Slowness is a forgotten dimension of time.
Yet on some quiet days, it can still be seen wending its way between the hours, swaying in the air, changing the day’s compass with the wind. Days with muted cellphones, silent clocks and far away destinations, days that are not measured by speed or miles. When we don’t rush through life and the volume dial on existence is turned down a notch. It is always on such days that surprises creep up on you, effortlessly – like sunshine, rain and love. “Nothing beats these quiet days”.
That fateful after-noon, the weather blew a kiss of summer without the fiery heat of early August. I got into my car and no sooner had the metallic door clicked shut, that I yanked the seat belt and wrapped it around me. With music on and nothing but the trees for company, I slowly began to put my small world in order. My time behind the steering wheel is always spent reorganizing my thoughts. Shuffling, rearranging, putting mental tick marks on tasks accomplished and asterisks on those pending.
As I eased into the traffic, cautiously joining the shoal of cars, the honking taxis and swarms of pedestrians marched onto their own personal mini missions. The sky moved slower than the rest of the world as it had no deadlines to meet. The birds wheeled in slow lazy arcs, while the men took long, decisive strides. This sharp contrast was lost on the crowd because no one even bothered to look up. The sky above, as pretty as a million-dollar painting, slowly yawned, feeling unappreciated. The red of the signal suddenly commanded a halt and unwillingly I obeyed.
That is when I saw him.
Barely halfway through his teens, the young boy was made in coffee hues; his hair the color of freshly brewed espresso lying inky around his face in random clumps. His eyes made of dark roasted beans but his skin was all latte. He had that shy look about him young teens often get when they’ve grown too much too fast, when they aren’t ready to be a man – just yet.
Dew drops of sadness collected across his forehead while he slouched dejectedly as a bike passenger. Anyone could tell from the slant of his back; the morning had not been kind to him. Acceptance of defeat shimmered through random patches of sweat on his shirt. I was about to break my casual glance when I found him raising his sunken head, spotting something far away in the sky. Sometimes sorrow and joy get all mixed up, and unknowingly we are eased out of one, into the other. I saw that happening to him. His sorrow was slowly being lifted, almost theatrically, by an invisible string tied to a carefree dove, high up in the air.
Following an imaginary track, the bird dipped and soared in slow waves. The boy’s trace became intense and focused, like a beam of light to his soul, cleansing the heaviness he carried. His lips twitched at the edges, consciously fighting a smile. Such happiness is almost infectious and I became the delighted solo audience to this one act play. He kept trailing the curvy glide in a trance, following its highs and lows as if the bird’s flight was supported secretly by his gaze.
And then in a swift unannounced motion, the bird flew right past my windshield. The coffee colored boy broke his streak and looked straight at me.
There was no way out.
I was caught red handed.
Smiling brazenly at his oblivion.
His smile vanished and a layer of uncertainty took over as soon as he realized he had a witness. With youthful confidence worn in light rays of the eyebrow over a quizzical expression, he asked if I knew his secret. My grin confirmed his fear and I could see crimson vines creeping up his neck onto his flushed cheeks. He hid his face behind the rider as if trying to gather himself and mentally absorb the exposure of a negative he did not want developed.
The signal changed to green leaving the redness on his face. He collected himself realizing that our journey was about to end and turned to look at me – one last time.
Butterflies seemed to escape from the pit of his stomach, the way the sun had somehow toppled down from the sky and made a home right there in his heart. His eyes, his lips and his spirit, smiled all at once. A smile so genuinely sweet with just the right touch of shyness, leaving me engulfed in unexpected warmth. Innocence, happiness and childhood all wrapped into one second. The kind of smile that makes you feel happy to be alive, and to be human.
I let his precious smile pierce through me as we parted our ways….
And I knew then….
Today… was going to be a great day.