The hunchback has big shoulders and arms, and he stands about 5 and ½ feet tall now. His graywhite hair is long, his face open, and he smiles when he greets me. He is my age, maybe a year or two younger. He walks with a slight list to the left, the same side where the bone rises on his back.
We share gym talk – how good it feels to finish, tips on new routines, the importance of balance, the importance of the heart and lungs and how best to make them work. Gulping air after completing a set of repetitions, I’ve watched him do bench presses. He lifts some heavy iron – 150 pounds to do reps of 8 or 10 in 3 sets.
My friends and family are facing the hardships that begin to come with age — the slow wasting of energy, chronic illness, disease, life-long regrets and disappointments, the loss of those they love; for some, the breaking of the mind, the forfeiture of memory. Not a one of them complains. Not one. Some are furious; if it would not be embarrassing, I think they would shake their fists at the sky. In private, maybe they do. But they scuffle on, solving problems, adapting, getting up each morning, acknowledging the aches and worries, aware of the damage, beginning the day, making plans.
I like to see K at the gym. He is a gracious companion. I sometimes think his steady good mood could allow him to defy gravity, and that I might turn and see him floating above one of the weight benches as if a wonderful painting by Chagall, released from the hurt of his crooked back, but only smiling in the same way as I have seen him do so often as he hustles from one exercise to the next.
Hunchback 1 by Ilya Repin, 1881