The annual appreciation ceremony finally finished at 5:15pm, and my assigned duty was accomplished. Though I was not interested in networking, I hanged around for a while.
“Oh yes! You are from mm… XXX. I know that. Great!”
“Bollocks! What’s your second line?” I wondered why he just repeated the words on the card clipped to my shirt.
His make-up grin continued, but his eyes drifted away as I failed to give a reflexive response to his ambush - I only gave him an uneasy smile. He roamed away, and I nodded to mimic politeness. I guessed we could have a chat if the encounter was extended to full 5 seconds. Well, that suited me perfectly.
Leaving on time, I was able to find a table for two in a chain fast food restaurant even after 60 minutes’ travelling and a bit of window shopping. The food was not delicious but fast.
“Is that seat taken?” a man in a worn towel shirt asked.
He sat and kept wiping his index finger on the screen of his phone while waiting his ticket number to be called. A woman took his chair when he went to collect his food. Actually, she grabbed it without sitting on it.
“Come here!” she shouted at a big guy standing by a table occupied by four men in their early twenties. They finished most of their food but were having a fun time bragging about how to make a fortunate at work. The big guy grimaced with distaste at her. She yelled again, but he turned his face away.
“Bastard!” my inner voice screamed. “Never mind, it’s not my problem.”
Finally, I finished my food without anyone sitting in front of me. While enjoying the tea, a couple and their young daughter standing beside the entrance caught my attention.
“Why’re there so many people?” the woman grumbled.
“It’s rush hour. Let’s go back to the other one. It’s got tables there,” the man replied wearily.
“I want this one,” she squeaked and turned to her daughter. “You like this one my dear?”
“I want an ice-cream,” the daughter yelped.
“You go and stand by that compartment table and wait.” The man pressed his lips tightly, gave her a look and did so.
“Put the bags on the empty seat! They nearly finish, and they are leaving soon.” The man gave her a twisted face, but he still held on to the two big bags of shopping.
“Put them down!”
He ignored her and mouthed back silently while he turned his back on her. She grabbed the bags of shopping and dumped them on to the chair. I believed I knew what the man was trying to say and what was in his mind right then.
I decided I had enough of these mini dramas and left. “Why can’t we be more mindful about what we do and what we say?” I kept asking myself this silly question as I got up and made way to the other side of the mall.
As I wiggled through the crowd, the memory of a holiday trip two years ago beckoned again. It was a cool, fine, breezy day. I visited an old town on my own and was delighted to find the beautiful streets and buildings that were largely built of stones. Visitors were thin because it was Wednesday. I praised myself for making the right decision.
The town was small and surrounded by large stretches of greens and hills. Knowing that the last coach back to the city would leave in three hours, I impulsively decided to go hiking on a neighouring hill, the tallest near the town.
A sense of separation from the civilized world closed in just a few minutes’ walk away from the town centre. Chatter and laughter were damped quickly and replaced by the sounds of the wind.
Instead of visitors, there were more locals, who happened to fit in the history of the town well. No, I did not mean they were old but close and respectfully dependent. As I stopped to check the local map, two elderly women walked up the road. From a distance, I couldn't help wondering what they were whispering about and how much time they needed to walk back home, but I was sure that they both wore a graceful smile as I passed them.
An open field was behind the last row of houses. How luxurious! It was green, vast and unscathed, and was punctuated by tall pine trees. An old woman was walking her dogs with her designer’s scooter. Several women were pushing their babies’ prams towards a playground, and a couple of toddlers were running in front of them, flapping their little arms like dove getting ready to fly. I would not call them angelic, but they were definitely innocent and pure. It had been a long time since I last enjoyed toddlers babbling and giggling without adults aside trying to teach them words fit for a grade three or to explain that daddy and mommy would be upset if they did not finish all the food.
For some reasons, I often find graveyards unique places where I enjoy walking around for some time. Gravestones, when they are new and finely crafted, often remind me of departure of the dead and grief of the surviving. The weathered and displaced ones, however, always dissipate a lingering aura, a hint of life and a sense of frozen memory that has lost its bearer.
There, I found a graveyard that must be at least a century old. Some of the gravestones had long become part of nature, but the aura they dissipated seemed stronger the older they were. They did not line up orderly any more as they were planted years ago but rather like the sprouting bamboo shoots in early spring. Despite their clustering together, I only felt their sorrow and loneliness.
I guess gravestones are erected with certain beliefs, but I am not sure if they can transcend the purpose of mourning and the aspiration for a life after. Once grieving is gone, they become objects to remind remembrance. When remembrance is no more, they are mere markers of the brief existence of certain beings. As time goes by, they will reunite with nature, only that will take a long time and a lonely wait. But, what if something does linger on?
It did not take long to get to the foot of the hill. My heart pounded with excitement while my eyes scanned across a wide spread of grass with strips of ancient trees that outlined the contours of the gently rising hill. Right at that moment, one might think the light spectrum only had browns, greens and blues. But, they were perfectly adequate there.
I came across a few tree stumps. They did not look like the brutal remarks of human activities, but the remains of great trees that succumbed to the power of nature. I always feel sorry for the beautifully farmed trees that are cut down, stripped to their hard wood and turned into uniform planks while their handsome branches and twigs are sawed into pieces. They spend years waiting for the day when they are cut down, but they never see a new seed germinating at the place where they finally fall. How fortunate these giant stumps are! They lived their time, decades or even centuries, and they continue to see others enjoying the sunshine, the wind and the rain for many more years as they gradually and eventually return back to the soil.
As I ascended the hill, the wind became gustier and that took away the heat from the sun. The air was soaked with the scents of semi-dry grasses mingled with early summer pine needles. It was such an enjoyable sensation when the fragrant wind rubbed over the body without leaving any trace of sweat. Apart from the rustling leaves, I could only hear swooshes around my ears with occasional chirps of birds, but not a single moo from cows or a baa from sheep. I was overjoyed and speechless. I guess words are redundant when we can see the simplicity of nature.
“DAVID JELFS (1938 – 2011) IN FOND MEMORY AND RECOGNITION OF DECADES OF VOLUNTARY WORK IN THE COUNTRYSIDE FOR THE BENEFIT OF ITS USERS.” was carved on the bench I sat on for a rest after another 20 minutes’ walk. I realized David died at 73 four years ago, and he had kept this countryside very close to himself. I wondered how many times he had stood on this spot and admired the view before him. I also pondered who had been so thoughtful to put a bench here to commemorate him, or to soothe someone he loved, or to allow him to take a rest when he may wander around this land or to let someone like me to share his vision.
I found a tiny castle at the hilltop, and some people were gathering around it. “Where did these people come from?” I wondered and felt a bit annoyed. As I strolled around, I realized this hilltop was the edge of a tableland, and a road passed the area about 100 yards away. Anyhow, I still would not take a car to come here after walking up this trail. Trees were planted around the rim of the hilltop, so there was not much to see unless you paid to get into the castle to watch the valleys below from its second floor. I decided not to spend that money.
Checking the time again, I thought it was about time to return. As I set for the trail I came from, someone suddenly came out from my left and waved at me. I stopped and looked back to check if I was on someone’s way. No, there was nobody behind me.
An old woman came to me and said, “It’s yours, I saw it coming out of your pocket when you took something out of it earlier down there. And, you walked fast.” She handed to me a bus ticket, the return ticket to the city. She was the woman I met earlier.
“Thank you,” I said. “Thanks very much.”
I smiled and greeted her like a child, and we departed. I could see that she was not a fast walker.
“This has been a wonderful day!” I said to myself.
I found myself following a drag-along luggage bag when it suddenly stopped and I nearly tumbled over it. My mind flashed back from the hilltop. “Shit! I’m day dreaming again! It’s time to go home,” I mumbled. “But, that's still a wonderful memory after two years.” Anyway, the mall was packed with people and filled with the smells of sweat, it was the right time to leave.
Being mindful and mindfulness has become a cliché at my workplace lately. You are preached that mindfulness is not related to workload or overtime, but your own mind. I say that’s nonsense. Well, you become an oddity if you do not declare solidarity to mindfulness, the latest managerial manipulation tool of the cost-effectiveness-and-outcome-driven CEOs. So, I have to maintain a balance between my split solidarity at work – the split between my mind and my lips. Unfortunately, I often fail.
Still, I have one wonderful day on the top of that hill.