“You’re late, Tink,” exclaimed Ram as Tink settled herself onto the bench. He feigned petulance.
“Yeah, sorry. Had a call from the hospital just as I was leaving the house.”
“Nothing serious, I hope,” offered Ram, now hoping that his greeting hadn’t sounded too harsh.
“Nah. Just the morning shift couldn’t find something that should have been left for them from my shift. Turns out it was a patient chart they couldn’t find because it was exactly where it was supposed to be,” she scoffed and grinned at the same time.
The day had started out rainy, wetting the bench that Tink and Ram always occupied. Ram had graciously wiped down the seat when he arrived so that neither of them would leave with wet bottoms. Humidity was still high as the temperature rose and the remnants of the morning mist still hung pendulously in the treetops, lending an air of overbearing to the day.
“Well, I see that even in your rush you didn’t forget to bring one of Walt’s canes.”
“Not likely,” she brightened. “I always put one by the front door the evening before to be sure I don’t forget it.”
She handed over a bamboo cane to Ram. It wasn’t just a piece of hollow bamboo; it was hand-carved from laminated bamboo and was solid for its entire length, polished to a high sheen and displaying the typical yellow hue of bamboo. Its top sported a brass cobra head, turned to form a handhold, and the lower tip was wrapped in similar brass.
“Thanks, Tink. I’ve made a cabinet at the house where I keep them displayed. I’ll bring a picture of it to show you in the next few days.”
“Please do,” she replied as Ram ran his hand up and down the length of the cane, feeling its smoothness, stroking the cobra’s hood.
“So, how did you and Walt meet, and how long ago?” inquired Tink, breaking the silence that had sprung up between them.
“Oh, Walt and I have been friends for over thirty years. We’ve only been meeting here for the last couple of years.”
Ram paused for a moment, reflecting on the circumstances of his first contact with his old friend.
“I was downtown one day and had finished the errand I had to be there for so I headed over to a small restaurant where I could get a cup of coffee. The place had some outside seating and it was a pleasant day so I thought I’d take a table along the walk instead of going in.
“Unfortunately, the place was pretty crowded, and all the tables were taken. Walt was sitting by himself at one, having coffee and reading the daily paper. I really wanted to sit down and really didn’t want to go inside so I approached him and asked if I could share his table. I remember he lowered his paper just a little bit and looked over the top of it to see who was asking. It was sort of like those old black-and-white spy movies where the bad guy is keeping an eye out for someone and doesn’t want anyone to see his face.”
Tink chuckled at the image.
“I kinda thought he was going to turn me down, but he motioned with the paper and kept on reading as I took the offered chair.
“After a while, and after the waitress had brought me coffee, he put the paper aside, took a sip of his and just sat there for a time. I thought he might just ignore me completely, but he finally struck up a conversation and we pretty quickly realized that we were nearly the same age and even had a good many similar interests.
“That was back before he started collecting canes even. I guess he didn’t get into that until he had that hip replacement. He had to use one while he healed from that operation and then I think it just became an affectation. I kidded him a lot about it.
“I remember one day; it was back before we started coming here to meet. Actually, it was at the same restaurant where we first met. We were sitting outside as usual – except in winter of course. There was some loudmouth sitting nearby who was proclaiming that the Holocaust never happened. He went on and on about it, spouting all kinds of nonsense to support his claim.
“Walt, being Jewish, finally reached a point where he couldn’t take any more. I didn’t even realize what he was doing at the time, but he got up from our table, walked over to the table where the lout was mouthing off and whacked the guy on his upper arm with his cane.
“The guy let out a yelp,” Ram recalled with a chuckle, “looked up at Walt and asked him what the hell he did that for.”
“I heard Walt answer the guy. ‘What?’ he said. It’s like the Holocaust. It never happened!’
“I thought the guy might get up and try to retaliate, but he just rubbed his arm and muttered something under his breath. It was obvious he was just a gutless blowhard.
“I always had a deep respect for Walt after that.”
“That’s funny,” mused Tink. “We could use some more of that today, I think.”
“Yeah, prob’ly so. But today, the guy would likely pull out a gun and shoot you on the spot.”
“Maybe,” she responded. “Well, listen, I’ve got some errands to run today so I guess I’d better get going. What’s on your agenda for the rest of the day?”
“Oh, reading and painting, I guess. Not much different from most days, except when I get to see the grandkids.”
“Painting, huh? Art or rooms?” Tink asked whimsically.
“Art. Or at least painting on canvas. Don’t know that anyone would really refer to it as ‘art.’ I leave the painting of rooms to the professionals. Not because I can’t do it. Just don’t want to.”
“Maybe next time, you can show me some of your work,” she said, rising from the bench.
“I will eventually,” he replied. “But maybe next time you can tell me some things about yourself.”
“It would bore you to tears.”
“I doubt it. See you tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow,” she answered. “And one more cane.”