Bright sunshine and promise of warm spring breezes lured office workers from their dim workstations to the square for lunch. Picking up to-go hamburgers and carrying homemade tuna salad in sacks, the benches
lining the perimeter were filled by half past eleven. Except for one bench. The one where the box lay.
A man in a gray business
suit with coffee in one hand and an open day-timer in the other, hurried through the square, studying his afternoon appointments,
looking for an empty bench in his peripheral vision. He spied one and hurried
over, paying little attention to his surroundings. His backside expected slats
with rounded edges but met instead the ninety-degree angle of something that moved slightly when his weight came down upon
it. Standing up quickly, the man turned around to investigate. He noted that
the box was wrapped in brown paper, secured with white string. Someone had surely
left it and would return any minute. When a woman stood up from her seat two
benches over, he advanced on the vacant spot.
The woman who emptied her bench place for the man with the day-timer lingered in the square soaking up her last few
minutes in the sun hoping to put color in her winterized face. Noticing the box
occupying the middle of the nearby bench, curiosity drove her to take a closer look.
It had no label and was the size of a shoebox. Glancing at her watch, she started toward the revolving doors of her
building, ending her first lunch hour outdoors since last fall.
A woman and a little girl
emerged from an office building through its revolving doors and looked around for a place to sit. “Daddy will be here in a minute to take us to lunch, Katie.”
The child dashed toward the bench and pushed the box aside making room for the two of them on the bench. The mother hesitated to sit when she saw the box but she and Katie had been shopping all morning and her
feet were tired. Katie sat in the middle of the bench with her mother on one
side and the box on the other. “Why do you think this box is here, Mommy?”
The mother shrugged her
shoulders in an “I don’t know” gesture and quickly surveyed the square.
“Perhaps someone forgot it. Do you see any writing on it?”
announced. “I’ll shake it Mommy, like my Christmas presents.”
her mother shouted instinctively, grabbed her arm and pulled her away from the box.
“Don’t touch it!”
“But I already did
when I moved it over. It’s not heavy.” Katie’s round innocent eyes puzzled over her mother’s fear.
But the box was quickly forgotten when she leapt from the bench to her approaching father’s arms. The mother,
jumped up too and putting her back to the box, smiled broadly at her husband and asked, “Where shall we eat, honey?”
Opposite the bench with the box on it, from the other side of the square, beyond the fountain, in the shade of budding
oak trees, an old man observed the four who came and went. Anxious every time
someone approached the bench, he decided it was time to end this.
Supported by his worn but sturdy wooden cane, the old man stepped gingerly into the sun startling the pigeons that
feasted on crumbs from discarded lunches. “Steady as she goes,” he
thought while concentrating on his journey to the box.
A few yards from the bench, the old man slowed then stopped. Unsure if
his labored breathing was due to his hasty walk or an anxiousness to be done with his game, he pulled a blue handkerchief
from his pocket and wiped his brow. Starting off again, he was surprised to see
a woman sitting on the bench, an empty space in between her and the box. Her
hair was white silver and curled gently around her face. A sandwich lay in the
lavender folds of her dress. She ate while the fountain’s waters cascaded over its marble bowls gurgling into the pool
below. A hint of a smile played upon her lips when she saw the old man looking
at her. She motioned for him to sit with her and the old man took the last few
steps to the bench.
Placing the crook of the cane on his arm, he removed his hat and tipped it to the woman. “Thank you, miss. I appreciate you letting me share
She chuckled. “Oh, it’s not my bench. It’s the box’s bench.”
“What do you mean? The box’s bench?” His face was solemn and he could see she was not joking. The
old man watched her intently, noting her fine profile as she replied.
“You see, I was sitting on the other side of the square under a tree. But
I really wanted to sit in the sun. Though many stopped here today and wanted
to sit, the box would not let them. I couldn’t see why a box should have such a good seat and leave me looking at the
sunshine instead of being in it, so I came to sit and keep the box company.” She
took another bite of her sandwich and he could see that it was ham on rye with mustard, one of his favorites.
Smiling, the old man liked her pluck. “What do you think is in the
Shrugging, she offered him half of her sandwich, which he gratefully accepted.
“I don’t know and I’m not sure I care.”
“So it wasn’t curiosity that brought you to this bench, it was merely wanting to be in the sun.”
“Absolutely. I figure the box was left here accidentally and the
owner will come back. Or some Good Samaritan will take it into one of the buildings
here on the square and put it in lost and found.” Finished with her sandwich,
she balled up the wrapper, opened the cellophane on a brownie and gave half to the old man.
“You are very kind, Miss. May I introduce myself? I am the owner of the box.”
“You are? When did you realize you’d left it?” Her blue
eyes were the exact color of today’s sky and she pushed back a soft stray lock blown by the warm gentle breeze.
“I think,” he began, “I left it for you.” His
head tilted slightly to one side as if he’d just realized why he’d left the box, as if, he’d known all along
that something wonderful would happen but not sure when or how.
A sly smiled curled the
corners of her lips and her eyes twinkled mischievously. “For me,”
she stated matter of factly. “Then I have two questions and I must insist on the truth.”
The old man shifted nervously in his seat and nodded. “I will tell
you the truth but only if you tell me your name.”
“My name is Mary. First question.
Why did you leave the box here?” She turned toward him and put her
left elbow on the back of the bench as if to say she had all the time in the world to hear what he had to say. She had a good view of the old man’s face now. A fine
blocked hat was perched atop longish gray hair, the brim settled just above bushy white eyebrows. An aristocratic nose sat between slightly whiskered cheeks and above a set of full lips that turned up
easily into a smile. Brown eyes flecked with bits of gold darted from her face
to the sky and back again as if he were trying to figure out what to say.
“Mary, I left the box here so you would come.”
She nodded. “And there’s nothing in the box, is there?”
He laughed heartily and slapped his knee in sheer delight. “I see
you are not only beautiful but smart as well, Miss Mary.” Her response
was a giggle and her hand momentarily placed on his arm as they laughed together.
The old man took the box from beside him and gave it to Mary. “You
see, I was anxious to wear the new shoes I bought at Smith’s across the square.
I put my old shoes in the box but forgot it and left it on the bench. When
I returned the next day the box was still there on the empty bench. I’m
not entirely sure why, but for the last four days at lunchtime, I put the box on the bench and then waited. Waited for what I don’t know, but I observed many consider the box and move on. Every day I removed the box and went back to work.”
“And then I sat down and stayed put, unlike the rest.” Mary
announced as if she knew the end of his story.
“Well, not exactly. Today, I was on my way to retrieve the box because I was tired of the game. A mother and her little girl sat beside the box and when the little girl went to pick it up, her mother
was afraid. It was then I thought that if people were afraid, something terrible
might happen. And just as I was taking the box away for the last time, there
you were, sitting where I thought no one else would ever sit, at least until I removed the box.”
“The sun is a powerful motivator when you’ve been cooped up inside an office for the entire winter. I haven’t been on the square for lunch in months and I wasn’t about to
let some silly old box keep me from enjoying it!”
“This silly old box, with a pair of smelly old shoes saved you a place in the sun on this very day when I was
just about to end my silly game.” The old man stood, his can steadying
him on his feet. Then with hat in hand he made a stilted yet sweeping bow to the woman sitting on the bench with the box. She clapped her hands and made a mock curtsy with her skirt.
“One last question, please,” said Mary. “What’s
“Henry. At your service, Miss Mary.”
“Well, Henry, I must leave you now and go back to work. Maybe I’ll
see you again?”
“I certainly hope so. Since it is spring now, I will watch for you
to come and sit in the sun at lunchtime.”
Mary gathered the remnants of her lunch and swished her skirts, clearing crumbs left in her lap. As she headed toward the revolving door of the building she turned and waved goodbye.
Henry, smiling like he’d just been given a million dollars, gripped his cane and began the walk to his office
building on the far side of the square, past the fountain and the budding oak trees.
On the third floor, Mary hurried to the window and scanned the square for Henry.
He was walking away from the bench where they had met and his jaunty step made her smile. And in the square was the box on the empty bench, forgotten once again.
The same box on the same bench that she’d seen from her window every day at lunchtime since Henry had put on
his new shoes.