A Better Me
By Vanaja Malathy
The enchanting Denver city in the US that I have come to stay in, has beautiful parks. In spring and summer, it’s a treat to walk in these parks. My daily routine included a morning walk in a nearby radiant park. As you enter the park, you will see a cool pond around which the ducks have a bath, swim and come out in a line as if on a parade in front of the onlookers. Apples, red and green, hang down in great bunches. They are so alluring to the eye that while the bought apples lay untouched on the table at home, my fingers pinch to pluck these fresh and half-ripe fruits from the trees rooted to the edge of circular rows. It is hard to resist the temptation of plucking them and the child in you overpowers you. There are those sprawling lawns where dog lovers play games that are entertaining to the eye. Park benches are friendly benches inviting people to rest, relax and socialize. One tends to get lost into an altogether different world of relaxation. People of all ages and nationalities walk side by side here. I watch young mothers with babies in their prams, adolescents in cavort, romp and run, serious teenage athletes on the run in the tracks, young men and women on date chatting in low and loving tones, elderly couples strolling hand in hand, single women with their pet dogs, all setting a ‘go cool’ ambience.
Having immigrated from India after my retirement, my morning walk became more than a pastime activity to me. An hour of my morning time spent in the park either walking or relaxing on the park benches boosted my energy. It was not only a physical exercise for me but an emotional satisfaction of seeing different people while appreciating the scenic beauty. The relaxation that nature provided improved my mood and increased my overall feelings. Above all the thought that the walks would improve my cardiovascular health or exposure to sunlight would increase vitamin D, was very soothing to my mind. It was surely a rewarding activity.
Aristotle, the great philosopher, had said, “Man is a social animal.” “He who lives without society is either a beast or God.” To prove his statement, in the course of time, I began feeling a bit uncomfortable walking alone. In spite of being in such ‘elevating-your-spirits’ surroundings, I could sense a void deepening in my heart. Very often I felt lost being by myself. I wished I knew someone in the park to walk with and to talk with. I was subconsciously noticing that everyone whom I met smiled, said hello or hi effortlessly. But the contact stopped at that. Smiling became a voluntary action, an etiquette. My eyes often searched for an Indian face that could move beyond a smile. With a forceful smile their lips widen for a split of a second and immediately close as if there’s a treasure box behind to guard. The disappointment of not finding a friendly face among my tribe was gnawing at me. With such a frame of mind neither did I find any hope to find friendly vibes among others whose culture, language and thinking were different from mine. An utter disappointment left me feeling restless and sapped my enthusiasm.
My attitude started changing with my thinking. I, who would love to smile readily and wave at everyone who passed by in a friendly manner, hesitated even to look up and greet anyone during my walks. Mine was turning into a serious mechanical walk. I diverted my attention to my Fitbit or my mobile phone watching how many steps I could take in a day and how many calories I could burn. When I sat on a bench I no longer admired the lawn where young and old played with their pets. Instead, I would go into a phone conversation with my family and friends to keep myself engaged. This became my routine, my feelings were getting numb day by day. All the initial excitement and thrill disappeared and boredom was seeping in.
On one fine day, the weather was very beautiful. Morning’s mild drizzle had cooled the grass and the leaves on the trees looked brighter green. The mild breeze was comfortably soothing to the skin. The pond was full and flowing. Butterflies and birds were all over. Nature was at its best. Focusing my attention on the surroundings, I started walking absent-mindedly when all of a sudden a voice woke up my senses.
” Hello, a beautiful morning, right ?”
I looked back, to my right. A tall and slim figure was smiling at me. One could not tell her age because her toned body masked her years. I guessed she must be closer to my age.
“Hi,” I greeted as a matter of fact, just out of courtesy.
She came beside me. It was as if she slowed down her walking speed for a little while. Earlier I had seen her jogging several rounds. I looked at her and tried to hide my surprise. In spite of belonging to a different culture, I could sense that she was comfortable showing a gesture of friendliness. I was getting into a relaxed mood, walking next to someone who showed some cordiality. After taking a few steps, she waved away and her long and slender legs carried her further. I remained at my pace.
Days passed. On a daily basis, I met her. We smiled at each other at ease. She would slow down for my sake and give company for a few minutes and speed away. It left a sort of comfortable feeling in me. At times I used to be caught unawares, while I unzipped my shoulder bag to munch salted nuts. A secret desire to share my snack would bring a spark to my thoughts. But I didn’t muster up my courage to do so. Her very presence gave me a feeling of belonging to the place. And that was sufficient for me. A fortnight passed in this way.
It was a cloudy and breezy day. On any other day, I wouldn’t have ventured into going for a morning walk with a continuous drizzle and a harsh wind blowing around. But meeting my new acquaintance was above all other odds. I dared to undertake my adventure in spite of the warning I got from my family members. A rain jacket, jean pants and water-resistant boots formed my ideal rainy-season clothing. I started walking heavily…
There she was!
“Rather an uncomfortable day. But nice to warm up.” she smiled. It was a pleasant start.
It looked as if she was waiting for me. In these few days, my walking pace has improved. I didn’t struggle to keep in tune with her pace. There was a new comfort in my walking. I learnt with confidence that the faster your walking pace is, the less likely you are to fall and get injured. A brisk walk with a friend was a form of socializing, staving off loneliness and isolation. It also helped me to get out, go a little farther, pick up my pace.
We walked the whole stretch together. My walking speed seemed to double. I talked about myself. I was less formal and more lighthearted. I felt as if I had known her for years.
I understood what was holding me back from being the best version of myself. To vibe with someone you need to feel integrated into a new culture and make an effort to break the shell around you.
“Tomorrow, at the same time?” I asked as we came to the end of the stretch.
“Of course, why not!” Her eyes twinkled. There was some balminess in her words.
“Salted nuts are perfect in this weather.” She said, her glance fixed on my bag. I didn’t miss the mischievous wink in her eye.
That day salted nuts tasted better.
And I went home a better me.
Vanaja Malathy has been enjoying writing poetry and prose mostly autobiographical in nature. She believes that writing about feelings builds trust and friendship. Women tend to have so much stronger emotions than men. Writing is an important tool for women to voice their experiences. When a woman writes down her thoughts and emotions, it allows her to identify and understand them better. She also releases them from her mind and feels refreshed. Its a coping mechanism from stress and anxiety. Above all seeing her work published gives her an immense joy and satisfaction. The author is grateful to the various literary journals that have recognized the worth of her writing and published her works.