I closed the paper, watched the water and the boats and the lounging people. I had forgotten the Third Worlds clawing nature, and its rediscovery was a bit unsettling. I had left America looking to add a little magic to the life of someone, anyone, who was untraveled. Now I found myself wanting to add a few conditions: "I will consider only people who are calm." "No one who pleads with or badgers me." "Please, no pushing, no shoving." Loving the entire world was easy; personalizing it might prove tricky.
Several friends to whom Id explained my plan had said, "Sounds like you're playing God. How do you know you wont just be wrecking some poor guys life?"
I have what I consider to be a credible response to that line of thought: "O.K. Lets say a flying saucer lands in front of your house. Someone who looks sort of like a human being knocks on your door and says, 'If you come with us, we will fly you around the universe for one month and show you a few things you've never seen before. It'll cost you nothing and you'll be back in this exact spot a month from now. No strings.
"Do you go," I ask my friends, "or not?"
Most people say, "Yeah, Id go."
And I ask them: "Would you then hold whoever-it-is responsible for the way the rest of your life turned out?"
No one has ever answered anything but "No" to that question.
I was writing in my notebook when a young man sidled up and settled on the next bench, but from the glance we exchanged I knew that my bench was his eventual destination. I scribbled as fast as I could: "Official RP Photographer, French couple, No mama, no papa, guitar music, greasy pastries, barefoot vendors "
From the corner of one eye I saw him rise, fifteen feet away, and stand absolutely stilleyes lowered, shoulders slumping. On his feet were sandals, and on his sapling-thin frame a polo shirt and corduroys. His arms drooped to a point just below his belt buckle, where his hands were folded together. When I closed my notebook, he raised his head, unclasped his hands, took two steps toward me and stopped. "I may come?" he asked.
"Sure," I said, and patted the spot next to me. He sat, refolded his hands in his lap and stared at them.
I thought, He'll talk when hes ready, and looked out across the park. Directly in front of us, teenagers were playing soccer. Even in a pickup match, theres always one who stands out; this one had beautiful legsV-shaped thighs bulging with tendons, and baseball-sized lumps of muscle high on his calves. He was the best dressed, tooblue shorts and a white shirt, black knee socks and white soccer cleatsand as he dribbled the length of the field, cut through the last two defenders, drew out the goalie and dumped a perfect pass to a wide-open teammate; he looked like the games inventor.
As Blue Shorts was mobbed by his friends, my benchmate breathed, "He is best."
I looked over. His eyes were focused on the game; the skin on his face, I noticed, had two tonesas though it was peeling or scarred. "Do you know him?" I asked.
"I only see him play."
"Do you see him often?"
"You are here every day?"
"For one month now," he said, and once more dropped his head.
In front of us the soccer game started up again. Blue Shorts set up another teammate, but this time the shot went wide. My companion laughed, and I turned to look at him. But it had not been a laugh at all. He was staring at his lap, and a tear, a liquid apostrophe, had started down his cheek.
"Whats wrong?" I asked.
"I am so sad."
"I am scared."
I put a hand on his shoulder. He was quivering and there was no meat on him. "Scared of what?"
Copyright 2000. Brad Newsham. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Travelers' Tales Inc
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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