The scrap of paper blew in the wind that stirred the park’s trees. It danced over the path, got hung up for a moment on a bush, then made a pirouette and landed on the playground. A dog sniffed at it but turned away. A child stepped on it on his way to the swings. Finally, the scrap blew against the jeans-clad leg of a young mother. She glanced down, noticed writing and picked it up. The scrawl was shaky, but she read, “If you find this, help me! I’m a prisoner.”
Well, what’s this about? she wondered, looking around the playground for something out of the ordinary. The kids were swinging, sliding, running and yelling as usual, supervised by parents and baby-sitters. She gazed around for an authority figure on whom she could off-load this unwelcome intrusion into her day. A grandmotherly figure on one of the benches looked likely. She crossed to her.
“Good morning,” she began. “Would you mind looking at this?” She held it out.
The older lady read silently, her lips moving, then looked up. “You are need help?” she said.
“No, no, not me, I just found it.”
“If you are need help, must go to policia. I no speak good, you go to policia.”
Shrugging, the young mother stepped to the nearest trash can and let the scrap flutter into it.
Chet swung the big municipal garbage truck into the park, and Ben jumped off to grab the trash can and affix it to the arm that hoisted it up into the truck’s maw. A gusty wind abetted the escape of a scrap of paper before the crusher could get it, tossing it back at Ben’s feet. With a sign as gusty as the wind, Ben bent to retrieve the wayward garbage.
“If you find this, help me! I’m a prisoner,” he read. His head swiveled as he scanned the park, empty at this early hour.
“Hey, Chet,” he called. “Look at this, will ya?”
“Get on the dang truck, we ain’t got all day,” Chet responded.
“Look, just get on the truck. Plenty of guys’ll take your job if you don’t want it.”
“Okay, okay,” Ben opened his hand, letting the paper catch the breeze.
A very old man made his way down the path, leaning heavily on his cane. His eyes were bright as they surveyed the park’s other occupants. He usually saw the same people every day. The school kids were sequestered in their classrooms, so the playground belonged to the little ones. Their hats and coats splashed color into the gray day.
The old man spoke to everyone. This was his daily social event and he was here in any weather. A white scrap impaled on a branch caught his eye. Balancing carefully, he reached up and plucked it.
“If you find this, help me! I’m a prisoner.” He read.
Ah. His snowy head nodded. He tucked the scrap in his pocket. Arriving at his house, he unlocked the door, including both deadbolts, then locked them again from the inside.
“I’m home, dear,” he called.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?” his tiny wife quavered, holding up her arms in defense.
“It’s me, dear. Now don’t get upset. It’s just me.”
He watched the fear in her eyes change to dull acceptance.
“I’ll make us a nice pot of tea,” he said.
He reached into his pocket and sent the note on its last journey into the wastebasket with the others.