By: Shahnaz Radjy
Eyes closed, I take another deep breath. The smell of nature – the rich, musty perfume of soil, that special aroma of leaves piling up and slowly decomposing, the freshness of air filtered by trees – never fail to ground me. Especially in autumn. Why is it that when everything’s a bit wet, the smells are sharper? Does water release whatever molecules cause smell? Is that even a thing? My mind is wandering again, wondering. That’s refreshing, just like the crisp air all around me.
This is my secret. My thing; it’s a day off from the world. An annual tradition building on what is my greatest legacy. A legacy no one really knows about, or at least they don’t know it links back to me. I like it that way. It feels… right.
I’m sitting on my bench, wrapped in my favorite scarf, a splash of color against my dark hair and black coat. It’s October 31. In this corner of the park, there are no dogs dressed up as pumpkins or as peacocks. The sound of children playing is distant, if present. It’s peaceful, a bubble of slowness in the midst of the City That Never Stops.
At this time of the year, what happens here is magic. The leaves are golden and red, half still on their trees and half turned into a carpet of fire on the ground. The effect is that you can see through the park, catching a glimpse of the water and the Upper East Side beyond. A bridge between two worlds.
The bench is just off a path that’s almost overgrown, that’s how few people come here. That’s why it took effort and creativity to convince the city to put this bench here. It felt like a lifetime ago that my job description was to decide where to put benches. Ah, the glamorous life of an urban planner!
It was a great conversation starter at parties, that’s for sure. Most people did a double-take and I could almost see their thoughts get all tangled up. The words hung unspoken between us as they struggled to wrap their head around what I had just said. They knew how to bounce off “lawyer” or “investor” or even “artist” but this? This was unknown territory. They never knew if I was serious or not, but wouldn’t risk laughing at a joke that was perhaps my life.
When I told my mother that I got the job, and explained my role to her, her eyes lit up. She had rattled off three places that would be perfect for a bench. As if she had been thinking about the matter for years. As if it was normal to ponder such questions.
That was my mother. She was rarely ever phased, and her brain should have been donated to science. It was probably an odd mix between a sponge and an elastic mass, always active, connecting the dots in ways others could not even dream of doing. Her grey matter was probably a rainbow of color, because she didn’t have a dull bone in her body.
Even when she got sick, she made us laugh. Her insomnia became an excuse to listen to the radio at every hour of the day and night. Concertos, symphonies, quartets – their notes became a comforting presence in our lives. Until they were gone, and the silence was deafening.
This bench, it’s a piece of her legacy. A piece of her legacy to me. Of course, she found the spot, although how she came to be in the middle of the park on an autumn day, I never did quite understand.
She didn’t go for walks, unless it was to the opera or down 5th Avenue. But she found this bubble of quiet, where your thoughts are only ever interrupted by squirrels chasing each other – or the occasional ambulance. You’re still in the Big Apple, after all.
It’s hard to believe it has been almost a decade that she hasn’t been with me every step of the way as I worked my way from an intern with the Adopt-A-Bench program to number two in urban planning for the city.
If she was here, she’d ask why I wasn’t the boss yet, and in the same breath demand more grandchildren (one is clearly just a starting point). She only ever saw the possibilities when she looked at me. She gave me my wings, one feather at a time. The only thing we disagreed on was that my mother never understood why I would spend so much time hiking and camping instead of curled up by the fire in designer cabins.
I glance at my watch, a birthday present from her when I turned 16 and oh so ironically, the reason I met my husband. He helped me get it fixed when I cracked the face in one of my classic falls; I tripped on a phantom snag in the carpet and hit the wall with my wrist. No one was there to witness me laugh it off before realizing with dismay that the watch needed a trip to the ER. That’s where I met my handsome PR exec, who happened to be chatting with the head watchmaker.
It was almost as if I could feel my mother looking down and raising her eyebrows at me with that knowing look she had. She often did know what was best for me, which is why I couldn’t dream of having a better guardian angel shaking and moving things on my behalf.
This bench is our little secret. My nod to one of the many facets of her greatness. I love that I can see so much from here. And the squirrels, who brighten up the worst of days.
It’s almost time for me to go, but I don’t move. Instead, I watch as the light turns golden, making my view look like the playground of the gods.
I close my eyes again, inhaling deeply. A soft crunching sound startles me. I open my eyes to see who has unwittingly intruded into my bubble, and my eyes widen in wonder. That’s no stranger.
It’s my husband, with a picnic basket hanging over his left shoulder and our picnic blanket thrown over his other arm. In his left hand, he has a bottle of champagne and two flutes. He smiles at me and shrugs. As if tonight’s important business meeting was a hoax, a figment of my imagination, an excuse to get a babysitter. As if it was inevitable that we would spend it here, together. The place where my mind would have been, even if I was making small-talk at one of the city’s myriad restaurants.
This bench is my anchor. To the city, to my sanity, to love.
Bio: Shahnaz Radjy
Shahnaz’s background is Swiss, Bolivian, and Iranian (yes, really). She loves food, books, horses, adventure, and problem-solving. She is a writer, aspiring farmer & eternal optimist.
After a decade working in public health for the International Labor Organization, the World Economic Forum, and The Vitality Institute, she is now planning to launch a farm and ecotourism project.
She is also recovering from the corporate life. Her writing reflects how beautiful life is outside an office, a reminder to enjoy every minute, wherever you are.
Published posts on Two Drops of Ink:
There’s still time to enter the Best 1000 Words for the Image Contest. Deadline is December 8, 2018. If the images don’t resonate, then consider a how-to for writers and bloggers, a poem, a memoir that speaks to writers, or an essay. Submissions are open at Two Drops of Ink.