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The Encounter

It was a warm and comfortable day in late September following a couple of cooler, more autumnal days. I had taken my dog, Sambuka, for his usual daily walk. We turned the corner into the courtyard garden when I saw the stranger. I spotted him from some distance, standing motionless in his dull greenish-brown suit. The crowd around him seemed oblivious to his presence as they busily flitted about, back and forth, fully preoccupied by their own urgent activities. The stranger also seemed preoccupied by something straight ahead of him so when I came into the courtyard from the side entrance, he did not seem to notice me.

Sam was likewise preoccupied with his own interests, sniffing flowers in the garden, snorting the newly mown and dew-laden grass, and snuffling up and down the lower branches of the bushes where other dogs had left their own scents. He was completely uninterested in advancing forward into the courtyard. I had to pull on his leash a little to encourage him to move along in the direction I wanted to go. After all, this is my walk too, and he was determined at just that moment to make it difficult. This is when I regret allowing him so much time to sniff around and be a dog, but dogs need daily dog-fun things to do too. I eased Sam in the direction of the stranger. He made it clear that he wanted to go any another direction, but I finally persuaded him, and he reluctantly agreed.

As I approached the slender stranger, Sam struggled again to turn in another direction, but I convinced him to stay for a moment. The stranger was surrounded by bees. Dozens of bees! Bumblebees and honeybees. I marveled at so many bees! And the bees completely ignored the presence of the stranger and left him alone. The bees were busily gathering nectar from the tall purple asters that stood in front of me, taller than my 5’3” height. The purple asters with their gold centers made the dull greenish-brown suit of the small stranger stand out, even from the distance where I first spotted him. The bees were accompanied in their nectar-gatherings by a half-dozen butterflies, likely stragglers from the dozens of monarch butterflies that had refueled from the same flowers the previous week in one of many rest stops on their migration south. The stranger was still looking straight ahead and had not noticed me when I approached.

I shifted my position a little to my right to get a better look at the stranger’s face. It was then that he turned his head in my direction and looked straight at me. I was finally noticed! I looked deeply into his dark expressionless eyes for what seemed like an eternity. He looked back at me for that same eternity. Without moving his head, his eyes followed me as I then tried to get in a more advantageous position to see him more clearly. I reached my hand toward his face, but he was too high and too far away. Standing motionless, he continued to look at me. I did not want to risk disturbing and getting stung by the bees encircling him, so I did not stretch out or step in any closer. I spoke gently to the stranger, not expecting any answer. We continued staring at each other, neither one of us moving. The stranger seemed as curious about me and why I was there as I was about him.

About this time, Sam indicated that he was getting especially tired of this boring inactivity and made it clear that it was time for us to move on. I told Sam this was an essential stop during his walk, then I turned toward the tall asters and whispered, “don’t be such a stranger, it’s been too many years since we last met.” The praying mantis atop the purple asters continued to watch us silently as we left.

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