The old man was there as usual. They looked at each other briefly as John made his way to the rickety bench at the remotest end of the park, where the old man was seated.
John walked to the park everyday at dusk, to spend a few hours alone before clamming himself up in his one-roomed flat, on his way back from his bakery. His favourite bench in the entire park was the oldest and the dirtiest. Nobody ever used it, save for the other aged man. John was more than happy. He wasn’t socially awkward, but liked to spend most of his time alone, especially this time of the day.
The old man, his neighbour, a retired clerk, looked much older for his years. Life hadn’t been kind to him. He had lost his beloved wife shortly after marriage and was left with an infant daughter. After several years, his daughter grew up to have an admirable intellect and a heart of gold. Betty, apple of her father’s eye, grew up to be a social worker, nursing diseased tribes in the deep forests of Africa. She had left home shortly after earning a diploma and flew away to pursue her dreams. She wrote to her father regularly, who wasn’t well equipped with the complicated Internet. Betty was away for almost five years, and the old man’s heart ached to see his only kin. She had promised to return soon, in her letters she had delightfully announced to have found a charming man for herself, and wanted to marry him in her father’s presence.
John sat quietly with his head down as he recalled his beautiful days with Betty, in Africa. She was the most magnificent person he had ever come across. They were happy together…she had wanted to marry him at her family church…they had made all arrangements…But Fate smirked at their attempts at planning their future- after all it was she who pulled the strings according to her whim. A week before their departure, Betty was diagnosed with a fungal infection that steadily spread in her blood. Vivid images flashed across his mind as John recalled how the doctors were removing the life support after confirming her death. He was completely shattered and couldn’t stay there anymore. He decided to move to Durham, Betty’s birthplace and start afresh. He lived alone, and ran a bakery. Every evening, he visited the park at dusk and spent a few hours in quiet solitude to think about his beloved. He loved the rickety bench because it gave him a perfect view of the sunset. Betty loved sunsets.
The old man had only received a telegram from the organisation she worked for. Carefully counted words told him of her death. The telegram was followed by a monetary compensation. The heartbroken father, helpless, routinely spent a few hours on the bench alone, thinking about his daughter, watching the sun, set. Betty loved sunsets.
Eventually, John got up and turned to face the old man who was preparing to leave. The old man looked at the handsome stranger who looked oddly familiar, for a few seconds. They held their glances once again, a quiet goodbye. They were headed home, and walked away in opposite directions.