It was one of those very quiet April 1sts . Generally on a fool’s day, one would hear stories that keep playing the airwaves and social feeds, something silly, something funny, sometimes outrageous. Since the past couple days, this one having been particularly cold and damp, my mind rested in a pensive mood. Occasionally, when I am in this zone, my evening walks with my best friends become staggered rather than leading a pack.
My friend Lucky was ready as usual. We walked past the turn towards the pond when we saw an elderly person walking real slow, looking up at all the trees and birds, wearing an overtly large jacket. It was a woman’s jacket and it was BRIGHT red. The person’s hands were in pocket. As I approached, I figured the person was a gentleman I had seen over my years of walking in the village. On getting a bit closer, his trousers and shoes also appeared feminine. Totally ignoring all my visuals, I tightened Lucky’s leash and walked past the gentleman and wished him hello. I had to be extra careful with Lucky. Since his major surgery, he has a tendency to not feel safe around strangers and shouts out instinctively. I have seen a lot of faces go meek by Lucky’s ‘beware’ bark. His decibels have increased with age.
Around the pond twenty minutes later I could be seen with my friend Robby. Robby is a classic vacuum cleaner on four legs. He sniffs everything on the way hardly picking up any dirt but giving a stylish one legged squirt on the mounds that smelled to his liking. At the same time Robby had the DNA instinct of walking on two’s every time he met a new person. Robby has a surprising confusion in his mind about his existence but that’s another story. I realized Robby’s classic two legged performance on this surprisingly quiet day was for the ‘man in the red jacket.’ The gentleman had made some progress and was walking closer to the bridge over the river near my home. This time around, the ‘man in red’ bends down and generously ruffles Robby’s head making funny sounds. Robby gets a tickle from it and happily dashes ahead to continue on his walk. I remarked, “He likes making friends.” The ‘man in the red jacket’ smiled.
Another twenty minutes later, I am with our white tiger named Smiley. Agreed, his growth is stunted, but I guess it has worked in his favor to be able to sleep in bed with whomever he likes and get a wash every time he takes a walk. He is treated as royalty at home and all the adoration befallen on this little white bundle shows in his super calm and happy demeanor. Those same meek faces that shiver at Lucky’s bark happily light up as soon as they see Smiley. It’s a stark contrast within our tiny perimeter. All three friends of mine somehow stand true to their names.
Smiley loves the pond and gets to do his ritualistic Jefferson strut in the grass after every hind leg stretch. While in the middle of one of his struts he stops and habitually swings his tail, his way of saying, “Hello. I see you. Lets play.” He sees the ‘man in the red jacket’ walking away towards the sub-division from the pond. Smiley gives me a little pull to walk faster to go up and meet him. As we catch up, the ‘man in the red jacket’ stops and squints his eyes at the movement of a black bird with red marks on its wings, more like bright orange. He looks at me surprised and before he ask’s me the obvious question I tell him, “I have three”.
Quick came the next question, “So why don’t you walk them together?”
I give him an honest answer, “I am in between jobs and need some time to think. Walking around the pond and river helps.” He smiles.
Then he turns around and says, “I have been trying to watch these black birds with yellow marks.”
By the time I look at these black birds I notice there are hundreds of them. This goes to show I was not paying attention to my surroundings. While looking at them I ask, “Do you know what kind of birds these are?”
He says, “No.” He had no idea. He is not a bird watcher either but lately he has been noticing every little thing around him in his life.
By the time I realize, Smiley and I have walked around the pond with the ‘man in the red jacket.’ I notice his face, his white brows, his thinning hair, his white female sport shoes and his denims that were surely womens. We strike a conversation that inspired me to write about this incident.
“You walk here every day?”
“No, I only come here sometimes.”
This time I notice an accent. “Where are you from?”
“I am from France”
Aha. I was right.
“Do you know a place called Brittany?”
“Yes, I traveled through France once in 1993.”
“I am going there in three days.”
“Really? That’s great. Are you visiting family?”
“No, I go there twice a year.”
“You still have your home there?”
“No, some relatives. I go for oysters.”
“Oysters of France, undisputed and best in the world.”
Then I get the whole story. The ‘man in the red jacket,’ after the second war, fell in love with a Canadian nurse and followed her to Ontario. He married her and she gave him three beautiful daughters. His wife is long gone but he visits each daughter’s place for a few months and keeps rotating himself in each home. Aha, that explained why I don’t see him regularly.
He goes on to share his oyster stories from France explaining how he and his friends wait for high tide. How they go walking with a small crowbar and pick up oysters from the rocks during an ebb. He says he can pick up ten days worth of oysters sometimes. I find the oyster story absolutely amusing. The world and its wonderful places, cultures and traditions.
Then we talk about our little village here with all the homes having been built and nature being struck at. We talk about the coyotes in the area and the few remaining red foxes. As I walk to show him where the foxes had bred last year, we stop to gaze at the nine acres of land where some wilderness and nature had survived from the high vantage point above the pond.
I make a comment. “Very soon there will be two hundred town homes and even this will be gone.”
The ‘man in the red jacket’ turns around and looks me right in the eyes. I see calmness.
He says, “After my oysters this year I go to Paradise.”
I am looking in this man’s eyes in disbelief. I noticed why he was wearing the loose feminine clothing. He was hiding tubes and bandages.
In my instant reaction I said, “Nah, you will be fine”.
He gave me a polite laugh and said, “One gets a sixth sense when he is dying. I know I will be fine and I also know you will be fine. You will be working in a week but don’t forget to return the love to ones who love you.” He slowly starts walking towards the new sub-division.
I find my voice and shout back. “Bye!” The ‘man in the red jacket’ gives me a happy wave. I am left with this profound feeling about the journey we call life.