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  • Early morning on a late winter day, I stopped in the park to write some ideas that had come in the first few blocks of the walk.

    I sat on a bench by the pond and scribbled.

    Late winter in South Africa is the last orange blaze of the late aloes and the birds of paradise flowers. It is green where the ground is watered and dusty, dusty red everywhere else. It is clear and smoky blue skies until the rains come. Maybe in September. Sometimes in October. Some years not until November. It is not a hard season to live with.

    The little park at the end of our street is happening place. It is a favourite place for wedding pictures. High School graduates gather here in their formal wear before they go to the Matric Ball. Families set up elaborate picnics and birthday parties. Domestic workers and gardeners sleep in the sun or the shade depending on the season or gather round to share a newspaper and a bottle. College students twine together on blankets.

    Today a group of young men talked under a tree. I didn’t pay much attention to them until they packed up their folding chairs and started to walk out. A little behind the rest of the group was a gorilla.

    I turned to watch. The group headed for their cars. The gorilla headed for me.

    He walked up to my bench and politely asked if he could join me.

    I said sure.

    Are you married, he asked.

    I told him I was.

    For how long are you married?

    My daughter is 27 so add a couple of years that makes 29. 29 years, I said.

    Ahh, he said. You see, I’m getting married in a couple of weeks, he explained. I’m here with my mates and part of the program is that I have to ask people for advice.

    I wasn’t sure if this was a branch of some new church or just a bachelor party with a twist.

    I watched his blue eyes through the slits in his mask. (You have figured out that this is a man in a gorilla suit by now haven’t you?)

    I explained Claire and I lived the first five years on a remote island. Some years we were the only ones there for months at a time. No power. No phone. No ferry. Just us.

    He nodded.

    So you want advice, I asked.

    He nodded again.

    So we talked, the gorilla and I there on the bench in the late winter sun. Me in shorts and sandals and him in gorilla black, complete with the furry gloves and feet.

    I told him to balance what is yours and yours together. I told him that what you don’t talk about is what comes back to haunt you. I told him that for each two people it is different and to seek what works for them. I told him to take the sideways steps life offers because they bring new horizons and they have been good to me even though you won’t know where they may lead when you take them.

    We shook hands, the gorilla and I. He thanked me for the talk and time and I told him he had given me a story.

    So Andrew is getting married at a picnic in the park in two weeks time. He hopes it will be another fine late winter day. I said I would think of him.

    I imagine there will be tables and white table cloths and a glittering tower of crystal glasses. I think they will hang balloons and streamers from the birds of paradise and all the flowers will shine bright in the sun. A picnic in the park is a fine way to begin. I think he is starting out on the right foot and if he can wear other suits with the same ease as he wore that gorilla suit, he’ll do just fine.
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