He was there when I left for work, and hadn’t moved when I came back home that afternoon. An older man, maybe mid 70s, sitting placidly, calmly, he didn’t seem to be waiting for anything or anyone. The bus stop was a block and a half around the corner. He wasn’t even really looking at anything in particular; his eyes would wander, now following a car down the street, then up to a bird lazily riding a thermal, then down to settle on the city skyline and the low mountains behind that stretched out and away down the hill beyond the little patch of park cornered away here.
The next day he was gone, and the next, and again until the following week, when he had reclaimed his spot, that same look of passive intent on his face, back against the low curve of the bench, just watching. Each week, the same day, all day. A few months later I had the day off, and with the weather being particularly fine in that cooling glow of waning summer, the park beckoned. As I strolled in I found the man in his same place, for just a moment with his eyes closed, leaning into a passing bit of sunshine, letting it play across his face with the breeze. I paused, hesitant, not wanting to interrupt his reverie, and stood awkwardly for a moment before looking away and casually offering, “What a great day.”
Looking back I found him looking at me with that same expression of calm repose, not so much studying me as absorbing my sudden appearance, then slowly nodded as he looked away. “It really is,” he said, leaving that hanging.
I paused a bit before prodding, “I’ve seen you out here quite a bit this summer, do you live around here?”
He let the question hang in the air for several beats before replying, “I used to. Just down the hill a ways there,” he gave a brief nod of his chin. “My wife and I, we lived there for 15 years. We used to come up here all the time.” There was no overtone in his voice, he spoke simply and matter-of-factly like a man gladly giving directions to a lost stranger.
“Where are you now?” I asked.
“Riverside,” he said with almost a half-laugh.
“Jeez, that’s clear across town, seems kind of far for a day in the park.” I looked around, even though I knew exactly what I would see.
He paused again, not so much like he was thinking but more that he was letting the unspoken question finish, still looking out over the city. “Riverside is nice enough, but I’ve always loved this place. It’s just a bit hard for me to live here now. Can’t handle the hills every day.” He let out another half-laugh. “Getting I can hardly handle a flight of stairs.”
“In all the time I came here, I never once sat in this bench. Not once. Never wanted to sit still long enough, I guess. We’d put out a blanket on the grass maybe, but we were usually walking, talking, always doing something. Never really cared what, just loved this view, ” he waved the back of his hand at the panorama in front of us. “After a while life caught up to us and we came here less and less, then I got another job and we moved, and… well, we never really went on our walks after that.” He squinted slightly, peering at something unseen. “Life went well enough, but I lost track of the things that were bigger than me. You put your head down and you live. And after a while, you forget what the view looks like just because you never bother to look up anymore.”
He paused again, longer this time, eyes set in the distance. “May and I had a good life. We had our house, had two kids, went on the occasional vacation. After she died I just found I’d run out of road. And, for a while after, I just kinda decided that’s as far as I was supposed to go. But one day I decided I needed to clear the cobwebs a bit. I came out here for the day, lifted up my head, and looked around. And I got to see a whole world again. All kinds of people and places, little things I’d never even considered before. So I quit that road and climbed this hill again. There’s a whole lot to see even just planted right on this bench, and I don’t want to miss anything.”
(Daily Prompt: Happy Endings)