He couldn’t look at her, he had tried, he had even tried talking to her this morning. That had just made it worse. She sat there as she did every day, hands neatly on her lap, knees together, a peaceful pose, gentle, soft, but it screamed “Don’t, just don’t.” So he hadn’t. He simply sat there, on the roomy bench, in silence. Waiting.
Until this morning.
This morning he was feeling oddly alive. He had woken with a feeling of renewed purpose, a feeling that he had truly woken up after a year of living in a haze. So this morning he had tried. It started with a nod of his head as he approached, a friendly smile on his lips. She didn’t move, didn’t acknowledge his existence at all. Then he sat, looking up the road, trying to avoid her falling into his line of sight. If he couldn’t see her he wouldn’t have to deal with the thought that she didn’t share the moment he had tried to create.
It had made him feel small, sad and just a little belligerent. Who is this woman? They had sat together every weekday morning for the last six months. Perched on the roadside bench in all weathers. They shared this time, this space. They shared this air, this sun. She was part of his life, they were familiar, and yet he didn’t know her. He didn’t know her name, he didn’t know where she went, or where she came from. He didn’t know how she would sound if she spoke or what she thought. But they knew each other on sight now. They knew that they would see each other every week day at this time, on this bench, rain, hail or shine. It was strange, he thought, to share so much with somebody, to sit so close to somebody and to know nothing about them.
He brought his hand up to his mouth and coughed, clearing his throat. “It’s… err… it’s a nice day, huh?”
There was no response. He felt an emptiness build within him, an emptiness that turned to the heat of anger. He stood and walked a step or two away from the bench, kicking up dust from the dry mud path. He shrugged his shoulder, bringing his left arm up in front of him and checked the exposed watch at his wrist, tutted and then went back to sitting on the bench. Staring off down the road, waiting.
She had begun to wonder about the man’s life. Where did he go when they parted? Did he work in the city as she did? Where did he come from? It must have been somewhere close, perhaps from the new houses up on the hill. He seemed like a gentle man, a kind man, at least that’s how she imagined him. His eyes always seemed to glisten with a smile. She wished he would talk to her, she wanted to talk to him but was far too shy. Perhaps he wasn’t interested in a conversation, perhaps he had a wife at home, someone that filled his heart and his thoughts, someone that filled his eyes with that shimmering light she so loved.
She had been alone for a year now. Her husband had left her for a new life and a new family in the south. It had hurt her so deeply, she had given him fifteen years of her life, devoted her heart and her soul to him, and he had thrown it all away. Perhaps, she had thought, this man could fill her life. Perhaps he could give her the happiness, the love, that she felt she deserved. For weeks her evenings had been filled with thoughts of him, of his smile, of his strong arms wrapped around her, his soft, deep voice filling her heart as they talked about their day.
She hadn’t wanted to leave her house this morning. She felt fragile, her hand had still been shaking as she poured the milk into her coffee, her eyes felt full of sand. Sleep had been evasive and she had turned to the bottle of red wine that had been sat on her kitchen bench, for comfort. It had helped, a little, at least it had sent her into a doze. A terror filled doze, full of anguish. She had only managed to snatch a couple of hours of restless sleep from the darkness of the night and the sun's rise was unwelcome. Still, she had to leave the house, she had to walk the dirt path to the bench, she had to wait before heading off into the city.
She sat on the bench, holding back her emotions. She hadn’t known him, despite their shared ritual. She never knew his name. She never knew if there was someone waiting for him at home. She never knew what he thought, how he felt about her. She never would.
This would normally be the moment he wandered toward her, the moment he would sit beside her, his scent filling her nose, her breath synching with his. But that would never happen again. Not after yesterday. Not after that moment, when the car mounted the pavement, when the screeching of brakes filled the air, when the man she so desperately wanted to speak to, to know, to connect with was taken from her. Taken from the world.
A warm wind picked up as she sat, blew across her face with a whisper and swirled before her. A moment passed and the breeze swirled away picking up a little dust from the path, a clicking sound filled the air, like two pebbles clacking together and the breeze settled down. A lump formed in her throat, a tear filled her eye. A tear for a missed opportunity, a missed life and a man she never knew but would miss desperately for some time to come.
Published in Issue #9