My challenge today comes from Amy Alex Campbell. “I see an old man sitting in the park every day, alone. I often wonder, what is his story?”
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Three thirty, on the dot. He sits. No paper. No dog. No pipe. He just sits. He sits for eighteen minutes exactly each day. I didn’t start timing him for a long time, but I had the feeling that the time was pretty uniform. I’d be there walking the dog. I felt as though I had a reason. But he did not. Eighteen minutes exactly. Without even looking at his watch, or using an alarm. He always got up at three forty-eight and walked out of the park using the same route.
I can’t tell if he’s happy. I’m not sure if he’s sad. But I was intrigued.I wanted to follow him, but was always too scared to arouse suspicion. I am not someone who likes to intrude on the lives of others. If I was to find out more, I would need to engage him in a conversation.
My chance came one day a few weeks ago. I walked my dog right up passed the bench. We didn’t normally venture over to that stretch of the park. Abnormally, my dog started barking. Not one for shouting at strangers, I felt the need to apologise. The man seemed unperturbed by the outburst. He told me it was fine, he asked about the dog. What breed he was, how long I had had him. Amiable and polite we chatted. He told me about the dog he had years before. He mentioned his work. I learnt that Mr Kennedy had taught had actually taught in my old school years before I went there. He had interesting stories to tell.
I kept coming back to him. Day after day. He’d tell me everything about his life. He’d fought in the war, only catching the tail-end. He was keen to point out that he was nowhere near any action. That he was safe. There were no sad tales for him to tell.
He told me about his wife, how they had never had children. They’d travelled lots. He’d been to every continent. But there was no place like right here. If there was one place in the world he would choose to be, it was here.
Daily we’d meet. My dog would usually bark, but soon calm down whenever I was around Thomas. He knew that he was a calm and gentle man. Normally we’d speak for five minutes or so, and we’d be on our way.
One day he wasn’t there. I was confused. Maybe something had happened to him. I walked toward his bench anyway. The bench had become a ritual for me too. I checked my watch again. Three thirty-six. Then it hit me. The clocks had changed. I was early. I looked at the empty bench and considered sitting for a while, just to see the world from Thomas’ view.
I was about to sit, when I noticed a faded inscription on the bench that read ‘Thomas Kennedy, 1926- 2014 saw the wonders of this world, but never stopped loving this park’.