The old man sits on the park bench. The moist droplets of the autumnal morning shower soaks into the back of his trousers, creating a cold, uncomfortable seat for him. He doesn't care. Experience has taught him to live for experience. He fought and lived for his country, but forgot what living was for. The production line of life shunted him from job to job, from place to place, from love to lost love. Now he just sits. And waits.
He stares. He looks out across the vast expanse of nature spread out in front of him like a half-forgotten painting, enticing with the colours of the autumn leaves, yellow and gold against the frozen sun, transposed against the icy nothingness of the pond, shimmering like a diamond scattered with ducks. In a few hours, this park will be heaving with excited children, frustrated parents and hot dog salesmen. He glances down, at his feet a puddle glints the first rays of the morning sun, and ignites his bleary eyes. An old man stares back at him, nature's mirror reveals the sorry truth of his appearance. He is old. He is worn. He is tired. But the eyes tell the true story. Those glistening blue eyes tell the story of wars won, moons reached, Maggie winning, a time when his world was worth living in.
He closes his eyes. Revelation is shattered by realisation and real life does not cater for his generation. He has served his purpose and been discarded. But a loss of faith in Nation awakens the bigger picture in the eye of the beholder. He knows more than he needs to know but nothing of any use. As he meditates on the bench as a single bookend, he feels a warm sensation on his hand. The soft tender caress ignites a passion in his heart, a feeling of compassion and tenderness. Kneeling by his feet, his reopened eyes reveal a chocolate coloured Labrador. Two pairs of longing eyes stare back at each other, coupled with a sense of idle curiosity for dog and mild confusion for man. The old man tenderly strokes the dog's head, scratches behind the ears and tickles his belly. A man calls. The dog leaves.
The feeling of solitude is shattered as the early risers emerge from stage left to make their entrance into the performance of life. The joggers begin to cruise past, preparing their bodies to survive long enough to sit where the old man sits, watching the next generation preparing their body to sit where he sits. The dog walkers' amble by in their waterproof, brightly coloured, fleece-lined jackets, designed for mountain-wear but never been further than Primrose Hill. The jackets act as the bubble these people have lived in all their life. Shielded from the extremities, their insides have frozen. No heart, no guts, no glory. Just comfort. The suits pace by. Some actually bother to glance at the divine landscape that surrounds them, but most only have their minds on the surroundings of their offices. Nature versus numbers, facts and figures that nourish the wallet but not the soul.
He sniffs. The alluring aroma of nature's gold is overpowered by the smell of people. Sweat and aftershave bombard the nostrils. The old man fights to feel everything, to understand if it's better to disguise the rancid smell of perspiration or revel in it, a symbol of the toil and effort the carrier has been through. The illusion is shattered as the old man, unable to control his bodily functions due to the onset of old age, passes wind. The old man wonders if this physical reaction is a metaphor for life or last nights T.V dinner. A Yorkshire terrier skips by and yelps.
This thought of food makes the old man hungry. From his pocket he pulls a battered corned beef sandwich, wrapped sparingly in cling film. As he unwraps his breakfast from its plastic coffin, he removes a small ball of black fluff that has become inadvertently attached to the large lump of butter that consumes the corned beef. He returns the string to his pocket and lays the cling film flat on his lap, wrinkled and smeared in yellow. The taste of the corned beef reminds him of bygone days. Of picnics in the countryside with her, of dinners during rationing. The thought of corned beef hash brings a cursory smile to his quivering lips. Happy days.
From his other pocket, the old man pulls out a silver hipflask, stained yellow through lack of polishing. His hand slightly obscures the engraving, but the words '25 years outstanding service' can be made out from between his cigarette stained fingers. He gulps longingly from the flask. The cheap whiskey cascades down his throat, caressing the passage and making it warm and alive. As the liquid hits the pit of his stomach a warm feeling erupts like a volcano. The breath of satisfaction released by the old man is like a steam engine. The cold frost is bombarded by warm air particles and the body chugs into life again.
The park appears momentarily deserted. The joggers have gone home to get ready for work; the dog walkers have gone home and don't need to go to work. The suits have been slaving for some time. Everyone else is doing something else. Apart from one couple. A man paces some five yards in front of a beautiful young woman, who arouses the interest of the old man. He stares up her body, until his eyes focus on the two large, attractive eyes that are full of tears. She calls after the man, professing sincerest apologies and platitudes of love. He is to stubborn and to stupid to turn back, to realise how lucky he is to have someone or something. Whatever she has done, surely she doesn't deserve to be treated like this, discarded like a piece of rubbish in the park. The man turns.
With a confession that he no longer loves the woman, he turns to the old man he has spotted eavesdropping on the conversation, with a look of anger that soon turns to distress. The old man is lying on the floor. His body is contorted to a degree of angles. Positions that was not natural for a man of his age. His face had come to rest in the puddle. As the man rushed over, forgetting about his own problems in favour of helping the old man, he breathes a sigh of relief. The gentle ripples in the puddle must surely indicate the old man is still breathing. As the man crouches down to lift the old man from his watery grave, he realises that the ripples where the last droplets of tears staggering down the old mans face, twisting and turning thought his wrinkled, contorted face.
The eyes that had previously been staring at the warring couple were now turned to the opposite direction. The man was staring at the majestic building that lay behind the park, its beauty extenuated by the red carpet of road that unfolded up to it. On the top of the building the Union Jack shivered in the wind, always fighting the elements, never dying, never failing. The ambulance took half an hour to arrive from the hospital five minutes south of the river. A group of people had blocked off the road leading to the park, demonstrating about the paltry pensions the Government had decreed they deserve. The old man died of a heart attack. His heart stopped. His tears stopped. His pain stopped.