‘A RING’ (2011), author Frank de Zanger



Chapter 1        AN OLD WOMAN

Central Park was at its best. A young man walked to one of the benches by ‘The Pool’. His favourite place to relax from the hectic life he led. It did not matter whether it was summer or winter time. What was important, was that the sun was shining. Without the sun it could be just as depressing as on a dull day at Rockefeller Square. But the sun was shining on the white frozen lake, the snow-white lawns and the large trees, that had adopted soft contours from the snow. He brushed the snow off the seat, sat down and leaned back, arms crossed, eyes closed. It was his intention to think about nothing. Thinking of nothing is very difficult. Images popped up anyway and these images were not pleasant. They were the images of the events in recent weeks. It is really shocking to get the message that your father died in a car accident. An accident during a business trip, caused by a German driving at high speed on an ‘autobahn’ near Munich. It had rained heavily, the man went into a skid, shot against the guardrail and caused a gigantic pile up. The result: three dead, including his father. How undignified, how undeserved, and how sudden a man can die. The trip back to Europe; the emotional reunion again with his mother, sister and brother, and the poignant reality of a funeral. Processing these events would certainly take a long time. However, the immediate result was that he had to give up his study at the University of New York. He would be able to live another three months or so off his father’s allowance, but then it was over. Sure, he could try to get a job or apply for a scholarship, but that would take time and time was the crucial factor. In the middle of a vivacious thesis that consumes lots of energy, you want to keep the momentum going, knowing that it must be done now. If not completed within two years, it would get away from you and you’ll never be able to maintain that intellectual drive. It did hurt, because he knew that his thesis would be of great importance. In this mood, trying to let go of his dark thoughts, someone sat down beside him.

Well, how does that work? You turn around and look into a friendly but deadly tired face of an old woman. Actually she looked ill, but because she had such a friendly face, it did come across very well. There is a comment about the snow; that it had snowed already more than last year at this time. There is a question and an answer and finally there is a conversation. A conversation that suddenly took an unexpected twist. The woman said:
“I know things are difficult for you.”
The young man was shocked by her observation. How could she know? And that was what he asked her. She explained that it was not very surprising with her contacts in New York and at the university. The old woman said:
“By the way, I see you now, young, but I see you old as well. People don’t hold many secrets from me anymore.”
“Oh, is that so?”, stammered the young man, not knowing how to respond.
“I want to tell you a story,” continued the old woman, “at least if you have some time.”
She looked at him. He nodded, because ironically he had developed in his discomforted position a different idea of time. There appeared to be more time than he had ever imagined.
Her story was not so much long as heartbreaking and he had difficulties in keeping his eyes dry. From behind the bench, on which the two were sitting, one could have seen that the shoulders of the young man had slowly begun to rise. Yes, he asked some questions, but mainly the old woman was speaking. Suddenly, she cautiously dug out a plastic sachet from a pocket in her thick winter coat. She pulled out two photographs and handed them, with trembling hands, over to the young man. The young man took them and studied them carefully. He gave them back and the two pictures were pushed laboriously back into the plastic sachet. From her other pocket she pulled out a small box that she handed to the young man.

When the old woman had told her story, the young man said:
“I do not know what to think … and I do not know,” and now he hesitated, “if I can trust you.” He ran his hands through his hair, looked at her, and turned his eyes back to the white, sunlit park.
“Yes”, the woman said, fatigued. “I can imagine, but sometimes you need to do something and must have that confidence. I leave it up to you, really.”
The young man sighed, looked up exasperated at the snowy branches. Then to the ground, where he moved his shoes around in the snow.
“I’m sick,” said the old woman. “I will not leave many more footprints in the snow.” And then she mentioned his name. Now he was not surprised to hear his name, because it fitted into her story.
The old woman stood up, slowly and carefully, in order not to slip. She reached out a hand. The young man stood up and took her small frail hand in his. She looked him straight in the eyes. “Do it”, she said and then she started walking cautiously along the path.
“Thanks!”, he shouted to her, but that was only after she had already walked away. She did not look back. Her curved body disappeared from sight, slowly engulfed by the enchanting white world.

There he sat on a bench, in a snowy Central Park, with a box in his hand. He opened the box and saw a gold ring. He took the ring out; turned it around in his fingers and brought it closer to his eyes. He looked inside the ring, where he saw the inscription – worn but very readable – about which the old lady had spoken. In graceful, slanting letters had been inscribed: ‘Love, Richard, New York, 1926.’

Uitgeverij Tournesol