age is just a number
for A. Ali Khan
This bench is definitely many years younger in age than I. Sometimes, he utters the statement rather loudly; other times, he murmurs it—as if laying a whisper in the mouth of the wind.
But, then again, age is just a number. One ought to stay young at heart! He rather prudently follows the preceding (as if a compulsion, really) with this salutation with a loud laughter, too—every time we meet i.e. 3 to 4 times a week at the park that sits right at the centre of our residential block—as an ever-vigilant guardian—and separates our streets.
When I had immigrated to Canada back in the 80s, I used to earn my pocket money through painting—signs on the roads and old walls and lampposts in the streets; sometimes, even the buildings in Toronto, you know.
I still remember that elegant wooden bench: it was made form the Red Oak; the fruity scent of it—it’s still fresh in my head. It had emerald coloured iron arm rests and legs. It was my favourite bench on the University Street.
I used to take my lunch breaks on that bench: with my favourite sandwich—tuna with sweetcorn & garlic mayonnaise & cheddar cheese & lettuce & tomatoes on multigrain brown bread with a hint of Extra Virgin olive oil—from a local sandwich bar, which was run by an Irish family, on the very street, which had also moved to Toronto from Belfast around the same time as I did.
I didn’t mind sharing a few corn kernels with an occasional squirrel. It was a treat that I always looked forward to—especially, during the Summer. The Summer-Time in Canada is second to none in the whole wide world! My Make-Your-Own sandwich used to cost me 10 to 15 cents more than the Big Mac by McDonald’s, but it was worth every cent! My palate could never agree with the sense of plastic fast foods, really—that these Fordism inspired restaurants were feeding the people with. It still doesn’t, to be very honest.
You cannot imagine getting a Make-Your-Own sandwich with an absolutely organic-organic meat & cheese & fruits & vegetables served at any local cafes & bars here for < a dollar now, can you? Three to four decades ago or so, I think, people & things & relationships were more organic, you know.
I even had a nickname for it, that bench: Bucephalus—after Alexander’s black stallion, you know. (The horse is buried in Jalalpur Sharif—outside Jhelum in Punjab, Pakistan. And that’s where my ancestry belongs: to Punjab in India.) I would sit on it and ride away with many, many thoughts of future plans: making a name for myself in that foreign land, finding a handsome paying job, meeting a beautiful girl and settling down with her, starting my own family, and making my parents and family proud back home, you know. I was the first child in the family, who had moved to a Western country in his early twenties, you know.
What are the chances that that bench would still be there?
At an early hour of one hazy dawn, as we sat down on the bench to continue with our talk and ideas on politics, religion, science, art, architecture, et cetera, after an unusual long walk around the block that morning, he finally opens to me about his likings for the bench, which happens to be installed almost in the centre of the park, which happens to be compartmentalised into two parts: East Side, which contains the iconic basketball court of the colony, and also has a border of a small wooden fence; West Side, which is a Kinder-Garten of a sort, with a knitted steel fence around it.
Once I did give a serious thought to the idea of becoming a painter in Toronto, you know; a rather very, very serious thought to even take up painting as a vocation, you know. I’ve always had a knack for painting, too. I’ve had a liking for artists & painters, too.
He adds with a hint of remorse.
Oh! My daughter-in-law paints, by the way!
He shares the news with me rather proudly.
This first appeared in Ephemeral Echoes: Poems – Twenty Twenty-One Edition (AuthorHouse, 2021).
Saad Ali (b. 1980 C.E. in Okara, Pakistan) has been brought up in the UK and Pakistan. He holds a BSc and an MSc in Management from the University of Leicester, UK. He is an (existential) philosopher, poet, and translator. Ali has authored six collections of poetry. His new collection of poems is titled Owl Of Pines: Sunyata (AuthorHouse, 2021). He is a regular contributor to The Ekphrastic Review. By profession, he is a Lecturer, Management Consultant, and Trainer/Mentor. Some of his influences include: Vyasa, Homer, Ovid, Attar, Rumi, Nietzsche, and Tagore. He is fond of the Persian, Chinese, and Greek cuisines. He likes learning different languages, travelling by train, and exploring cities on foot. To learn more about his work, please visit www.saadalipoetry.com, or his Facebook Author Page at www.facebook.com/owlofpines.
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