There and there again

He was there again, that old man. Sat on a bench wearied and blackened by rain. He was as much a fixture as the bench itself, always present. Hands nestled atop his walking stick, bright eyes peering out from beneath his yellow bobble hat. His fingers twitched every now and then as though remembering things they used to make and do, acting out the wine glasses they held, instructions they pointed. While his hands gently fluttered, his legs were trunks firmly planted into the ground, brown cords almost touching the sodden tarmac, some worn threads trailing down like tentacles into a muddy puddle. He was watching the children in the playground. I wondered where he had played, when he was young (if he ever had been), moving his face into old sepia photos I’d seen to see if any of them fit.


The next time I saw him, he was stood right in the centre of the park, on the grass, on an overcast March day. Leaning on his stick, he seemed rooted to the spot, again wearing his yellow bobble hat. The open park looked vast around him, daunting. He stood out like an oddly placed flower that a child had ripped from its stem and stuck into the mud, believing it would grow, not knowing it would perish. As I walked, glancing sideways, a young woman approached him. She seemed to be enquiring if he was alright – and he did look odd, stood there; I didn’t blame her. He grimaced a smile and waved her away with that fluttering hand, before leaning heavily forward and stepping on, at an unreal slow pace, one leg rolling round the other. Is that how he moves, I wondered, do people move like that?


Why had he chosen that hat, I pondered. Drab old age isn’t bright yellow. Had his wife knitted it for him, and died? A charity donation, perhaps? Could he not see its colour? Was he an eccentric of some sort? And anyway, why is he here all the time?


He would often materialise on a bench beneath the boughs of a sombre yew tree. One time I saw him there talking to a middle-aged lady, maybe one of the cloud of mothers who floated smilingly, desperately around the play area. Her head drooped over her vast chest, she was mumbling a story with vague gestures, whilst the old man nodded slowly, staring ahead, not looking at her and yet focusing his full attention on her. At the park gates I turned to see her getting up, touching his shoulder gently as she stood and left. The old man’s head dropped as hers had, taking on the weight of her story. I had the distinct impression of the walnut shells my grandfather would crush at Christmas, wrinkled and dry, straining under the force of the nutcracker and suddenly bursting forth with wooden shrapnel and oily brain-shaped fruit.


I did see him smile, once. A father with a young boy had stopped to talk to him at the yew bench. The old man’s eyes sparked as he remembered something, and he reached into a coat pocket with an alarming slowness, pupils darting as he fished around. He pulled out a lollipop with a blue wrapper and held it out to the boy. He looked questioningly at his father, who nodded, and the boy took it excitedly, waving the blue treasure in the air. The grin broke out under the yellow bobble hat, creasing the entire face into a pile of folded flesh-coloured linen. I thought I heard the father laugh.


After that, I didn’t see him again. One winter morning, two men in startling fluorescent jackets were chopping up a fallen tree trunk and feeding the pieces into a grinder. It sprayed the woodchip into the air like fireworks, exploding the sharp, comforting aroma of fresh wood, creating a pile of soft bedding. Ready for springtime, the fragments would be spread over the flowerbeds, bouncy and new, where bright daffodils would soon burst from the ground and wave their yellow heads in the sun.

Written by Emma611.

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