Every day he comes. The routine never varies. Ten o’clock sharp, he’s in the park, sitting on a bench watching the world pass by. He’s old, maybe 70, maybe 80, maybe anything. Most people don’t notice him, as he blends, just part of the scenery. He might have been there for years, seen people grow, from infancy to senility. Who knows?

He has a very distinctive step, a hunched shuffle, and is always looking furtively over his shoulder. Looking for something, anything. A private ghost from the past? A personal fear? His bench is under the majestic old oak, its strong protective canopy a sharp contrast to his rounded shoulders, defeated by age. It’s hard to tell which is more gnarled, man or tree.

I wonder about his past. From where did he get his shuffle? Have there been romances, tragedies or wars in his life? There must be a reason why he makes this long pilgrimage everyday, rain or shine.

Sunlight filters through the branches. A patchwork of shadows play on the grass. In the pool, children shriek, while their flustered mothers watch and try to catch a fleeting moment of peace. Lovers stroll in their own world, oblivious to the rest of the park’s inhabitants. Men play chess on benches, and executives hurry across the park, blazers flapping, briefcases in one hand, takeaway coffee containers in the other. Their cell phones squawk continually, and when their paths cross, they briefly gift each other with a respectful nod, one successful businessman to another.

But he is constant. Watching, waiting. Is he watching for some old friend who happens by? What is he waiting for, an absolution?

It’s 5 o’clock. I know he’ll leave now. In accordance with his schedule, he checks his watch and shrugs into his camel coloured coat. A frail hand grasps his ever-present grey bag, and old knees grudgingly allow him to stand. He shuffles away from his bench, and over towards mine!

I’m confused at this new development, and stand as he draws near. For the first time, I see him properly. His nondescript grey pants, his woollen jersey, his scuffed shoes. Neatly parted grey hair.
"Hello," he begins in a breathy voice. He smiles, and the wrinkles etched into his face by years of exposure to the sun become more prominent. "I’ve seen you around," he continues, "You’ve been coming every day for years? May I sit down?"
I nod my respectful assent, one watcher and waiter to another.

Seated together on our park bench, a chess board from the grey bag between us, the man and I play, and share our life stories.

Delta edition, different from the published one in case anyone accuses me of plagiarism *grins*

Hang Out and Have Stupid Fun

Rainy afternoon, Starbucks Cafe terrace, Plaza Senayan. Sitting outdoor, full ashtray and half full cup of espresso. I can't remember what she's having, maybe some bottled fruit juice as usual or her favorite hot beverage which is hot chocolate. As always, we ended up here or some other cafe after thinking of where to go simply because of the lack of some public facilities like park benches in the whole city.

This then led to this stupid deep conversation about surrendering to consumerism and getting trap in the segmented niche of a black and white area for the simple pleasure of just hanging out to have stupid fun. "living between two lines" she said, I can't really understand what that actually means. Is it because of the lack of public space provided by park benches where you could just sit alone for hours with your thoughts or to take long walks on the wide clean sidewalk for hours till you return to the same exact spot you started hours ago?. Whatever it is, for sure our beloved city of Jakarta doesn't have either one.

Could this be the reflection of a 3 C's principle most Singaporean believe? Credit Card, Condo and Car?. Hell, at least Singapore has plenty of park benches and sidewalks in the midst of promenades of endless shopping malls. Options then are available whether you want to stay outside or go inside. Smoking publicly is a problem, but I think I could still live with that. Well, maybe I can't, but then there is still Kuala Lumpur. There are plenty of park benches and clean side walk there too. New York would be an ideal place for park benches and long walks but it's just too far away to think about Central Park, Greenwich Village and SoHo.

I don't know where can she find her park bench in this city other than some long wooden benches you would see in some street - stalls selling cigarettes. I don't know how can she finds her sanctuaries with her own thoughts thinking outloud and smiling within. Staying in the grey area observing from the outside to seek something out of the box. Maybe that's what she meant by "living between two lines", preferring the grey area instead of the black or white segmented niche dictated by a consumptive society.

In the mean time, a few tables from us there is a good looking woman in red turtleneck sweater sitting by herself with a cup of something in front of her. She seems to use the Starbucks' chair as her own private bench escaping to her own calm oasis and completely oblivion to the surrounding chaos of traffic noise from the street. A private calm oasis that cost her a cup of something from Starbucks, not to mention something inside the branded shopping bag lying next to her.

Urban Planning

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