This is for the Wednesday Writing Prompt from This Writer’s Life.
Every wet crunch of the leaves beneath his feet brought a sense of satisfaction to those hidden pleasure centers of his brain. After all, he was not killing the leaves; they were already dead. Long dead. Long dried and wrinkled and partially rotted with the morning dew. Besides, he was not even the first to walk across their crisp corpses; all around, the park was alive and bustling as people went their separate ways.
This thought drew his attention up to the people themselves: most moved quickly, steps sure and swift as they made their way through the park, not noticing the crunch or not caring. Some were on bikes or skates and zipped through the crowds with practiced ease. Still others took the path more sedately like himself, either looking down at the falling leaves, out across the expanse of the park, or up into the trees themselves from whence the leaves had come.
Some days it was strange to think about just how many people–himself included–trod this path each and every day, perhaps never giving a second thought to the faces they likely passed regularly. Thinking on that, he began focusing on the faces rather than the bodies around him: there, approaching, a middle aged man on a bicycle, sunglasses down and helmet strapped tight, difficult to see any detail; to his left, a young woman with her light sweater pulled up around her neck as if she were trying to burrow inside it; up ahead, a group walking along, half of them with heads bowed as they looked at something on their phones. Each one different, and yet familiar.
It wasn’t until his eyes fell on the old man seated on a bench further ahead that he suddenly felt an urge to interact. The man wore an old gray coat, patched in places, and had a squat, beige hat pulled low over the wrinkles that framed his eyes. His hands were shoved snugly into his jacket’s deep pockets and he was slumped down slightly in his seat, chin against his chest.
Not sure quite why, he walked toward the old man, stopping just as he reached the far edge of the bench. The man did not register that he noticed anything beyond whatever those shaded eyes studied beneath the brim of his hat.
“May I sit?” the younger man asked.
There was no reply. The old man continued to slouch and sit in his silence.
The young man sat anyway, a respectful distance away. He leaned back against the bench and looked down at the path beneath their feet, hoping to see what might have engrossed the old man so. But there was nothing but the leaves, both whole and in pieces, scattered between them.
“It’s a nice day.”
“Warm for fall.”
The young man sighed. “I like the leaves. It’s silly, but there’s something about the falling leaves that makes me feel…content.”
Undeterred, the young man continued to speak, his voice low and quiet as the park continued to oversee the bustle of its mid-morning traffic. The young man spoke and the old man listened, unhearing, long after the wind had picked up and moved the last of the leaves between them out and away. After a time, the young man understood the reality, understood that he would never receive an answer.
But it felt so nice to have someone listen for a change.