Every day he comes. The routine never varies. Ten o’clock sharp, he’s in the
park, sitting on a bench watching the world pass by. He’s old, maybe 70,
maybe 80, maybe anything. Most people don’t notice him, as he blends, just
part of the scenery. He might have been there for years, seen people grow,
from infancy to senility. Who knows?
He has a very distinctive step, a hunched shuffle, and is always looking
furtively over his shoulder. Looking for something, anything. A private ghost
from the past? A personal fear? His bench is under the majestic old oak, its
strong protective canopy a sharp contrast to his rounded shoulders, defeated
by age. It’s hard to tell which is more gnarled, man or tree.
I wonder about his past. From where did he get his shuffle? Have there
been romances, tragedies or wars in his life? There must be a reason why
he makes this long pilgrimage everyday, rain or shine.
Sunlight filters through the branches. A patchwork of shadows play on the
grass. In the pool, children shriek, while their flustered mothers watch and try
to catch a fleeting moment of peace. Lovers stroll in their own world,
oblivious to the rest of the park’s inhabitants. Men play chess on benches,
and executives hurry across the park, blazers flapping, briefcases in one
hand, takeaway coffee containers in the other. Their cell phones squawk
continually, and when their paths cross, they briefly gift each other with a
respectful nod, one successful businessman to another.
But he is constant. Watching, waiting. Is he watching for some old friend
who happens by? What is he waiting for, an absolution?
It’s 5 o’clock. I know he’ll leave now. In accordance with his schedule, he
checks his watch and shrugs into his camel coloured coat. A frail hand
grasps his ever-present grey bag, and old knees grudgingly allow him to
stand. He shuffles away from his bench, and over towards mine!
I’m confused at this new development, and stand as he draws near. For the
first time, I see him properly. His nondescript grey pants, his woollen jersey,
his scuffed shoes. Neatly parted grey hair.
"Hello," he begins in a breathy voice. He smiles, and the wrinkles etched into
his face by years of exposure to the sun become more prominent. "I’ve seen
you around," he continues, "You’ve been coming every day for years? May I
I nod my respectful assent, one watcher and waiter to another.
Seated together on our park bench, a chess board from the grey bag
between us, the man and I play, and share our life stories.
Delta edition, different from the published one in case anyone accuses me of plagiarism *grins*