"The Gardener" by Stefan Harich
There’s a strange boy in town. He wears his cap all wrong and doesn’t seem to realize that jeans showing off ankle are not long, but in fact too short. Every time he comes through Hillary Gardens, I see him panting with the strain of walking up the hill. He isn’t bigger than your usual Scottish teenager but that rise always gives him the shakes.
Today – I am just brooding over dead weeds and lost friendships, feeling deserted - I notice him coming to a heaving halt half way up the climb. He is coughing and retching and looks right miserable.
Against the lethargy, I decide to step from the safety of the flower beds and approach him.
He has his hands on his knees and is sweating worse than a bomb defuser deliberating wires. He stops me with a look. “Don’t bother”, he manages between coughs, “there’s no helping.”
I cock my head. “Sure there is.” I take his side and offer my arm. He considers me and after a pause, he places his hand on the glove covering mine. I notice neatly trimmed nails at the tip of filigree fingers. “Hold on now," I tell him.
We start up the rise, his arm’s weight feeling minimal on mine. With every laboring step however, his grip tightens and he inches closer until, three quarters of the way up, he is clinging to me with all his might. Tears are streaking his cheeks and the coughing is relieved by sobs.
He feels on my arm not like a stranger at all now. And as we crest the hill, the desolation in his heart is mine and mine is his, and it begins to heal.