Sitting there, on that bench, wasn’t something he particularly enjoyed. But, as the years crumpled at his feet and the summit slowly revealed itself, he had been drawn to it. He guessed it was because of the noise. There was always noise.
The bench was at a cross section in the shopping centre, between the Starbucks and the Costa, and continually had a stream of coffee addicts flowing between the two cafés, some of them breaking against the thin metal frame of the bench and cascading into the clothes shops that lined the capitalist riverbank. This constant flow carried with it, like children holding helium balloons, all the joys and sadness’s of the day and displayed them to the world in bubbling, unapologetic voices.
It was amid this storm that Charles would come and sit, his ancient knees bent at a perfect right angle and his hand clutching the cold arm rest like a sailor holds on to the bow of his ship. The noise of life would wash around him, and he would let himself drown without a struggle. Sometimes he would close his eyes and just listen, other times he would lift his heavy eyes to the faceless clones who hurried past and try to draw from them a reaction. He never got one.
The only people who ever paid him any attention were the shop mobility people. Once every hour or so, a fresh faced youngster would bound up and start apologising for being able to walk, run and skip, and then offer a scooter or a helping arm in some way of compensation for their overly rude and ostentatious ability to move about freely. Charles disliked them immensely.
It wasn’t that he felt they were being patronising, or even that their motivations were coming from anywhere other than a kind place, but they just didn’t understand. They failed to realise that he was who he was, and he liked who he was. Yes, the world seemed to have left him behind, but that didn’t mean he wanted to keep up with it.
He wanted to finish the marathon of life his own way. However long it took his shaking legs to take him over the line, he didn’t care, as long as he did it himself. What would be the point in taking part if, half way through, the race organisers realised he wasn’t able to keep up with the professional athletes out front, so gave him a mobility scooter for the rest of the race? It was a denial of who he was, how old he was, and what he could do. He had accepted he was going to limp over the finish line, why couldn’t they?
After a particularly rosy faced and bright eyed looking mobility pixie had insisted that her lack of height was nothing to the trials and tribulations he must face in taking an extra few minutes to walk along the road, Charles decided he needed to go to the lavatory.
Well, in fact, he didn’t need to go yet but he knew that it had been almost two hours since his last visit and so soon his bladder and prostate would gang up on him and start shouting out orders. If he waited till then, of course, he’d be much too late, so he heaved himself off the bench and stalked, like a wobbling elm in a gale, to the public toilets.
The round trip, including the mini ice-age he had spent standing at the urinal waiting for his muscles to catch up with what was going on, took around twenty minutes, and then he was back on his bench, clutching the arm rest and listening to the music of the masses.
As Charles sat there, twinges periodically dancing up his left arm, he couldn’t help but inwardly laugh at himself. He was a stubborn fool he knew, refusing the help the world was trying to offer him because he felt that meant he would be giving in, while at the same time he sat here pining after the life that the rest of the world seemed to be enjoying. He knew that he came to this bench because his home was so quiet. At home, he already felt dead. The house was cold, silent and unvisited. It was a grave in all respects other than having a headstone.
He wanted to be full of life, he wanted everything that the cascading river had to offer, but he knew he could never have it. The only way he could join them, was to become one of them. To stop being himself. The he who sat on this bench, who would die sitting on this bench, couldn’t sit anywhere else, especially not the leather armchair of a mobility scooter.