by Gabriel Furmuzachi
“How do you like it here?”
Max hit the brakes on his bike. He turned around and he saw an old man, dressed in a blue suit, wearing a red bow-tie, gazing at him through small eye glasses. He was sure that a couple of seconds ago there was nobody on that bench and he did not see anyone walking around as he entered the park. He looked away and thought about continuing his ride, as if nothing happened.
“It’s a wonderful day, isn’t it?”, the old man continued.
This was the first time when he managed to convince his parents to let him go around and explore the neighborhood. Their house was one among the hundreds of new, similarly looking buildings spread around the neighborhood. Many of them - still empty. The tarmac - still pitch black. The small trees by the side of the roads - still trying to spread out their roots.
“Who are you?”, he asked.
“Oh, just an old man!”
“Do you live here too?”
“Yes, I guess you could put it that way. I come here for a walk when the weather is nice. Like today. And I listen to the animals. Can you hear them too?”
He looked around but could not understand what the old man was talking about. The park seemed to have been here long before the houses surrounding it were built. Majestic trees, heavy and deep-rooted, thick and thorny bushes spread about here and there, and it even had a pond not far away (according to the map). But he did not notice any animals.
“No, I can’t!”, he answered.
“Oh, but sure you can! Look here, just above you! On that branch a little to the left. There’s a gray flycatcher. It just finished lunch and now it wants to fly to the pond and have a sip of water. Found it?” The old man was right. He could see the little bird now, hiding through the leaves, chirping timidly.
“How do you know what it says? Are you an ortho… an oritho… an…”
“Ornithologist? No. Not at all. Look, look! Down there in the bushes, that’s a cowbird. It looks for food.” He needed a few seconds before he could discover the tiny black spot foraging in the shrubbery. Then he saw a squirrel, jumping from a branch of the sycamore tree to the other.
“I am sure it was around here. I am sure… I just have to get closer!”, said a high pitched voice.
The boy, startled, looked at the old man. He could see him smiling. Did he just heard what the squirrel said?
“You just need to listen!”, the old man told him again. Then he got up and started walking. “That’s my little welcome present for you.”, he said behind his shoulder. “It won’t last for long, though. Use it wisely!”
“What present? What do you mean?” Max followed the old man.
“What do you mean?”, he repeated.
“Oh, nothing! I just thought you were alone, seeing that you just moved here and had no friends yet… so… well, this park has a little bit of wilderness still left in it and you might want to get to know it before it gets all quiet. What’s your name, by the way?”
“OK, Max, today is a special day for you. Do not ask why. you do not need to know how it works. It just does. And only today. Listen to the birds and squirrels, to the cicadas and the ladybugs, to the badgers and the beavers, the rabbits and the foxes. Yes, they all live in this park and perhaps they all have something to tell you. Just go on a ride! Enjoy the weather! And be careful!”
Max watched the old man pacing slowly towards the bus station at the entrance to the park.
“No, that’s mine!”
“But I saw it first!”
“It’s mine, I tell you!” Two warblers were squabbling over a fly.
“Oh, you’re so loud! Cut it down a bit, will you! I can’t even take a nap with you around!” That was the owl in the oak tree behind the clearing.
“Quick, quick, scramble! The owl!” Two mice disappeared in their underground home.
“Where…” toc “in…” toc “the…” toc “world…” toc “did…” toc “it…” toc “go?”, hammered tirelessly a red woodpecker.
Gradually, Max started hearing one voice after another, then the voices started overlapping, some loud, some shy, some cautious: a crowd of thousands. After a while he could not distinguish them any more: they became just a cacophony of sounds, screeches and noises and he gave up trying to place them or understand what they said. He covered his ears with his hands. The old man disappeared and no other people seemed to be around.
“Too much! That’s too much!”, he thought. He jumped on his bike and pedaled as fast as he could all the way home. Even if they got quieter, the voices followed him all the way. At home, he ran upstairs in his room and he closed the window.
He stood in the middle of the room, breathing heavily and hearing nothing but his beating heart.