They are two strangers, this little boy and a professor who sit together on a park bench waiting for nothing to happen and yet each suspects that something will. Otherwise why else would they have settled onto this stone bench in the middle of the city on a Tuesday afternoon?
On any other sunny afternoon such as this one, the professor would have stopped elsewhere, say the corner café for a cup of coffee and a newspaper and the little boy would have gotten a carton of chocolate milk and a chocolate chip cookie from the Starbucks down the street before heading home after school. Instead, their unlikely paths crossed and they sit next to each other, each waiting for the other to speak. Their unusual meeting seems to require that each cross wild rivers of conversation in order to discover what the other has to say. It isn’t easy as the professor has volumes of knowledge to forget and the little boy has a mother he hopes to remember.
I believe cities and civilizations disappear because the people who lived there forgot to say hello to each other, the professor says first since he has spent his entire life studying lost cities and knows something of why things happen as they do. I think they forgot to care about each other.
Why is that?
People get busy with other things. They forget about what’s important.
My mother used to let me miss school sometimes and we’d go to a Cubs game. The baseball players would wave to me. One threw me a baseball that I still have.
Crowds of people walk past. No one stops, or says hello. It doesn’t matter. The boy and the professor have managed to find each other despite the crowds and all of the city’s hard corners. They sit there together looking at everything and not looking at anything. It’s as if the world is a dream and they sit at its center.
In the sunlight, deeper where no one ever bothers to look, there are ghostly hands reaching for the sky, for something higher. There are voices calling.
First, close your eyes. Then listen.
Just try it.
Now open your eyes just a little, the professor says. Can you see them? See all of the people? See the worlds of them swirling around inside the air?
In one of those worlds, the boy’s mother kneels, whispers prayers, holding onto her rosary. It’s as if she’s close enough to touch.
Beside them, there are other people slipping past, one after another.
In another, and another, and another there are invisible voices,
a dizzying parade of people talking and laughing with each other,
of singers singing,
of musicians playing their saxophones and violins,
of poets reciting their poems,
of mothers opening doors, calling after children,
children running after their brothers and sisters
who are calling out for their dogs,
dogs barking at the bright faces of tulips
and more birds chirping and singing
along with crazy drunken revelers who want nothing more than to stop a pretty girl on the
street and hug her close and kiss her while a shower of confetti rains down upon them.
All of them have so much to say, it seems.
Who’s listening to them? The little boy asks: Do you think it’s the soft light from the moon that keeps ghosts awake?
The professor sighs. He says the only answer that to him is the truth: I don’t know. I don’t even know if they’re ghosts. And he reaches his hand out to catch a handful of the voices streaming down from the sky, this strange confetti of lost echoing whispers, their secrets melting on his fingertips like so many snowflakes, yet is always there floating inside all of the lost cities he’s found and studied over the years.