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The Old Man

The old man sitting on the green bench in the park smiled as the little boy rolled down the grassy slope, shrieking and yelling. Grass-rolling was one of the boy's favourite Sunday afternoon activities when his mother took him out. Grass was so rough and smooth and tickled and smelled so new. It was a dizzying mix-up of green, sky and people.


The young boy raced around the slopes, arms out sideways and wailing like a jet fighter. He zoomed past the old man, improbably saluting. The old man grinned and saluted back. He seemed such a nice person-much like granddad. Sometimes the old man would talk with his mother as the boy shot down the enemy from the skies or explored the darker reaches of the jungle.


Happily, the boy kicked the ball hard. It shot off sideways, up the small slope and came to rest at the feet of the old man. The others called at him as he raced off to pick it up. The old man kicked it gently towards him. Their eyes met and they both smiled. The boy wondered why the old man kept coming to the park. He must ask him sometime.


The gang of youths sauntered sourly through the path, one kicking an empty Coke can along in front of him. As they passed the bench, one glanced briefly at the old man, still sitting there. Get a life! What's the point in sitting there all the time. And don't look at me like that. Like I'm just pretending to be tough. Like you can see what I'm thinking.


Beneath the spreading oak, the teenage couple were like a pair of limpets, bodies pressed together, lips sucking. They did not notice the old man across the park, nodding gently in the happy summer's sun. They didn't see his distant smile. He was still smiling when they passed by later. They smiled back. It was a sunny day.


As the young woman pushed the buggy along the path, the old man was still there, stick at his side. He coochie-cooed the baby as the young man caught up with his wife, another child in tow. Chiding the youngster, he nodded at the old man and fussed his family back into motion. Would that there was time to sit and grin.


It had been a long time since he had been to the park. Work had taken him away and his kids no longer needed him. In fact, he seemed to embarrass them now. As he pounded past, sweating off the company dinners, there was still an old man on the bench. He wondered whether it was the same guy. Couldn't be. He'd be pushing up daisies by now. I wonder why he smiled so much.


Greying wisps of hair blew across his eyes as a blustery autumn day scattered leaves through the park. Kids gone, wife still there, arm in arm, strolling. One of the good decisions, that. She'd stuck to him through thick and thin. And he to her, he supposed. They got to the peeling green bench and stopped. It was empty.


Remembering, remembering. The old man sitting on the green bench in the park smiled as the little boy rolled down the grassy slope, shrieking and yelling.




~by David Straker~

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