The Old Man on the Bench

When my daily routines were changed by the Corona crisis, I picked up a new habit: Walking. Each day I walked around lakes and through forests in the morning, during lunchtime, or in the evening.

One day in the spring I saw an old man, sitting on a bench next to a lake in the forest. His foldable bike next to the bench, a binocular in his hands, he was watching birds.

The weeks went by, and I saw him again and again. Our encounters started with a nod, then a short greeting, each time I passed by the bench. And one day he lifted his hand, signalizing to me, that he would like to say something. I don’t remember what he wanted to talk about, it might have been how nice the weather was or that he was happy it stopped raining.

Weeks passed, and we greeted each other, and every so often we talked for a few minutes.

One day, the bench was empty, which wasn’t unusual because we didn’t see each other every day. When I followed the path through the forest, I saw him sitting on a fallen tree in the middle of the forest. I asked why he had changed his location, and he told me the bench was occupied when he approached it.

We talked, and he asked me about my life and job. I learned he was a painter, and he was proud to be always able to live from creating art. He had worked for a long time in his life as a stage artist for the Opera. The backgrounds and artwork used today were his work. I told him that I worked in the building next to the Opera and I could hear the opera singers practicing during the days.

I learned of his passion for rock climbing and how he immigrated from Austria to Germany. He told me how much he misses the mountains and climbing, but at 82 it wasn’t possible anymore to climb. When he talked about grabbing the rocks with his fingers, I could see the fire in his eyes. He regretted having lost contact with his family and his children.

There are not many birds in the forests these days, he told me with a sad face. I asked him what he meant because the forest would be full of loud twittering birds. He realized that the birds were still there, but his ears couldn’t hear them anymore. I think that day, he felt for the first time that he was old.

That was the last time I saw him. Weeks passed by, then months, but the bench stayed abandoned. I don’t know if he gave up looking for birds he was unable to hear, got sick, or if he died. But I’m glad I talked to him.

I wrote this Haiku for him.