The Many Goodbyes


“Do widzenia!”

The old man in the park called out with a smile on his face.  The teens-Cathy and Jane-turned and waved, and they answered his goodbye together with “Do svidanja!” The girls continued walking out of the park, scuffling the mounds of fallen leaves on their way.

“Good…good. Next time I will teach you more!” he shouted to their retreating backs.

It had been a nice day already. He had been feeding the birds, talking to them: sometimes in Russian, sometimes in German or any other number of languages he knew. Sometimes-just sometimes- the languages mixed around when he spoke out loud. It had been a long time since he had cared about those things.

The girls had been sitting near him, chatting for a long time. During one of their pauses, the dark haired one-Jane?- heard him, and the two listened for awhile as he spoke to the pigeons and sparrows who had not left the area yet . It was when he had finished singing a small song to the birds that they came over.

They were curious about the song, which he explained was a song he sang to his son when he was a very little boy. They asked for him to sing it again, and he did, instructing them to sing “Klip Klop!” when he paused and pointed to them. The girls were all smiles and joined in with nice harmonies at times, and this made them all grin. When they finished, there was some applause from passersby  who had caught the impromptu choral arrangement. Cathy blushed and put her hand over her mouth, Jane threw her arms up in the air,  and the old man nodded his head and gestured a triple theatrical bow of  his hand.

For the next twenty minutes they were a trio. He knew songs and poetry from many different countries, “from a time long ago, where I shared too many years forced in with too many others” was all he would say about it. When the girls heard certain words or phrases they liked, they tried them out, and he helped them until they got it right.

They tried to learn the “Klip Klop” song, but…he said he would write it out for them, if they liked. They both nodded with enthusiasm.

“I’m here most days at this time, just not in the rain, and not for much longer,” he said. “It’s going to get too cold to sit out here for very long.”

Cathy said: “We can come this way every day after school. It was just too nice to just walk right home today.”

Jane agreed.

Getting up, Jane said: “Arrivederci.”

Cathy added: “Aloha!”

“Ah…future linguists,” he beamed at them, and then followed a stream of ways to say “Good Bye” in the many different ways of the world. They sat down again, and more time passed.

When they mispronounced something, he guided them to to the correct pronunciation. They heard many Slavic, European and Germanic terms, some easier than others to pronounce, and learned some. They rehearsed, laughed at their mistakes, practiced together, and finally they said they had to get home. It was getting late, and the sun went down early.

“Oh…we never asked your name,” said Jane.”That was rude of us.”

“Gustaw,” he answered, and shook both of their hands.

Cathy whispered in Jane’s ear. They both said: “Viszontlátásra, Gustav.”

He put both hand over his heart, closed his eyes, smiled and opened his eyes. The girls were off.

They had been gone for awhile when Gustaw made the attempt to get up from the bench, picking up the bag he had been feeding the birds from earlier. He had been sitting too long, and was stiff. His normal old man getting up sounds at his pains were accentuated. A few steps, faltering, and he had to sit down again. It was swift, and sent the few birds around him flying.

“Oy vey,” he said, his hand went to his chest. “No.”

Gustaw dropped the bag he was holding, the dried bread scattering around his feet. First one bird, then many, flocked down to feed. There was no movement to shoo them off, to startle them. The area was just about picked clean when a toddler came running through them, sending them aloft.

They winged their farewells over Gustaw.

32 responses »

  1. What a touching story. One that stays with you, and reminds you that you never know which goodbye will be your last, so we should say each one with love and joy. Thanks for this lovely story.


  2. Oh no… No, no, Stuart! He can’t die now! He just made new friends, his life was going to have something to look forward to, two young minds to influence, to educate, to polish to a shine. This is not fair!

    But it touched me. Deeply. Thank you for 1) writing it, and 2) sharing it. 🙂


  3. Alas, on this side of the sod, it is always necessary to say goodbye to something or other: a moment; a season; a career; a lifetime. We are always taking a bow and moving off stage.
    I look forward to the day when I will never say goodbye ever again.


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