It couldn’t have been more whimsical if it had been Mr. Tumnus with a pan flute walking with Lucy. After the brief moment of the scene, I half-expected to look in my rearview mirror to see him skipping next to the boy.
The boy was average-looking. His tawny skin seemed to glow from the afternoon sun, and he dragged a weighted backpack with him, worn low on his back because that’s what all the boys did. He knew his father didn’t like it, but they compromised, and he wore khaki pants and button-down shirts to school every day. He was sure when he went to high school his father would relax the rules. He looked a little tired, which was to be expected after a full day of school that included forty-five minutes of full-speed kickball in the gymnasium. He was dreading the end of the walk home when he’d have to sit at the kitchen table to work out math problems while his mother chopped vegetables for dinner.
He walked an even pace with the man, but was careful to leave space enough between them so they could have been mistaken for two strangers instead of father and son. He wasn’t ashamed of his father by any means, but he was getting to the age that he recognized the strange smiles people used to look at his father.
His father, on the other hand, did not recognize those smiles. In his traditional mind, he believed people said what they meant, so, to him, smiles were smiles, and not masks for pity and snobbishness.
This afternoon was like many others to the man. He insisted on walking the few blocks from their small house to the corner to meet his son every afternoon. Often that brief walk was the best father-son conversation the two had, and the man was not going to give that up simply because his son was letting adolescent American boys tease him about his protective parents.
“It is not that I don’t trust you,” the man told the boy once. “My father always picked me up from school, and his father before him. It is valuable time that not every father can afford.”
This afternoon the man brought his flute along as he left the house. It was an impulse; he saw the instrument laying across the table and his hand reached for it in the same instant his other hand reached for the doorknob. As he walked to the corner he tuned the flute, playing stylized scales and a warm up piece he’d learned too long ago to recall the tutor’s name or hair color.
Every few steps he stopped to pull the headpiece out a little more. His son waved to him from across the street, and when they met, they embraced briefly before turning to head back the way the man came.
On the walk home, the man continued playing the flute, testing his fingers on snatches of childhood songs. As he walked, keeping the pace his son set on the uneven sidewalk. He hunched to the side as he walked, contorting his body around the flute, spooning it.
His son didn’t object, knowing his father would give reasonable explanation for why it was important for them to play and listen to music on the walk home from school. The walk wasn't long, and they would be home before his father started into the operas.
The music echoed in the trees that lined one side of the sidewalk, mixing with the calling of the birds, who seemed curious at this man who was trying to sound like them. On the other side of the duo walking, a long line of slow-moving cars carried children home, and as they were stopped periodically to allow the crossing guard shuffle knots of stimulated children across the white striped bridge painted on the street. The drivers and passangers swiveled their heads to take in the pair in the few moments they had to look, and then the father and son, lost in their world of flute music, were just a memory.