One morning a couple of weeks ago I walked until the golf course which is about ten to fifteen minutes from my student house in Maastricht. It had been a while since my last real walk and I needed to get out of the house. I was worried that there might be golfers everywhere on the course, but since this was the most likely place I could sit down somewhere I wanted to stay in the area. I found a huge stone slab of a bench about the length of my height and the width of two of me. I sat cross-legged and length-wise on the huge seat, seeing only the golf hills in front of me. I noticed a lost golf ball next to the bench and although I heard you get money for returned golf balls, I couldn’t be bothered and decided to leave it for a random golfer. I had a trash can in my view, but it was the best perspective of the golf course.
It was empty and peaceful and I began to pray, which was pretty much talking to God in a conversational tone. This was something I did many times when I went on walks and I would sit until I was done, no matter how long it took. I said what I was grateful for and as always renewed my determination to take better care of the people I love and to do the things that I say I would, like writing. Another thing that had been on my mind was that I needed to talk more to strangers. Just communicate a bit more in general.
The wind was blowing and the sun was coming and going between the clouds. I was relaxed and nearing the end, when I heard someone say from the right,
“Hallo? De jonge boeddhist!”
I turned and saw an elderly man in white pants and a salmon-pink shirt with a bag on wheels of golf clubs I love and to do the thicoming toward me from about ten meters away. He set the golf clubs down and walked over to me. He looked to be about seventy, was slightly hunched and with very wrinkled skin. He had a face that was kind but with a set jaw line that suggested no-nonsense. You could tell he was a looker back in the day.
“De jonge boeddhist,” he said again.
I smiled nervously and said, “Spreekt u Engels?”
“Yes, I do,” he said.
“I was just sitting and…thinking. I’ll be going soon.”
“Oh no, don’t worry about me. I thought you were a young Buddhist.”
He slowly walked back to his golf clubs, put the tee in the ground and then started walking to me once again.
“Where are you from?” he said.
“So am I.”
This surprised me, because his accent wasn’t very distinct. It sounded more like one of those Transatlantic accents which sounded as if it were from a forties movie.
“Where from exactly?” he said.
This was a tough one always. My default answer to non-Americans was “New York area,” because of the associations of New Jersey to Jersey Shore and The Sopranos. Habit took over and I said vaguely,
“New York area.”
“My mother is from the Bronx.”
He wrinkled his face and tilted his head with disapproval.
“I’m also from New York. NYU. Bellevue. I’m a physician.”
“Oh wow. So what are doing here then?”
“Just playing ball.”
Not exactly the answer I was going for. I decided not to press it.
“Oh, there’s a ball here, maybe you could use it.” I pointed to the golf ball on the ground. He stooped down to pick it up and I immediately felt guilty for not doing it myself. Hadn’t I lived in an Asian country for ten years? Where were my elder-respecting manners?
“No, you take it. As a lucky charm,” and he placed the ball in my hands. I was moved and squeezed it tightly.
He walked back to the tee and the golf bag.
“Were you born in New York?” he asked while adjusting it. Although he was further away it didn’t affect the volume of his voice.
“No, actually I was born in Montana.”
“Montana. Big Sky Country. What are you studying?” he asked while setting the golf ball down.
“I just graduated about three weeks ago.”
“In the University College here.”
He didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. Maastricht is not very big, so I thought it strange.
“Just here in Maastricht. I did a liberal arts degree. I’m moving to Germany next to be with my fiancé and to…figure out what to do with my life.”
“Are you part Chinese?”
I get this a lot.
“No, my mother is Puerto-Rican and my father is Dutch.”
He wrinkled his face and said, “You know in ’63 and ’64 we had a lot of Puerto Ricans coming in with problems in their spleens.” He explained something medical I didn’t understand. “They had parasites.”
He walked to the hole, positioned himself, and hit the ball. It didn’t seem to go very far, but I don’t know much about golf.
“That was a good shot. Thanks to you,” he said nodding to me. I smiled shyly and felt again as when he gave me the lucky charm golf ball.
He put the golf club back in the bag and said, “Well, have a good day then,” and started rolling it away. He didn’t look once behind him to check back on me, although I waited for it. At one point I had the sudden, violent urge to run after him and shout, “Who ARE you??” I didn’t move though and continued to sit in lotus position on the stone slab, exactly as when he came. Why hadn’t I asked him anything? I squeezed the golf ball in my hands again and watched the man until he was over the little hill and I couldn’t see him anymore.