At an entrance to the park there are two stone gateposts four-sided, bevelled at the top, Egyptian-looking. I’d walked past before, never really noticing them, but today they’d piqued my curiosity; such an exotic gateway to a place where people take their children to feed the ducks or young lovers laze on the grass in the summer. I ventured in wondering why I had never stepped over the threshold before. Just because it was located on the other side of the town from where I lived wasn’t a good enough reason.
The park was well laid out with specimen trees of Japanese maple and cherries that would have looked beautiful in their autumn colours. Birches glowed in the half-light of a dull February day and I couldn’t resist the satin feel of them, running my fingers around their trunks and peeling translucent bark off in tiny strips.
Something caught my eye through the trees, possibly a statue but I wasn’t sure. I wandered deeper into the park, catching glimpses here and there. The path completed it’s circuitous route through the trees and the park opened up to reveal a rectangular pond, filled with glassy water reflecting the grey sky, with Cleopatra’s Needle at one end and a sphinx guarding the other. I approached the stone figure and stared into it’s inscrutable, androgynous face. I ran my hand down it’s flank, enjoying the feel of cold, rough limestone under my fingers, finishing up at the tip of the lion’s tail which flicked. “Who dares touch me?” a voice demanded. The tail flicked again in irritation and I made my way back to the sphinx’s head with some trepidation. “Well?”, the stone eyes blinked at me as I looked at my feet and mumbled an apology. “Not good enough. If you can answer my fiendish riddle I’ll let you go.” “What happens if I can’t answer it,” I asked nervously. “Then I’ll have to eat you,” the sphinx replied. “What is greater than God, more evil than the devil, the poor have it, the rich need it, and if you eat it, you’ll die?” My mind became blank, a dark, swirling void containing nothing of any use. I’d always hated riddles and couldn’t think of a response that would save my life. I could feel sweat inching down my back as the seconds ticked by. “I’ll have to hurry you,” said the sphinx, sounding like a quiz show host. “Nothing. I know nothing so you’ll have to eat me,” I said with a resigned sigh.
The sphinx emitted a cry of intense frustration and rage. “Who told you?” it screamed. “I don’t know the answer so just get it over with,” I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable. “Nothing IS the answer so leave this place and never return.” I opened my eyes gingerly and the sphinx was once again inanimate. I didn’t need to be told twice so ran as fast as my legs would carry me.