The woman leaned back on the green bench, stretching her thick muscular body as far as possible, her legs parallel to the ground. She pressed her cheek on her hand and she looked out towards the lake and the tall dark trees and the gray and white pigeons that flew in dark masses of feathery movement above the calm surface of the water. The man sat in his silvery wheelchair right in front of her. His foot was stretched out tightly, perpendicular to his body and enmeshed in metal bars and thick cloth bandages. He wore a thick blue jacket and dark green pants, a blue cap with an eagle on its front and dark glasses which now rested on the edge of his nose. The woman also wore dark glasses, along with light brown pants and a black T-shirt. She had a beige sweater wrapped around her waist. Both the woman and the man had very dark skin and they were both in their thirties but the man was a bit older. His scraggly beard already showed signs of white and his hand and head movements were somewhat erratic. In contrast, the woman hardly moved at all. Her breath was slow and gentle, and when she did move, it was with a deliberate slowness that seemed as steady as the passage of time. Her eyes moved ever so slowly from the lake, to the man, back to the lake, then to the man, to the road, to the people that walked on the path beside them, to the man and then to the lake once again.
"That’s what they said, anyway… but you never know… you never really know…", the man spoke in a harsh dry voice and his hands flew up and apart to emphasize his words. The wheelchair moved slightly forward, towards the concrete path that separated him from the woman, the path that made its way all around the lake. Two older women walked by, wearing light colored pants and large straw hats. As they passed by, the man had moved so close to the path that their knees were just inches from his frozen leg. He looked up at them with eyes full of questions but they just looked straight ahead, purposefully trying to ignore his silent call. "You never really can know…"
"It’s always worth trying… you can never give up… you have to try everything…", the woman stretched out on the bench spoke with a soft voice that seemed out of place in her strong muscular body. Over her dark glasses, her eyebrows came together in a silent expression of tenderness. She saw the two women pass by but her eyes came back to rest on the man, intent on letting him know that she would always look right at him, that she would never look away.
"I’m just tired of hoping… it’s been years now… I can’t hope too much more…", the man reached to scratch his knee, the knee that braced up and forward like a dead piece of wood.
The woman turned around slightly and leaned forward. A man ran by listening to music on tiny earphones, his naked legs red and moist with fresh shiny sweat. "We are in this together… we will always be in it together… I have hope so you have hope… and because we’re together… we won’t ever run out of hope… you understand?"
The man on the wheelchair nodded and his hands flew up once again, one towards his chin, one towards his head, his whole upper body rocked back and forth and the wheelchair inched slightly back, away from the path and closer to the strip of grass that touched the lake with a kiss of mud. A flock of pigeons passed behind him, crying to the heavens in a mass of impulsive flight, and a red car drove by, the sound of loud music slipping out of the open windows. "I will try it… I’m not saying I won’t… It’s just that…"
"I know…" she said and looked up at the sky, so blue, so all embracing. Her large breasts rose up towards her shoulders as she sighed heavily and her mouth opened wide to let the surge of sadness escape, like a torrent of unspoken stories finding freedom among the pigeons on a sunny afternoon. "I know… it hurts me too… each and every single time… but we have to keep on trying."
"And if not this time…?" the man let the wheelchair slide back just another inch, his static foot rising up like a hopeful banner, then he slid down back into place, and his eyes came to rest firmly on the woman on the bench. He could then see her as a little girl running down the street behind him, calling for him to stop and come back, for him to take her where he was going and he could see himself just running faster and faster, unwilling to give her even a second to catch up. He could then see her as an older woman with her hand around his wrist, leading him across a busy street, talking to him in a stern voice. He could see her with him, walking together to the grocery store by the beach, both of them hoping for a taste of adventure among the many colored aisles. He could see her as a beautiful young girl in black shorts and a white shirt, pressing her breasts against him as she kissed him on the lips. He could see her as a young teenager, leaving with her friends, wearing skirts and dresses that he didn’t approve of, grooving down the sidewalk as they all laughed together like a pack of wild hyenas. He could see her crying and waving goodbye as he marched off to boot camp, his hands trembling, his smile fixed as tiny tears rolled down his cheeks. He could see her as a frozen face inside a coffin, looking up at the roof of the mortuary and at nothing in particular, while crying women surrounded him and pressed their hands against his heaving shoulders, trying to offer support but only pulling him further down. And he could see her in front of him now, this afternoon of gentle breeze and clear skies, here with him like every afternoon as far back as he could remember, always ready, always alert, always kind, always loving, always her, truly her, whoever she truly was.
"Then next time, and if not then, then the next… we won’t give up…", her voice then was tougher, rough around the edges, with a hint of loving threat around her lips, and the wind made her curly long hair fly up behind her head, and her forehead wrinkled slightly in a sign of clear decision. She could see him too, as proud as he ever was, even now when his eyes opened wide and the pupils ran in all directions and he sometimes called her mother, and he sometimes called her lover, and he sometimes caller her daughter, and he sometimes called her friend. Even now, when he sometimes called her sister and the word was as false or as true as anything else. Inside the sunken eyes and the pale face, was the boy that she loved above all things, the boy that would someday replace her father but instead came to replace her son. Somewhere inside those eyes that shifted back and forth inside their open sockets, was the boy that truly was her man, the one that needed her, the one that saw her, the one that would always be there, sitting on the wheelchair with pigeons and trees and water at his back.
"But what if…?
"We know what if…but there are always what ifs… there are what ifs in all directions…"
He nodded and leaned his head backwards and he let the breeze dissolve all the questions that still remained at the tip of his tongue. She looked at him, open mouthed, wide eyed, the picture of a madman. Then she looked at the lake once again, at the shiny green surface where couples passed by on rowboats and pedal boats and ducks swam next to a flamingo that dipped its head into the water every once in a while. And she looked at the path and at the two tourists that were standing there a few feet away, looking at a map carefully and discussing their destination in a foreign tongue. And she looked at the man again, trapped in his metal chair, and his eyes met hers.
"This time they say they’ll fix me…"
"I know… maybe this time they will…"
A plane passed by above them and the sound of loud laughter bounced towards them from far across the lake.