The park bench was a mottled thing of orange and white and brown; paint jobs from different eras showing themselves unabashedly in a speckled milieu. Akio slouched on the bench, the uneaten portion of his sandwich wrapped in yellow wax paper resting beside him. He watched the duck who was almost as mottled as the bench and wore a strange red mask over his face like a super hero. It waddled about, turning its head from side to side to blink out of one eye or another, hoping for a crumb.
Akio reached for his orange flavored soda and took a swig from the glass bottle letting the carbonation tickle and burn his throat on the way down. He liked the park, this particular park, so many miles from home that he had to take a train and then hike to it in order to enjoy its charms. The great distance made his visits infrequent and enhanced its allure. Vaguely Akio could remember his grandfather bringing him to this park. The very small boy had held the old man’s soft wrinkled hand and had stared nearly eye to eye at one of those masked ducks.
“Akio,” the old man had said, “This is the most magical park in all of Japan.” The boy had looked around in awe. “I met your grandmother here. In some ways, this park is the reason that you exist.”
Saying this, his grandfather had squeezed his hand and smiled at him and Akio had felt then, more than on any birthday, that his life was a gift, that both he and Grandfather were so lucky that there was an Akio, that without the park there could easily have been no Akio.
He watched with great dismay as a young woman, far off, peered at the sky and opened an umbrella.
“What a stupid girl.” He said to the duck, because, of course, it must not rain today. He had come so far to be here, sitting on this bench, speaking to this duck, watching with some anxiety that girl out there.
Looking at the sky, he agreed that it might rain sometime today, later when he was taking the train home, but not now. The sandwich should be finished, the soda bottle with its graceful long neck emptied, and the path through the trees walked slowly with relish.
Even as he thought these things he felt the first drop hit the bare skin of the back of his arm. Then another plopped rudely down on the wax paper covering the sandwich. The duck turned one eye on Akio and three more drops speckled the concrete between them. Akio sighed. Then as the rain began to fall with greater speed and a more consistent rhythm, he scooped up the sandwich and bottle and deposited them into his back pack.
The girl with the umbrella was hurrying along the path leading down hill. Perhaps she too was heading for the train and perhaps she wouldn’t mind sharing her umbrella. Using the bag to shield his head from the onslaught of water, he took one last look at the bench where he had intended to spend his afternoon, then bidding the duck farewell, he ran after the girl huddled under her big black umbrella.