After a long break, we went in search of a breath of fresh air. The ritual of our Sunday walks had been broken thanks to the lockdown and our fear of reinfection. When news of parks reopening pinged on my phone, a glimmer of hope emerged. This was soon doused with a healthy dose of worry. Was it worth the risk? Should we venture out or stay locked in? The memory of whispering trees, blue skies, and a feeling of being one with each other and nature won.
For better or worse we set out with an excited cookie, she was keen to meet her squirrel friends. As we approached Sanjay Van we saw the line of parked cars extend well past the normal area. A bead or two of sweat got added to the drops that summer had already ensured were forming on my forehead.
We tentatively ventured out of our car and within minutes saw a gang of unmasked walkers approaching. A hop, skip and a jump off the pavement put us on the road dodging oncoming traffic but we managed to avoid the unmasked bandits. As we entered the park, to our dismay we saw another large gang of unmasked walkers gathered at the entrance. For a minute I thought to myself, “maybe it’s better to just turn around a go home now…” But I decided to walk on. We found a way through the bushes off the main path to avoid the mask-less gang who were oblivious to our discomfort.
We started down the sloping path, a cool breeze rustled through our old friends the trees and Deepa said to me “we don’t need science to tell us that trees will help the planet remain a cooler place. The difference from the road to here is amazing.” I felt for a brief moment that it was worth it. There was no one else in sight, a beautiful greeny-blue peacock crossed our path. Through my double mask, I could smell the wet earth, and a smile that nobody could see appeared on my face. I was back in the zone. My happy place.
That short burst of happiness was burst like a soap bubble as we turned the corner and a sea of mask-less walkers streamed by. Some had the mask worn as an armband, others as a necklace, and quite a few had none in sight. I kept thinking to myself. “What do they know that I don’t know?” Then I got angry and then scared and quietly remind myself to just stay out of harm’s way.
We finally reached out little patch of green, a lovely lookout point that has a few benches and is a great spot to catch your breath and have sip of cool water. Right in front of our favorite bench, we found three young lads also out for a breath of fresh air. They had badminton rackets strewn on the grass and they were warming up (or so it appeared) for a game.
My wife tentatively approached them and very politely requested if they could put on their masks. “Kya chahie?” barked the tallest of them, coming way too close for comfort. Taking a few hurried steps backwards, Deepa repeated her request. The rather curt retort she got was “Hum exercise kar raha hai…” The final plea she made was to ask if they could move a bit further away from the bench, we could remove our masks and have a drink of water while sitting down for a few minutes.
As they moved away, I thought to myself that is really nice of them. Unfortunately, my nice thoughts did not last long. While they had moved away they were well within earshot and the tall lout, looking at us with a snigger said in a loud voice to his friends “Who does that xxxx B&#@h think she is…”. For a minute I thought I was imagining things. I look across at Deepa, who thankfully was lost in pouring Cookie a bowl of water and feeding her some biscuits. It took every inch of self-control I had not to get up and get into a fight with them. I took a deep breath. I removed my mask. I had a long cool drink. However, while better sense prevailed and I did not get into a fight with those three polluting punks, the environment had been poisoned with their anger and bad language. Their lack of common courtesy and civility lingered on.
About an hour later, when we were back in our car, windows up, AC on, trying to cool off and calm down, the same three sauntered past. Mask less, carefree, laughing as if without a care in the world. They did not see us in the car, they did not care to see us a fellow traveler on the same path in the forest. What lesson do I take away from this adventure? I went in search of a breath of fresh air. I found it for a moment and then I lost it again
As we were leaving the park area, my wife (who had not heard them swear at us) went up to them and thanked them for their courtesy, with a smile. Maybe that is the lesson. They were breathing easy because of her niceness and kindness. Maybe we went there today to be their breath of fresh air. Their reason to laugh. Maybe they needed to yell and scream at someone to feel better. I just wish it had not been us. It would have taken so little for them to be gracious. We all need to find the space to breathe a little easier.
I ask myself, “did I do the right thing?” Should I have called them out? Got into an altercation? It was welling up inside of me. I wanted to scream and yell. Maybe I should have. Maybe I would not be sitting here writing this piece right now. Maybe our family and their family’s peace would have been punctured. Maybe I did the right thing. Kept us all out of harm’s way. The virus does not care for emotion, it is just waiting for the masks to come off. I chose to keep mine on.
Time to take a deep breath and move on…
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