Bench, silver birch, bench and repeat. Such is the waterside lined. I choose my spot; it’s hard, fashioned from box steel and painted a colour to match. Nonetheless I’ve committed to sit and endure it till someone talks to me—my stubborn resolve will see I will.
No sooner have I sat before a man walks by with a terrier. It roams quite free on an extendable lead, sniffing everything, including my leg. Luckily I’m deemed a post unworthy of scent-marking.
The sharp sound of high heels holding pace and purpose. A woman in a long coat approaches and passes. To her ear is one of those phones I find myself incapable of deciphering. Her body is here only as a drone—a mind ensconced in conversation.
Silver birch, bench; a couple arrive and sit themselves that distance away. They canoodle. I envy their display of love for each other—all fresh, locked in that perfect circle of adoration. I travel back to my time, many years back and recall the euphoria of sharing a similar stage—a tender memory that snuffs out any present resentment. I think my eyes overstay their welcome with a stare that breaches their space, but it’s loaded with well-meaning.
Water beyond the waterside shimmers and bounces back the rusting sky. The Sun’s final act is to turn itself even redder before peeling away from the closing lid of day; its job done; gone to show off its sunsets to what’s west of here. Around me lights awaken, popping on one by one, offsetting the dark but no defence to the assailing chill. One that surrounds, gnaws and steals my energy. I think twice of my whim but my will is strong, I’ll stay here till someone talks to me—unprompted. I hunker into the cotton collar of my striped top, make fists in my pant pockets and settle for the duration. My breaths escape as wraiths and diffuse into the local air.
Cyclist without a front light whisks by; a dying glimmer of match-head red at the rear (pulsed, I suspect, by a poundshop Chinese gizmo, and the last dregs of an equally cheap battery). The most I get from him as he enters and leaves my world is the waft of his wake, thoughts of filaments and mild hypnosis drawn by the diminishing ember. My sigh escapes, a wraith to join those others in the ether.
Bin, bench, silver birch, bench, silver birch, bin. A tramp; systematic in his foraging, takes no interest in me, but delights in the old and cold half-eaten hamburger his efforts uncover. In lamplight and from crumpled paper it emerges, a sesame seeded moon, that swiftly disappears through his beard; he smiles to no-one in particular, swallows, then disappears too.
Six hours. I’ve had nothing but a wary nod from a hurrying, underdressed for the weather, woman. Hurrying where? I’ve no idea. I look at my striped pants, I’m underdressed too. My will to stay here is still strong mind, stickler to a fault, sticking to a decision, that’s me. Admittedly, at one point I was overthrown by the urges of my aged bladder. Aye, to confess at midnight I did leave this seat; made my way to the waterside to wee. The ripples that rode from my standpoint across the calm managed to tell the story of their emergence (plip plip morse code I imagined) to the other bank! I wonder what it thinks of me.
I returned promptly from the excursion to man this post, where now in the small hours I’m a being of shiver and angst and pins and needles and hunger and, and…discomfort in what’s otherwise a silent night.
I’m tired too, but there’s life in me yet, I’m going to sit here till someone talks to me.
Two drunken young men en route home I suppose, swaying more than staggering, discussing with slur the desirability of a young woman they’d clocked in the disco from which they’ve been expelled (I think they call them nightclubs nowadays). Both men were unsuccessful in their attempts to ‘pull her’ they admit to each other, both introspecting (out loud) and searching for their point of failure. They see me and go quiet with their suppositions. I hope I’m enough of an oddity to stir their curiosity and have them engage me. But no, they pass by, damn, I’m as inconsequential to them as they were to their prize, and as I have been to all throughout this venture.
Something white in the dimness, distant and afloat. I close my eyes a second in ignorance, allowing some purchase to the urge to sleep. Opening them to only slits; a white carrier bag? A broken lump of polystyrene dumped there on a day more windy? Closer scrutiny at least tells me it’s drifting. Eyes more open and some moments more carry it closer…a white swan. Ostensibly asleep too. I know not whether swans sleep nor whether they drift when doing so, but this waterborne being gives such an air of…being. It’s head not the proud prow, nor the tip of a capital and statesman-like S one expects; instead it rests upside down in the down of a wing. Injured no, only sleeping. I watch with interest as it’s carried nearer the bank. Carried is the assumption, for all my knowledge it’s webbed feet could be as industrious as a Mississippi Steamer’s paddles. That’s their thing I guess—swans; grace that eclipses effort. My assumption was wrong and my guess was right—as the bird neared the bank its apparently dormant self steered away from a beaching and back out to the distance. What I’d give for its down now, to huddle in a mound of that over this flimsy cotton outfit. So cold, but my will is strong.
What left to the west reappears east; a sunrise through the buildings behind slants a ray that warms the space between collar and hair. It wakes me. The dream I was in was a good one but it’s fading fast; I was shouting: I’ve so got it, I’ve so got it…I have, I have. The interconnectedness of folk—their lives and their coming together. The note, the gathering of the lonely, the away to the island. By choice or by force. That’s all there is, that’s all the tail end of the dream gives up, nothing by way of context for me but a feeling of euphoria. My subconscious, the wily scamp, keeps its brilliance behind blackout curtains and has done all my life. I look down at my chequered slippers and try my damnedest to recall what it was about. But it fades. So, as I was, I’m still going to sit here till……
“Grandad!” Behind me in the sunshine of morn my granddaughter; Emma, she’s with a nurse I recognise from the hospice—and a police officer. She’s smiling a beam of utter relief and racing towards me. I feel loved. The police officer thumbs the button on his chest-mounted device.
“Subject located, I repeat: subject located.”