Could Have Left

On my second day in Split, Croatia, I went to the park that both my guidebook and the Air BnB host recommended.

A trail running along the paved road at the North side of the park was just a few yards into the pine trees, only a little relief from the heat of the day or the late Saturday morning street traffic. Still, I was the only person on the trail at first.

Then I saw an older man sitting on the steps carved into the trail ahead of me. The trail was narrow and surrounded by shrubs, and the man not a giant, but big enough to block most of the trail. He was sitting with the back towards me. I started whistling softly as I sometimes do when I am about to pass people on narrow paths so as not to startle them and maybe they’d give me space to pass.

Michael (that’s how he introduced himself later) kinda stirred and growled as I approached but didn’t offer me any of the trail. I wandered into the shrubs and said hello cheerfully as I passed. Michael grumbled something in Croatian. He sounded gruff and annoyed. I was past him already, but turned around and said, in English, “Sorry I don’t understand.” “Oh, you don’t understand!” Michael grumbled back at me. “No,” I said, and moved on. A kinda big and gruff sounding man with no other people on the trail… Not a good scenario.

I walked a few more steps, just out of his sight. Then thought “wait a second… what if…” something along those lines, turned around, walked back, and asked “Are you okay?” Not sure what Michael responded, but it could have meant “not okay”. I moved closer: “Can I help you?”. “My both legs are kaput. Only arms!” He said. His legs, arms, and even face were scratched. “How can I help you?” I asked again. He signaled that he wanted to stand up. He was taller and bigger than me, but I knew I could support a lot of his weight if he stood on the ground and I braced myself.

I helped him up, and then, with him holding onto my shoulder and onto a big branch stick, we started slowly making our way to the next exit off the trail onto the street. Which was quite close, turned out, maybe 2 minutes of slow walking. He asked me if I had a phone, perhaps could call an ambulance. We already could see the street and I said, we’d better find somebody local to do that.

On the street, Michael sat on the steps leading to the trail. I spotted a man with a small boy in tow looking like locals going to hang out on a beach in the park. “Can you help us please?” I asked him. He walked up, had a chat with Michael, then got on the phone. “You can go now,” Michael told me. I waited until the other man was done with the phone call. “They’ll be here in a few minutes,” he told Michael in Croatian, then to me in English. “You can go now,” Michael repeated. We exchanged names, good byes, and such. I went on.

It was so easy. And to think I could have just stayed scared. Could have left him there on the empty trail on a hot day so close to the road.

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