It’s been a while since I had a story to post. This one’s a sequel. Something I haven’t done before. It was sparked by a Facebook post that popped up thanks to their algorithms that remind you of a post three or five or more years ago. This one was called The Park Bench, based on a prompt given by Shauna Nearing Løj. This story has been particularly popular and has twice been released in Spain, courtesy Gerry Wright.
Fast forward to two days ago when a friend from the Bahrain Writers’ Circle, Veronica Selvarajan, read the story and made the comment, “I am going to be wondering if she ever reciprocates….” Well, of course that possibility wouldn’t leave me alone untilI had written the sequel and decided if she’s ever going to reciprocate. Well, Veronica, Cynthia, Charlotte, Joy, Malini, Gerry, Ajoy, Pam, Aruna… and many others. I’ve become a romantic in my old age.
The Guy at the Park
by Rohini Sunderam
She’d never really forgotten him. The young man at the park bench who always asked her if she’d ‘found a young man’. There had been a marked electricity between them. It was palpable through book after book that she read almost every workday afternoon. All he ever did was chew a fresh blade of grass and look up at the sky. There was a quiet confidence in his cocky voice and silence. He lived in the moment. Enjoyed the breeze, the birds in the sky, the clouds, the trees. Over the years they had developed a silent, comfortable, companionship. It was a quiet hour every workday that she kept for herself, before she took the bus home. They had hardly ever even had a conversation. He had grown strong and grown up since that spring so many years ago when they first shared the park bench. She had never learnt his name, nor what he did for a living.
And yet, all these years later, she remembered the look on his face the day she told him she had ‘found a young man’. He wished her well. But his eyes went dull grey like an autumn sky suddenly robbed of the sun. And something in his face crumpled. But he didn’t say anything to her when she broke it to him. She wondered, ‘was all that electricity just in my head?’ She’d risen from the bench and had disappeared from his life for twenty years in the big city.
Twenty years, she said to herself. Why did I put up with ‘my young man’ for that long! There’d been that early euphoria of being married, being in the financial centre of the country, of looking after a house. But she and Bill had never really had much in common. He constantly wanted to go to this party and that restaurant, spend a fun time with his friends, anything but come home to an evening of quietude, an hour of reading or listening to music.
He’d come back from work and it was, ‘Right, where are we going tonight?’
Her responses, ‘but I’ve just cooked this lovely dinner, I thought we could enjoy it together,’ were usually overruled.
Occasionally he’d agree and then it was a sullen silence they shared, nothing calm and companionable like it was with the guy in the park. That was a magical hour; the park was a Tom Thomson painting, the colours fixed and immutable. Instead, the meal she had so carefully prepared was wolfed down without a word of thanks and then he’d want to go out for a nightcap. Being a lawyer meant he could afford all that as well as the house. After a few years he went out on his own. Leaving her to her still pool of solitude that bordered on loneliness and her books that transported her on their magic carpet pages to other possibilities.
The miscarriages hadn’t helped either. Her mother had assured her things would improve once a baby or two arrived. After the first two losses, when she felt her world had been wrenched from inside her, her soul and heart shattered into a myriad shards of glass that cut her every time she saw a couple with a baby in a pram, Bill had grown more distant. The doctors said she wasn’t likely to have any more. Bill’s night-time forays became more frequent. Then there was his affair. Secret and sly, sordid and so typically with his secretary. Sinning is hard only the first time, so it wasn’t long before there was another affair and another. Finally, the divorce and when her mother died, she decided to move back to the small city. The house was hers and she could easily get a job, perhaps even her old job at the library.
It was a cloudy day in November when she thought of going to the park with her book. ‘For old times’ sake’ she said to herself, he’s probably not even there any more. The years had flown like the clouds overhead. She was as nervous as a teenager as she walked in her high boots and her camel trench coat down the path towards where she remembered the bench used to be. It was four o’clock, her usual time from force of habit.
There was a man on the bench. Sitting where he used to sit. He looked at her. Her face implacable she looked at him out of the corner of her eye. She made a small harrumphing sound as she settled in her corner of the bench. He turned and looked at her again. Then he looked away. She was sure it was the guy. The same sinewy arms. That firm jawline and clean-shaven face. His nut-brown hair was streaked with silver. A small smile twitched at the corner of her lips. Then she whispered, “Did you never find a young woman, then?”
His voice was hoarse, as he all but whispered back, “Don’t be silly, I don’t want a young woman…” and then almost inaudible but she caught the last few words, “I only ever wanted you.”
She bent down to pull up a blade of grass, then turned to look at him as twenty summers and winters, autumns and springs melted away like snow. “But you never said anything.”
“What could I say? We hardly knew each other. I still don’t even know your name, young lady!” He grinned and the old cocky look came bouncing into his face.
She smiled, a clean, honest, unguarded smile. “We can rectify that, it’s Louise.” The first fat raindrops began to fall, “what’s yours?”
He grabbed his jacket and flung on the hood, “Al, for Alistair. And we’d better find some shelter soon. Before the wind an’ the rain carry you away, eh?”
“We’d need quite a strong wind to carry me away,” She laughed.
“Oh, aye,” he said like an old friend. He put his strong arm around her waist and they hurried out of the park. She realised he was a good bit taller than he appeared when he was seated. She liked the way his pace matched hers. And then they dashed across the street to a café.
“This should be fine for now.” He said as he led her, still clutching her book and bag, to a table near the window.
For the first time, she was sitting across from him. He had grey-green eyes and that unstoppable slightly amused, cocky expression; crow’s-feet eyes probably developed over the years from staring at the sky. His hands were strong and slightly calloused. ‘What did he do for a living?’
The coffee arrived, hot and steaming with a doughnut on the side. She was grateful for the steam that arose between them. It allowed her to look at him more closely.
“So tell me about yourself,” he said after a long deep gulp of coffee and a swipe of his cuff across his mouth.
“But, I want to know about you,” she said fingering the edge of her book.
“We have enough time for that later. What happened to the ‘young man’ then?”
Between sips of coffee and the doughnuts that the café boasted were amongst the best in the country, she sketched a quick outline of her life. “Now, it’s your turn.” She said.
The cocky smile and the amused look in his eyes deepened. “I’m a plumber by day,” he said.
“And what do you do at night?” A nervous tremor caught at her throat.
By now he was grinning, “I write.”
“What? Books? Articles? Stories?”
“What kind of books do you like to read?” He asked getting up.
“All kinds,” she replied, “but that doesn’t tell me what kind of books you write!”
“Doesn’t it?” He grinned again. “I really do have to rush now. I’ll see you at the park again, tomorrow?” And he was gone. Striding down the street in the opposite direction of her bus ride home.
‘What do you like to read?’ What kind of a mysterious response was that!
When she got home, she was still mulling over it as she opened her book where she’d left her bookmark. It was another tale of lost love and might-have-beens. Her favourite kind. ‘What do you like to read!’ No! It can’t be. A. Hunt. She’d always assumed it was a woman and there was nothing about the author’s life that suggested plumbing.