Clutching my passport, I hobble out of the taxi and heave a large black duffle onto my back. I used to carry it like a feather, back when my shoulders were broad, back in ‘56 when the Cortina d'Ampezzo Olympics was still the dream. Back when everyone in a stadium would cheer my name. Best feeling in the world. A bigger high than any of that crap kids smoke nowadays can give you --- not that I would know. Now the duffle crushes me like a shoe to an ant.
All around me, people whiz by with their luggage; most are talking or texting on those damn phones. A man next to me is yelling into an earpiece, screaming something about an investment. His crisp, tailored suit reminds me of the one that now hangs in the back of my closet. He’s a tiger in attack-mode, and people make way for him as he prowls. Wouldn’t want to anger the top of the food chain, you know? I feel a tug in my stomach, a tug towards the man in the suit. When did I stop being the tiger? When did I become the mouse? I catch my reflection in a window, but I don’t recognize the man staring back at me. I see the canyons engraved across his forehead, the inkblots scattered across his arms and legs, and I wonder where he hid the Olympic skier.
The force of the crowds breaks me from my reflection and shoves me into the crosswalk. The traffic light begins counting down so I bite my lip and hurry for the other side, but someone knocks into my duffle and sends me flying. I meet the ground with the force of an explosion and a sickening crack from inside of my bag. I try to move. Nothing. Like a mallet has pounded out my guts, I breath in but no air comes. My eyes open in time to see a red zero flash across the traffic light. Before I know it, the attack begins. Horns are honking, drivers are yelling, pointing, shooing me off the road. My eyes beg to see a hand reaching out to help, but they’re let down. Scraping up the remnants of my strength, I pull myself to standing. Each step is a mile, each step is a dagger to my hip. But the honking doesn’t stop, not for my gray hair. Maybe traffic would stop if I was 60 years younger and still wearing the six intertwined rings on my warm up jacket, ready to represent my nation. But that era is long gone, this time I’ll be merely a blip in the stands. So the honking doesn’t stop, not for me. Not for this sack of bones.
I make it just outside of the airport entrance and collapse onto a bench, still clutching my black bag. It’s ripped and tattered; the zipper is torn. My heart drips down to my shoes as I open the bag, pulling out the remains of two faded red skis. They used to be the creme de la creme, these skis. Aluminum fury down the slopes. Now a crack splits down the length of one, the other is shattered to pieces. The shards spill out onto the ground, useless. A droplet runs from my eye and splashes onto the ski, revealing a deep red from under a layer of dust. As I breath, I notice that the trees on either side of the bench are each marked with a spray painted ‘x’ --- they’re set to be chopped. Two sickly old willows, trunks as twisted as my wrinkled skin and branches as thinned as the hair on my head. A second tear spills from my eye, this time for the trees. They may be wilted, but they still send oxygen out into the world, do they not? These wilted willows are just as much trees as the mightiest oaks out there. I gather up a few pieces of the skis and carefully lay them down in the mulch beneath the willows. Standing up, I try to edge my way back into the surge of the crowd. Maybe someone will let me in. But no one stops, not for my gray hair. Not for this sack of bones.