Not concentrating by Ben Warden

I’m sat here, not concentrating. The park is a good place to do it; to drift away in your thoughts. I’ve walked from the house, or rather I walked out of the house. I never pictured storming out of our home. We were so proud when we moved in. We’d lived with her parents for months and worked two jobs each to save for it. But recently we’ve been getting under each other’s feet. I’m having a bad time at work. Three of us built the company from the ground up but lately I’m always feeling on the bottom rung. She’s struggling to balance work and our daughter, who’s being awkward. They say it’s the terrible twos. She’s worried we’re not spending enough time with her. I know I should help out more but, if the business fails, that home won’t be ours much longer. The long nights away are for them except she can’t see it. Not this week anyway.  I know I shouldn’t storm out. I know it just gives her more cause to feel abandoned, but I need the space. The last month or two I do keep leaving and I do keep coming here. It’s funny how I have a routine. I always want to sit at this bench, just because it’s the one I sat at first. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m sitting here, not concentrating. Thinking about her cursing me; about my little girl wailing; about how ten minutes in the fresh air is all I need. Probably all she needs too.

I start to wonder about myself. The only reason I want to sit here is because I’ve sat here before, and that experience wasn’t disappointing. I could sit on another bench but there’s a chance that wouldn’t go so well. Maybe I’d end up near a bin, or in a busier part of the park. So I come straight here, every time. Is that sad? Does it just highlight what a sad little man I am? I never take any risks. Is it worrying that I just walked out and that this isn’t the first time? It’s the lack of risk taking that’s causing me trouble at work. I’ve always been the one that kept things anchored. If it wasn’t for me, god only knows how it would have gone for them. Maybe I should take more chances.

Then he sits next to me. Just some old guy. It snaps me back for a moment and I see the grass and the trees, but only long enough to budge along the bench politely. I’m really just taking back some space. He smiles and sits quietly enough, at least at first.

‘Makes you consider life and death, doesn’t it?’

‘Great.’ I think. ‘A nut.’ But still I politely ask the question. ‘What, sorry?’

‘The park, it does me anyway. I come sit on this bench every day. Haven’t seen you around before, but you’ve been here a few times this week. I thought I’d join you. I hope you don’t mind.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to interrupt.  I can move if you’d like?’ I don’t really want to, but it’s polite to offer.

‘No, no. Just another one of those things. I saw you here and I thought, gosh I sit there every day. How set in my ways! You know, it’s a trait of old age.’

‘That’s not true.’ I say, thinking how strange it is that his thoughts are the same. ‘It’s human nature. You come back to what you know.’

‘True, true. So what brings you back here?’

‘Life. Work.’

‘Ha. I know that, too well.’

I smile at him. He’s been where I am. He’s one of those guys who’s old enough to know most things. I think he could probably relate to anyone. No matter if you’re an adrenaline-fuelled, extreme sport junky, or just a man on a bench.

‘So what brings you out here every day?’ I ask.

‘Just this,’ he says, simply, waving his hand out in front of him; taking in the whole park. ‘It keeps me current. Let’s me think about what’s important.’

I don’t answer; I’m not sure how. I want to say something old and wise. I want to be on his level but all I can think about is my lovely wife at home, alone. After a while he fills the silence for me.

‘Did you know Namibia became one of the world’s first nations to write environmental protection into their constitution?’

Now I know he’s seen it all.

‘1990, I think it was,’ he continues. ‘It’s taken us some time to catch up. But some of the early philanthropists had it right. They knew the importance of a place to think.’

‘Well, it does help.’

‘Apparently, Joseph Rowntree used to walk on Scarborough Beach. That was his place to be away from life and work.’

‘Really?’

He’s losing me now. I don’t want a history lesson. I just want to sit in peace.

‘It makes me consider life and death.’ He says again. ‘You get to see the important things first hand.’ He pauses for a moment. ‘You see the little girl over there?’

I stare past the tip of his finger. She can only be six or seven; on her hands and knees, peering into the grass. She looks like my Jenny. Little black wellies sticking out from an autumn-red duffle coat; one that will fit her better in a few months.

‘I don’t know her name, I can’t hear too well these days, but she looks after bugs. A proper little conservationist. Rehabilitating orphaned and injured wildlife on a daily basis.’

I watch her foraging in the grass.

‘And a good job she seems to make of it too. She operates a catch and release policy, of which I am most in favour.’ He says it with a smile. ‘She came with a young man once.’ He pauses again. ‘He didn’t do so well. He just pulled a wing off a daddy longlegs so they had something to nurse. Boys! They have no patience. She was very upset.’

I pull at my tie and shift my weight.

‘I just like sitting here,’ he says, still answering my earlier question. ‘The lush grass, the bare trees; bugs, birds, children, the OAPs like me.’ He chuckles and pulls himself to his feet. ‘The place is full of striking contradictions. It can keep a man steady.’

With that, he tips his hat with his leather glove and sets off down the path. I watch him leave. Then I get up and make the journey home, as quickly as I can.

Copyright the author and first published by Friends of Rowntree Park on Nov. 26th, 2013

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