There’s a park in the middle of some trees, enclosed by a short, black wrought-iron fence. Every day, a man walks through the only gate carrying a book, sits on a bench shaded by a big tree, and reads until the sun sets. Nothing tears the man’s attention away from his book. Not the children playing hide-and-go-seek between the trees. Not the group of yogis practicing their breathing on plastic mats in the grass. Not the landscapers who come once a week to trim bushes and mow the lawn. The man’s eyes stay fastened to his book, until one day, he looks up.
There’s a girl he’s never seen before in the middle of the park. He immediately goes back to his book. When the sun sets, he closes his book and leaves the park, while the girl stays.
The next day, he goes back to the park to read as usual. The girl is already there. Paying no mind, he opens his book to the last page where he left off. He’s more easily distracted today by the buzzing of the bees and the hot sun, yet still determined to keep reading. Every once in a while, he steals a glance over his book at the girl in the middle of the park.
What is she doing?
He buries himself back into the pages of the book on his lap. When the sun sets, he closes his book and leaves the park, while the girl stays.
The next day, he gets to the park earlier than usual, but the girl is already there. She watches him open the black gate, walk towards his bench, and waits until he’s reading before finally pulling her eyes away from him. He can barely concentrate on the pages in front of him. He’s been watching the girl all day, trying to figure out what she’s doing. The girl doesn’t notice him watching her, but when she laughs, she looks directly at him. He doesn’t look up from his book for the rest of the day. When the sun sets, he closes his book and leaves the park, while the girl stays.
The next day, the man wakes up before the sun, grabs a book from his shelf, and hurries out the door, hoping to get to the park before the girl does. Luck is on his side: he’s barely begun to read when he hears the gate opening and sees the girl with dark hair move to her spot in the middle of the park.
Had her hair always been that dark?
He can’t figure out what she’s doing. He doesn’t remember a time before she was here, but he has no recollection of the day she started showing up. He must have been too absorbed in his book to notice. He always reads at this park. He begins to feel faintly territorial. When the sun sets, he closes his book and leaves the park. The girl smiles at him as he’s closing the gate.
The next day, the man takes his time getting to the park, knowing by now that the girl will be there. He hears her laughing and sees her smiling, but not once does she look over at him reading on his bench. He thinks maybe he imagined it. He closes the book and leaves the park before the sun sets. He doesn’t see the girl staring at his retreating back. That night, he can’t sleep. He wonders when the girl leaves the park, if she leaves at all, if he hadn’t imagined her walking through the gate that morning, or if she hadn’t played a trick on him, instead.
When he wakes up the next day, the sun is already high in the sky. He decides to protest the park today. When the sun starts to set, curiosity finally gets the best of him and he makes his way casually down the street to the park. He opens the black gate, walks over to his bench, and sits down before realizing he has forgotten his book this time. He keeps his eyes fixed on the setting sun. From the middle of the park, the girl is doing the same thing.
When the sky turns black and the moon comes out to take the sun’s place, the girl watches that, too, for hours without moving. When the moon can no longer be seen, she finally gets up and leaves the park. The man debates whether or not he should follow her. She’s gone before he decides.
The next day, the man returns to the park with a book the same as always, but he’s more nervous than usual without knowing why. When the girl finally shows up, albeit late, his nervousness goes away. He wonders if it would have been gallant or creepy if he had asked if she wanted him to walk her home. He laughs at the absurdity of the idea, catching the attention of the girl, who has an unreadable expression on her face.
The summer flows from one day into the next, much the same as ever. The leaves on the trees change color. Every night, the sun sinks down earlier than the day before, and the evenings grow colder. The girl brings a sweater to wear while she waits for the moon to disappear.
One night, something changes. After she puts a sweatshirt over her head, she walks over to the bench where the man is no longer reading, and sits down.
‘The grass is wet,” she says.
When the moon is no longer visible, she gets up, leaves the park, and disappears into the dark. A short while later, the man does the same thing.
She’ll be here tomorrow, he thinks, and she is, only she’s not in the middle of the park where he first saw her.
She is sitting on his bench.