This is another writing off the page exercise from Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. The idea is to pick a line of poetry, and use that as a first line for a story. This is the beginning of a story I got from a complete haiku poem by Yokoi Yayu. I may or may not finish it later. As always, enjoy!
Sneezing, I lost sight of the skylark. I realized then that I’d been sitting on the park bench for the better part of twenty minutes.
I had been on my way to a meeting that my father insisted I go to. I’m an only child; after I was born (and it was confirmed I was a boy) Dad said he didn’t need any other kids. I sometimes wonder if this is how royal children felt during the days of monarchy—born and raised to a specific purpose, with no choice in the matter. Instead of running a country, I’m supposed to run my father’s company.
I’m twenty-three and graduated with a business degree at Yale—now I’m shadowing my father to learn the inner-workings of the company. He’ll be retiring soon. I was supposed to bring a certain document to the meeting, and as I cut through the park from the subway I had a moment of panic, stopped, sat on the park bench and searched my briefcase. I was so relieved to have the document that I collapsed for a second into the bench. That’s when the chirping of the skylark caught my attention.
I’d just sat there and watched it. Its minuet twitches didn’t seem nervous or convulsed like that of my father’s underpaid secretaries. The skylark only seemed inquisitive about its surroundings. Its fluttering from branch to branch wasn’t hurried or stressful; but easy, as if it hadn’t decided what it preferred.
As soon as I realized how long I’d been sitting there, I bolted up and started to jog to the meeting. I was going to be close to half-an-hour late. Despite moving at a good pace, my muscles felt lethargic—like they were too relaxed to be bothered by stress or hurry. Jogging through the park in full business attire, this thought struck me: “what the hell am I doing?”
I’d sometimes resented being born to a purpose before stopping to admire the skylark. But, whenever I addressed these concerns to my father, he always reminded me how lucky I was. Most people didn’t have a purpose in their lives. Besides, being a rich man wasn’t a bad purpose to have. As much as I hated to admit it, he had a good point. So I gradually became accustomed to what my life would be.
“What the hell am I doing?” I stopped jogging. The weather was slightly hot, but the breeze made it feel nice. The birds chirping in the trees, mixed with the distant sounds of children playing, resounded in my ears like a chorus and drowned out the noises of cell-phones and traffic. I was twenty-three, and I may as well have been born a moment ago, for all the life I’ve actually experienced.
My cell-phone rang; probably my father or his secretary calling to see where the hell I was. I turned it off. I took off my coat and tie as I strolled back to the park bench. I didn’t know whether or not I was shirking a life purpose or a meeting as I sat down. At that moment, I didn’t care. I didn’t care about the past or the future. I just wanted to be there, in the park, breathing and sweating and listening and seeing. I just wanted, even if it was only for an hour, to just be.