by Jamie Rosen
art by s.c.virtes

     Ito Takeshi had been coming to this park every day for almost a decade, now. It was a polder, a last redoubt against the ever-increasing and expanding growth of technology in Tokyo.  Outside, cell phones the size of matchbooks bombarded the air with high-frequency transmissions; but here, amidst the green foliage and carefully placed stones of the park, a man could find some much-needed peace and quiet.
     "You're here early," Akira said, making room on the park bench they often shared.  On the first day Takeshi began visiting the park, Akira was already a regular -- how long he had been coming to this place, he would not say, but he gave the impression that it was about as long as Takeshi had been alive.
     "Traffic was light."
     Akira let out a single, bitter laugh.  "Traffic," he said.  It was but one of the many accoutrements of the world outside the park for which the old man showed disdain.  To Takeshi he would always be the old man, even though Takeshi's hair had started to grey and his face to wrinkle.  Akira had been old even when the two had first met.  He gave the impression of having always been old.
     "The flowers are nice," Takeshi stated.
     They lapsed into silence, and Takeshi breathed in deeply, enjoying the scents of the garden.  Pollution controls had helped clean up the air, but a city as busy as Tokyo could never be smog-free, or rid itself of the stench of construction, of artificial materials, of progress.  But here in the garden the air was clean, or at least natural.
     An insect buzzed near Takeshi's hand.  A bee, looking for a flower to visit and being disappointed to find only human skin.  It flew up to his face, and Takeshi fought the urge to flinch  the insect had no desire to give its life in combat, he knew, and it would soon enough decide there was no pollen to be had amongst his flesh.  It was the sort of patience Akira exhibited constantly, while Takeshi still struggled to master it.
    In the distance a bird chirped.  A second called out in answer, and the two joined in song, bringing a smile to Takeshi's face.
     When the birds had stopped, Akira spoke to him.  "Why do you come here?"
     Takeshi was shocked.  In his decade of visits, they had only rarely exchanged more than a handful of words on a given day, and now it seemed as though the old man wanted to start a conversation.
     "The world outside is too fast," Takeshi said.  "Too busy.  When I was younger, the city was not so hectic, and neither was life.  My prime was over many years ago, and I cannot keep up anymore."  The wind rustled through the grass and the tree branches, and a single leaf floated to the earth beside them.
     "Do you have any regrets?"
     Takeshi chuckled.  "Only that it looks like I will die a bachelor."
     Akira grunted knowingly and settled back into silence.  It was some time before Takeshi dared to break the silence with a question of his own.
     "Why do you come here?"
     Akira did not answer, and Takeshi began to wonder if he had offended him, or if the old man had not heard the question.  He was deciding to return his attention to the tranquillity that had drawn him to the park when the old man answered with a question of his own.
     "How old are you, Takeshi?"
     "Ah.  Did you know that I have been retired almost as long as you have been alive?"
     "I have come here, to this park, to this bench, every day for more than half a century, Takeshi.  I have come because of the air, the feel of the wind on my face, the smell of the flowers from across the path."  He pointed to them.  "I have come because I long ago tired of the beauty of a pretty girl and learned to see the beauty in a blade of grass.  But I have come here, more than any other reason, because I am waiting."
     Akira nodded.  "Yes.  Waiting."
     Painfully aware that the old man had said as much as he wanted to, Takeshi refrained from asking any further questions.  He did not wish to offend.
     The grass by his feet swayed and a small green snake emerged onto the path before slithering away into the flora on the other side.  Branches moved in the wind.  Takeshi scratched the back of his hand.  A bird landed in a nearby tree.
     "Do you wish to know what I am waiting for?" Akira asked, after a time.
     Takeshi, startled, nodded.  "Yes, please."
     Akira smiled with the slyness of age.  "I thought you might."
     More time passed -- perhaps an hour, perhaps more -- and the sounds of the park were joined by the faint growl of Takeshi's stomach.  Did the old man have no intention of following up with an answer? "That," Akira said, "is what I am waiting for."
     "But it is only my stomach."
     The old man shook his head, slowly.  "Listen."
     Takeshi focussed on the sounds in the air, trying to separate them in his mind.  Yes, there in the distance, almost but not quite indistinguishable from his hunger, was another growl.  Almost a rumble, as though from a distant earthquake.
     "What is it?" he asked, turning to face his companion.
     Akira's eyes were not on him, but rather looking out mournfully in the direction of the noise.  In that instant, the lines of his face seemed to deepen. "Our error."
     The entirety of the park went quiet, then, and a single howl pierced the air between them.

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