There was a man in the park the other day. He wore bright green pants and read a tiny but thick book as he walked, utterly oblivious to anyone else on the narrow path as he walked down the middle of it. He looked so peaceful that it was slightly cartoon-like — the (admittedly few) runners and walkers swerved to avoid him, while he walked absent-mindedly on, a point of equilibrium in the centre of the chaos he was creating.
He must have been in his seventies at least, mostly bald, and what little hair he had was gray. His nose and other features looked somewhat alien in the American landscape, perhaps he was Middle Eastern. (In any case, looking alien is quite normal in Southern California.) He wasn’t shabbily dressed, but his absent-minded air included his clothes. He wore a jacket over his shirt — the sun was out but there was a slight nip in the morning air — and a pair of oval-shaped glasses with a thin silver frame. After walking for a bit he sat on a bench and read.
The book was no more than four inches long and maybe three inches wide, and a good inch in thickness — like those small pocket dictionaries or language translators. And yet, for some unfathomable reason, I feel convinced that it was a religious book. Or perhaps it was a book of poetry. In any case, it was something that had him powerfully hooked, he couldn’t take his eyes off it. He got up after a while, and walked to the street, as if to leave, and stretched and rubbed his eyes for a few seconds as I mentally bid him farewell, but no, our man turned back, retracing his steps, reading no more. He left the park from a different direction, and even broke into a slow jog for a short distance, as if he were running late.
I’m sure it is not clear to you why I want to record this. It isn’t fully clear to me either. Maybe it was the parrot green pants, they were very green, very bright and quite memorable. Perhaps it was the walking and reading act, oblivious to his surroundings, that was memorable. Or maybe it was the little jog at the end, which seemed startlingly out of character. Perhaps he just had an eccentric air about him, and one runs into eccentric people rarely enough that they are memorable. But honestly, it was a more undefinable quality, as if he had himself walked straight out of a fantastic book.
If he had walked out to the street, and raised his hand and developed a halo and made a pronouncement, like Gandalf in the first LotR movie, I wouldn’t have been surprised. All the traffic would have stopped for him, and he would have addressed us all for a few minutes, imparting his wisdom, changing our lives with his words. When done, everything would have returned to normal and we would have carried on as before, but with a miracle to narrate, one that no one would believe. (Isn’t that a primary requisite of a miracle anyway?) The man just looked like he had a profound story to narrate.
Or perhaps it was nothing of the sort, perhaps it is all my imagination, but incited by him, nonetheless. Perhaps he just was absent-minded and reading a really good (and tiny) book. I’ll admit that it even crossed my mind that he might have had a mental illness that made his behaviour so other-worldly.
In any case, he seemed like a gentle old man, with a story inside him, and what I really wanted to do was to bring him home and give him some tea, maybe a piece of cake. But no one does that sort of thing outside of books, and, unsurprisingly, I didn’t either. Not only was I was deeply curious to know what he was so engrossed in reading, but, even more importantly, I wanted to get his story out of him. But that’s nonsense, of course. I know only too well that people don’t work that way, and neither do stories.