THE STORY OF THE OLD MAN ON THE BENCH IN THE PARK
by Harvey James
I’ve gotta start from the beginning and so I say to him, I’ve gotta explain my dad. Well a few months ago, he comes over from China and we go for lunch. We meet at London Bridge station and I see his blond hair like straw, greasy and scraped back. That is the head of my father. His head swivelling and scanning everyone in the crowd, but still kind of bored looking. I keep my eyes fixed on him and remember how much I hate him. He sees me. No hugs, kissing and love, it’s ‘we’re late.’
I tell him uni is going well and that I’ve made some good friends, that the teachers are fun and London is great. I don’t tell him I’m not at uni, I’ve made some reprobate friends, London is tough and everyone is an asshole. That would give him too much satisfaction. He can’t know he made me the husk of a human I currently live in. It’s two years since his wave left me at the door of my first flat in London. Two years of relief, punctuated with the fear of him returning. He would search me out and incarcerate me in China for the rest of his life just for the fun of it. He’s like that, you know.
That’s when it occurs to me I need to leave the restaurant. He absolutely would abduct me. And an eerily perfect restaurant in Mayfair is just the sort of place it would happen. They probably offer a premium service for it. Keep a parking bay free in the basement at all times. That sort of vibe. So I jump out the bathroom window into their food waste bin. The stench of fish, the tomato stains and the slivers of onion stuck to my thigh got me some weird looks on the tube. I got home and smashed up my phone with a hammer lying around in the kitchen. He hasn’t contacted me yet.
So two weeks later and I’m pretty down, but now my usual sort of down, having just about got over my dad’s visit. I’m in a pub and I’m drinking, right. I turn round and say, ‘What the fuck, did you just say?’ My irses all burning into this man sat on the bench next to me. He said to me ‘typical Asian’, implying I can’t handle my booze. My eyes flutter all incredulous like, and I say, ‘The cheek of it… you want to make a pariah out of me, in my own temple? I’ll drink you under this vestibule any day of the week sunshine. Why don’t you wind your neck in and get back to bickering with the lads.’ I turn round to my group with a wry smile and hear him say ‘stupid chink’, so I turn back around and say, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ and this time breathing right into his pasty, sallow skin, grab him by the shirt and crunch a pint glass into his head, just for effect mind. Sometimes I think, yeah, it was a little strong, but I’d do it again.
Anyway, just two days after that, we’re all out in Dalston, you know Visions and Dalston Superstore and all that shit, when a group of dickhead lads walk past and start yabbing. You know, Martin all dressed up as Martina StormQueen and Lola all wearing wild and colourful garms, and they think. Here’s a target. So we say fuck you and Lola sort of walks up with her arms flailing, giving it all that. They laugh and walk off. Then, turn around charge at us from behind and proper like lay into us. Fist after fist after fist. I see Lola’s head hit the floor and she disappears.
Next time I see her she’s is in the hospital and she’s just woken up. A week had passed and we were all on the jittery edge. But some girl in a sailor hat behind the bar that night said ‘hey, my friend’s a therapist, go down and get some sessions sometime.’ My friends like the idea and so we try it out, separately. And just like that I’m in therapy. The one place I’ve successfully avoided these last 20 years of my life. Where self-indulgent twats cry into their worthless twenty pound notes like tissues then blow them away. Poof. Just like that, I’m one of them. But it’s been alright you know. I feel kinda better for it.
I’d just finished a session and was walking through the park with my sauerkraut and pastrami sandwich on brown bread from Johnnie’s like I have done for the three weeks previous. Every week there’s an old dude sat on this bench, so this time I walked over and sat down next to him. He asks ‘who are you?’ so I tell him. Anyway, at the end of my story, he turns around to me, all confused like and says ‘good luck with your dad’ and he slowly walks off, looking like he’s made of ash and he might just blow off into the ether, but with this great big cheery smile on his face and it made think, fuck, I don’t know if he listened to a single word.
The guy had a kind of aura, I’ll give him that, like the present for him was just a repetition. So I waltz off to the newsagents to get a pack of smokes and a magazine, thinking, see you next week old man, see you next week. Next week comes, but the old man is nowhere to be seen. I get home and there is dad, on my fucking doorstep.
About the Author:
Harvey James is an English Literature and Language BA Graduate of King’s College London. He is currently a freelance writer based in South East London.