, maybe it was more like a bubble, a glass bubble, that would shatter in a million pieces if I approached it or touched it. So, as she watched the children with a smile, I watched her with a frown.
Today was a rotten day. Most days, like the lady on the bench, I was just here to enjoy my lunch. Today, it lay unopened on the seat next to me. It didn't matter if I ate it or not. I'd lost my job and there was no rush to get back to work. So, I just sat there and stewed and fumed over the unjustness of the universe. I'd worked so hard to get that job. It had taken me ten years to reach upper management and in less than two, I was canned. I still didn't know why they fired me.
Oh, they had all the right phrases to hand me. They said it was the economy. They said I was talented and they hated to lose me. They said they'd give me a great reference. Sadly, my job was zeroed and I had to go.
I sighed and watched the children going down the slide. They laughed out loud and cheered their friends and slapped them on the back for their success at conquering the mountain. Today they had no worries. Today they could enjoy the freedom to spend the day in laughter with friends. Someone would feed them, shelter them, and kiss them goodnight. They'd enjoy worry-free security.
Something else was different today. The lady on the bench was absent. Of course, I was early so perhaps I'd just beat her here. That rarely happened on days like today. I looked around the park. There were lots of mothers seated on benches or on blankets on the ground. A few brought lounge chairs and were reading with their children nearby. She was nowhere to be seen.
I got up and walked around for a few minutes, never losing site of her bench. She should be here by now. I ran my hands through my already disastrous hair. I rubbed them on my skirt and crossed my arms. I walked back to my bench and sat down on the edge, clutching it on each side of me so tightly that my fingers hurt.
I relaxed them. I was overreacting. I was way early. She'd show up any minute, walking sedately to her bench where she'd sit down very carefully. She'd open her bag and take out her sandwich and eat it while watching the children. She'd sip her water.... I got up and walked a dozen yards and came back.
Where was she? She had to show up today. I stared at the toes of my shoes. Why was this even an issue? What did I care if some strange woman came to the park?
To be continued.......
I've tried to attribute all photos to their sources. Should you find an error, please notify me.
If known, unless otherwise noted, all photos are either my own or from Pixabay.com. You may not copy, download, or otherwise use my personal photos. Visit Pixabay.com for information on their photos.