He was on the bench where I usually sat,
his aging face shadowed by glasses and hat.
As he spoke I could sense that his soul was crumbling,
his opening words were cultured, but fumbling:
I kept on walking, ignoring his speech,
so he spoke up louder, my attention to reach.
“Excuse me” he faltered, “I don’t want to pry
but I see that you’re sad though I don’t know why.
If you could give a few minutes to a fool such as I,
I hope I can help and I’m eager to try”
He looked at his hands and he gave a sigh.
“I must make amends before I die.”
I paused to look back, and I left it too long
to turn away and walk right on.
He moved along to make room on the bench
and I sat myself down, though I reeled from the stench
of spirits and urine and grime and sweat,
and the smoke from the butt of his rolled cigarette.
the poor man was filthy, and though he looked clean
I was shocked by the absence of simple hygiene.
He took off his glasses and looked in my eyes
as if he could see right through my disguise;
he held my gaze as he fervently said
“I must make amends, it’s too late once I’m dead.”
“Once,” he told me, “I was strong as can be;
no-one who knew me would recognise me
to see this wreck sitting here in the park –
I was bright as a button and sweet as a lark.
I charmed all the ladies with chatter and lies –
I wanted some fun, but I didn’t want ties.
I was foolish and shallow in those early days
I broke many hearts with my selfish ways
a marriage proposal made it easy to bed them
I’d use their bodies, then refuse to wed them.
Then I met a woman who I loved on sight
as soon as I saw her I knew she was right.
She loved me back, so we named the day
and that very same night I got carried away –
from long force of habit I led her to bed
but she glared at me, and coldly she said
that she hadn’t believed the things that she’d heard;
she should have taken her friends at their word.
They told her she’d be just a notch on my bed.
It wasn’t her fault, but the things that she said
angered me and punctured my pride,
so I cruelly let her believe I had lied.
I said “I don’t want to marry you”
instead of insisting my love was true.
I lost the girl but a lesson I learnt:
don’t play around or you may get burnt.
After a while I met someone new
and I followed the rules of the right things to do.
We saved for a house and we married in Spring,
soon I reckoned I had everything;
a job and a wife and a house and a child –
but the stress of it all drove me wild.
I stormed through the house in accusing rages,
while my life disintegrated in stages.
I took days off work and I started to drink
not seeing my future was on the brink…”
The man broke down, in heartrending tears
at the thought of all of those wasted years.
His unfinished story left a clear trail
while his current condition told the same tale.
I ignored my distaste, and shuffling over,
I gingerly placed my arm round his shoulder.
We sat together until he was calm,
while I tried to ignore the ache in my arm.
Then he turned to me and this he did say,
“As soon as a trouble comes your way
look for a cure the very same day.
Don’t let your anger sprout and lay
a trap that will take your life away.
I want to save you from going astray.
There’s no time left for me to delay;
I hope to be dead by the end of the day.”
I searched my brain but no words could I find
to give him a little peace of mind,
so we sat on the bench till day turned to dark
and only the foxes were roaming the park.
His breathing was laboured, but he was asleep
I had made up my mind a vigil to keep.
I had no intention of saving his life,
I figured he’d had enough mortal strife.
As the night turned colder I felt his heart slow
and I knew there wasn’t much longer to go.
His death rattle sounded just like a snore,
and my new-found friend breathed no more.
I took his jacket and removed his shoes
then looked in his pockets to see what I could use.
It’s a shame he came too late with his tale of woe.
Perhaps it would have helped me ten years ago.
But at least his coat will cover my legs
at night beneath the bridge while I’m drinking the dregs
of the booze that I buy from the tenner that I found
when I took off his trousers and it fell on the ground.
Posted for The Sandbox Writing Challenge 37
©Jane Paterson Basil