Darice Jones and Urmilla Khanna

Today photographed by Darice Shatteen-Jones 

Inspiration Piece

 

The Bench written by Urmilla Khanna

Response

“You mind if I share the bench with you Henry?” she asked. The word Henry was hardly audible, getting caught in her throat. “I won’t be long. I just like to sit here and watch the sun go down.”

As she waited for his response she continued. “When the rays hit just right, the lake shimmers as if angels have dropped a million silver dollars on its surface. It is always so pretty.”

“Go ahead,” Henry said, without turning his head.

She knew his name was Henry because she was looking at the backpack that sat beside him. She read those crookedly crafted capital letters written across the pack, pronouncing each alphabet softly under her breath. She inhaled deeply. She had an odd queasy wrenching in her gut. It was momentary and it passed. Henry was such a common name.

He pulled the backpack closer to him and made room for her. She took a seat. He smelled of homelessness and she scooted a few inches away from him. The transparent plastic bag carefully stowed next to his feet gave transparency to his life. Besides a bundle of clothes, she could see a red and black flannel shirt-coat, a worn-out blanket or sleeping bag, she couldn’t tell which, and a few essentials—a toothbrush, a can of shaving cream and a comb that had missing teeth. The man appeared to be in his forties, with a receding hairline, sparse salt and pepper silky hair coming down to his neck in strands.

They sat in silence. She, carefully arranging a snack of cheese, tomato and pickle between two slices of bread. He, throwing pebbles into the lake and watching the ripples as they formed and dissolved. A one-legged heron stood at the water’s edge, awaiting its prey.

“Can I share a snack with you?” she asked.

“Sure,” he said. There. She had just done her kind-deed-for-the-day by offering a homeless man some food. She fixed another sandwich and handed it to him. She was happy to have a willing conversationalist in her own lonely life.

“You come here often?” he asked.

“Yes.” And there was a long pause.

“I used to have a boyfriend named Henry.” The words stumbled from her mouth in a gentle cascade and were swept away in the breeze. She did not think he heard her. She raised her voice a bit. “That was a longtime ago. Have never met another Henry like him.” Her eyes were on the heron and the disappearing circles of the ripples.

His penetrating eyes were now upon her. “That was me,” he said.

She looked at him in disbelief. Her Henry was an honor student who had left Iowa to study medicine. He had a head full of blond wavy curls and beautiful green eyes. This Henry was a homeless, crazy guy. He claimed he knew her. She did not know what he might say next. He might tell her he was Jesus. Or a messiah.

She began to pack her half-eaten sandwich into her tote bag so she could retreat.

“Wait,” he said.

He unzipped the inner pocket of his back-pack. A photo in shades of sepia, crinkled and decayed at its edges fell to the ground. He picked it up and cleaned the dust. “There’s you and there’s me. It was a long time ago. I remember the way we both got dressed up for that prom. And after the prom we walked around this lake as we watched the moon dip down in the horizon.”

She looked at him again, now oblivious of the putrid odor on his skin and clothes. She saw the same green eyes, sunken deep in their sockets, betraying his age. She saw scars and distortions on his wrists and arms as he carefully tucked the sepia photo in its place in the backpack.

Henry had specialized in Pain Medicine and had opened a clinic some place in Michigan. That’s the last she had heard about the successful young doctor, the love of her life.

Tears welled in her eyes. “It seems as if it was yesterday,” she said.

“It was a hundred years ago,” he said.

Friday, March 1, 2019
Words: 702
©ukhanna2019

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