A LIFE WELL LIVED: A Series Of Vignettes - I - Edward
Edward was late because he had forgotten the bread.
Unfortunately the bread was an essential part of the afternoon’s endeavours, so he had to turn back. He was grateful that he’d realised before he’d started up the hill. Although he did think that the exertion would have helped keep him a little warmer.
These days the winters were colder. He couldn’t decide if it was in a metaphorical sense or not. He’d heard chatter about global warming on the TV, but truth be told he was too old to worry about all that. His kids could deal with that kerfuffle. He had his own trials and tribulations to work through.
Turning around took him a full minute. For a second Edward fancied himself some sort of old-timey machine that ran on steam and a collection of pulleys and levers.
He imagined the little men and women tugging on ropes and surveying conveyor belts, wooden cogs grinding slowly into motion, joints in need of a severe oiling beginning to pivot at the heave and ho of the little workers, drops of condensation forming on the rivets as the steam from the coal furnace cooled the higher up it went. He breathed out into the sharp November air and imagined the icy white plume he let out was this very same steam, the result of his labour.
He chuckled to himself at the thought, shaking his head with a gentle smile that seemed to persist on his face. I might be getting on he thought to himself, but I’m little better than a child with my silly old games, which brought out another chuckle.
The young woman jogging past Edward stared at him, silently wondering at his sanity, but he was far too caught up in his daydreams to notice.
It’s not that Edward had gotten to old to care what other people thought of him, it’s that Edward never much cared at all.
School was an enjoyable time for him. He was smart, his teachers told his parents that he “could achieve a lot more if he focussed and applied himself”, but much to everyone’s chagrin, Edward was not one for achieving a lot.
He instead was content to finish his work neatly and efficiently, and proceeded to spend the remaining class time daydreaming. It was a perennial problem of his that his father had tried to cure him of with the use of his exceptionally thick belt. The only lesson Edward learned that day was that people didn’t like daydreamers.
And so Edward kept his flights of fancy to himself. What started off as a necessity (he didn’t fancy the sharp whip of his father’s temper coming his way again – not that his father was a cruel man, he was simply an avid disciplinarian) became a force of habit that he had little motivation to break.
Edward had grown up during the war which was, more than anything, a practical time - and practical times had little use for daydreamers. He’d gone on to grow up and get a practical job and found himself a practical wife and they’d had several not entirely practical kids who had gone on to do this and that as kids are want to do.
He loved them all very dearly, in his own way, but Edward had always been a little disconnected from the world around him. None could accuse him of distance or coldness, for whenever they required his attention, they would have it undivided. His eyes would focus once more on who had spoken or tapped his shoulder or pulled at his trouser leg, and they’d fill with the inviting friendliness of a countryside fireplace. He was a good father if a forgetful one. He was an attentive husband who was smart enough to not notice the infidelities. He was a kind man, just one who was never really there.
It was the time of year when the leaves that littered the pavement were a delightfully golden brown but often grown soggy under the feet of a thousand commuters or a particularly brisk cold snap on a Wednesday morning. However, if one were attentive enough, one could still find the rare specimen on which it was possible to win a satisfying crunch from.
Edward often kept his attention on the ground at this time of year for precisely such an opportunity, and one presented itself approximately 72 steps into his journey home. It was a little off his path, and he had to navigate a lady walking her dog to get to it (which he played off as a gentlemanly gesture of politeness, with a flourish of his hand that earned him a smile from the charmed young woman, which he answered with a conspiratorial smile of his own) but get to it he did, and took such immense pleasure in the crunching of his prize that he couldn’t help but close his eyes and raise his face to the skies in celebration of this delicious victory.
The trek back home was rather uneventful and was not even halfway done when Edward was struck with an idea that he realised would stop him having to be any later to his appointment than he had to be.
Instead of taking the left onto Field End Crescent, he carried on down the road until he stopped by the garishly coloured sign of a corner shop. Nodding to himself as if to confirm the excellence of his plan, Edward pushed open the door and walked in to the sound of the tinkling bell.
The man behind the counter looked up at him as he entered, murmured a hurried goodbye into the cordless landline in his hand and greeted him with a wave and a smile.
"Hello Mr. Edward! How are you!"
"Hello Arjun! Very well young man, very well, how are you keeping?"
"Oh yes very good Mr. Edward, very cold though!"
"Too bloody right" Edward said with a chuckle, and was rewarded with an equally friendly chuckle from Arjun.
"So how can I help you Mr. Edward? Some tobacco? You paid your heating last week I think"
"Well, Arjun, this might be a somewhat odd request, but I was wondering if you had any old bread I could get my hands on? Past it’s sell by date and all that"
"Oh, Mr Edward! ...no, you will have a fresh loaf I insist"
"No need for all that son, just an old loaf will do, its for my friends you see?"
But Arjun was having none of it, and before Edward could protest further he found himself with a loaf of Kingsmill in his arms (with a sell-by date of more than a week away) as Arjun told him "any friend of Mr. Edward is a friend of mine", and as he reached for his wallet he was baffled as Arjun insisted, "no, no, don’t worry about that Mr. Edward" and shooed him away.
Confused but grateful, Edward offered him a nod and a tip of the hat as he left, and as the bell rang, Arjun whispered, "poor man... Where are his children?" to no-one in particular before he picked up the phone and put it to his ear again.
Feeling rather pleased with his plan, and the fact he’d likely saved himself a good 15 minutes, Edward took off back towards the hill with renewed vigour. He tried to offer further nods and smiles to the people around him but most of them were preoccupied with whatever it was that preoccupied their lives. He did get a gap-toothed grin from a young boy out with his mother and a bark from a particularly long daschund however.
Finally, feeling an awful lot warmer, Edward arrived. It was 12.26 according to his watch, which wasn’t too bad. His usual bench was empty too - what a lucky old day I’m having today, he thought to himself. He made his way over and eased himself onto the wood, trying to ignore the leftover raindrops soaking into his trousers and leaned back into the seat that he’d sat in every noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the last 7 years.
The pond in front of him hadn’t iced over, and as far as Edward was aware it never did. He thought the ducks would recognise him by now, but they carried on with their swimming until they heard him unwrap the packaging on the bread and saw him begin to tear up the first piece. They swam up to him eagerly and Edward smiled as they did,
"You greedy little buggers" he said with a chuckle, admonishing them with a little shake of his head. And it was there, as he continued to tear up the slices and throw them into the water, that once again, Edward began to daydream.