My spot by Adrian Paul Fayter
Early-autumn afternoons are the best times here. This warm, copper-coloured sunshine comes straight through the gap in the beech trees and lights up my spot like a halo; then it spreads along the path as the sun moves down to the west. Warm on your face, warming your heart. Good for the rheumatism, too…
Summer can sometimes be as good, but not when the kids are out of school: you can’t commune with your friends with skateboards clattering an inch or two from your toes; it spoils the atmosphere. If you want a quiet seat in mid-summer, the churchyard is your best bet. The fragrance of fresh flowers, close to the cleanest headstones; there are new friends to be made where the turf has recently turned. Where a sympathetic ear can help a lost soul make a new beginning. Summer in the churchyard… But in autumn, the park benches are the best. There’s a row of four just here, so there’s never a problem getting a seat. Even when the park is busy, there’s always space made for me when I come to sit down.
Little Hayley laughs when her mum says I’m going to see my friends in the park. ‘Are you going on the swings today, Nanna?’ she asks me. And then she goes all serious. ‘But how do you know who’s there?’ Her mum indignantly tells her that Nanna’s not gone blind just yet, even if she does carry a white walking stick. I say, ‘I’ll always know my friends, Hayley. No matter what happens, I’ll always hear their voices.’
I make friends easily, I’d say; I always have done. I’ve got the gift for it. But of course you need the time, too. It’s hard for the younger people: life can be so frenetic. Very often they don’t even know their next door neighbours, so how would you expect them to be open to those from further afield? When I lived alone, I had visitors most days, but now I’m staying with the family I don’t lead the same sort of life. I don’t want to cause disruption or inconvenience. I don’t want them to be disturbed even by a knock or two. And I have contact with my friends, right here.
Now, don’t get me wrong; it can be a lonely time here in the park. Sometimes I can sit for ages and nobody comes over, but then other days two or three come at once. We’re not all elderly, though, in our little park bench set. Yes, there’s Doreen, she’d be – what? – almost a hundred by now, you know. But then there’s Carl, who was only born in 1994, if memory serves. (He’s a joker. He tells Doreen she’s wearing well, doesn’t look a day over ninety. ‘And how are you, young man?’ she asks him. ‘Oh, I’m feeling a bit run down.’) Roddy, who always loved this spot, well, he’s my age, I suppose, but we also have Charmian. The youngest. Pretty, too, I imagine all her friends would say. Young and pretty enough that people still bring flowers to the bench for her, on her anniversary.
Yes, early-autumn afternoons are when it is best here. If you time it right, you can sit in the sun for ages, though you may have to move from seat to seat to get out of the shade. If you’ve had a difficult day, you can relax here with whichever friends have managed to get across to find you. Much nicer than sitting in a dull or darkened room. Nicer than holding hands at the table.
I like to stay independent, and to give Hayley and her mum a bit of a break. I’m sure they think I go on a bit, talking about what my friends have said to me or wondering aloud what it must be like for them, where they all have ended up. I hope I can carry on for as long as possible, staying active, getting out and about, hearing those stories from beyond the park. I suppose it won’t be exactly like this forever, but, you know, the most comforting thing of all is that in the space where the autumn sunshine reaches, there is still – just about – room for one more bench. Something nice and new, graffiti-free, and the envy of my park-bench friends. And perhaps in the future, when Hayley’s kids are rushing off to the swings, she’ll be the one who comes to talk to me in that very spot.
Copyright the author and first published by Friends of Rowntree Park on Nov. 26th, 2013