By the time I reached the park, the baby was basically asleep. Her head had fallen into my chest, and although her fingers still clutched the straps of the carrier, her arm was growing increasingly heavy against my ribs.
The leaves rustled in the gusty breeze. Roses blazed color to my left. A young woman in a bikini, laying alone on a blanket. She raised her head as I turned along the path. Is she pretty, I wondered? She laid her head back down and I looked again but I could not tell.
Each rose bush was separated by a perfect, square bed and had a label indicating its variety. Each type of bush showed flowers of a different shape and color. Each type held a unique aroma, I felt sure. I stopped to sniff a few. It is so important to do so, they say. But after three roses it didn’t feel important anymore.
I tried to stay in the shade, making my way around the playground which marked the center of the park. Next to the playground, workers were scraping the accumulation from the bottoms of the dry fountains. They had dug up the peonies and the beds lay brown, loose and dry. I guess the peonies were done now and something new would be planted.
I made a circuit around the second field, returning back to the roses. There I noticed a woman in green work-trousers working amongst the beds. She was bending away from me and as I rounded amongst the square beds again I sneaked a look at her face. She was young. I found that curious for some reason; I expected someone older. As I passed her the perfume of a thousand roses gave way to something awful. A smell like gangrene. Something was rotting here amongst the blossoms. I couldn’t help thinking that the smell was coming from the gardener. I caught the thought and pushed it away. Probably some kind of fertilizer, I told myself. I could see the package in my mind. A special rose fertilizer made from blood. The smell was absolutely repulsive, completely at odds with the beauty of the blooms. I was surprised that it didn’t wake the baby.
I neared the sunbather again but she didn’t look up. I turned back and walked through the roses and past the gardener again. This time there was only that sweet perfume that almost seems like a simulation of the smell of a real rose, but which no replica could touch. I found a bench and sat. The baby was fully asleep now and I dug out my book and sketch pad. I laid them next to me on the bench.
An old woman approached, impeccably dressed in a beige and white, fine, wool tartan skirt and cotton blouse, handsome matching shoulder throw, a string of small pearls. She stopped a few paces to my left and while her eyes fixed on the sleeping baby she spoke and gesticulated. I was used to this. Here all old ladies make a fuss over a baby. Usually they produced some words in a few short bursts, like a prepared speech and then they moved on. When I had told them that I only spoke English it hadn’t seemed to alter the script they all seemed to follow. Their speech didn’t expect response; it didn’t require it. So, this time I just smiled and let her get on with it.
She chirped and smooched as normal. scrunched her face and pinched the air between us. But it was immediately obvious that she was different than the host of old ladies before her. Her eyes glittered and she stomped her feet as she spoke. Her voice warbled, like a strange bird performing a dance to attract the love of a surveillance drone. Her gesticulations became more animated and her speech quickened. Her vocal tones showed dramatic range, soaring and diving as her hands swayed and her feet stamped raising dust. This was not the usual fawning. This didn’t seem part of the script. I gathered that she was telling a story, it was about her children or grandchildren. There was some drama, maybe an accident or a scare, a medical emergency or grave condition. Undoubtedly in the end everything would turn out ok because her eyes remained clear and she continued to kiss and pinch the space between her and the baby in joy. As we got further along and the story continued, I began to regret not telling her that I didn’t understand her. I wanted to tell her before this went any further, but I couldn’t find an entrance in her monologue. I followed her arms and the acrobatics of her voice, rapt. I shook my head, smiled and nodded in true response to her story as she went on and on. In the back of my mind I wondered how this would end. Would she ever know that her words were wasted on me? Would she expect a response, or would she deliver the story to it’s concluding and walk away?
Eventually she stopped speaking and looked at me. The silence hung heavy for moment. I put on my most sincere, weighted smile “I’m sorry, I only speak English”. A chuckle emerged involuntarily from my mouth.
She was aghast with embarrassment. This time I understood exactly what she said without needing to know the words. ‘You say that now? I’ve been standing here babbling for 20 minutes, and you only tell me now!?’ But she smiled and I assured her as best I could that her story was truly magnificent. With my hand on my heart, I tried to impress upon her her that she didn’t need words to express herself. She truly had a gift. I believe she took my meaning, or at least she was unfazed by the chasm that had showed itself between us. With a few more cheerful chirps and waves of the hand, she walked past me, along the path.
I sat smiling, reflecting on what had passed. I replayed it so vividly in my mind that I didn’t notice the sunbathing girl until she was crossing the path right in front of me. She had put on shorts and t-shirt but I still recognized her. She wasn’t particularly attractive, I thought; plain, short and skinny. Really not much of anything. As she passed the rotting smell came back. Fertilizer, I told myself, something to bring out the roses’ color. This time the smell did wake up the baby.
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