His old brown coat mixed well with the surroundings as he entered the park. The brown trunks of the trees camouflaged the man who never wanted to be seen, anyway. He always found the hour of settling dusk as the most peaceful one. People returning home from their hectic days. Children winding up the playfulness of the park. The elderlies taking them back home. But among those, there were certain he always had his observing eyes for. The ones for whom dusk was the beginning of being in the park.

Today when he settled on a wooden bench, he saw a boy quietly sitting in the darkest corner of the park. ‘Must be a teenager waiting to meet his friends,’ he thought. But there was nobody to be seen around. Nor the boy had an electronic gadget in his hand, unlike many other boys of his age. From the boy’s expression, he could make out that he was sulking.

‘But what has this young lad got to be sad about,’ he wondered. ‘Maybe he scored fewer marks in mathematics, but students these days hardly care about their grades. Maybe his mom scolded him. Maybe he has had a fight with his teenage girlfriend or a crush. Just maybe, he has no friends, been a victim of bullying in his school and needs someone to talk to. Maybe.’

Shifting his gaze, he produced a tobacco pipe from his coat pocket, put it in his mouth and lit it. The first whiff of its smoke made him oblivious to the presence of the boy for a while. At that moment, the park keeper walked past him towards the centre of the sitting area and turned on the last of the lights that were left to be turned on. As faintly as they lit, hardly making much of a difference, they might’ve mattered to the lonely keeper who had to spend his fifteen minutes of each day, walking the perimeter of the park, turning on the lights of every segment. ‘He has a strange look on his face’, the man thought. ‘Peaceful. He looks peaceful. How? Bit of a masochist if you ask me. Who stays peaceful at a job like this, being alone in this dark?’

As the darkness was rising overhead, the park gradually got deserted. This time, he kept the tobacco pipe aside and lit a cigarette. He was not sitting any far from the gate when he realised that a car had screeched to halt and a young woman had walked out of it. With her long strides, she had already entered the park within seconds and started running. He smirked at the irony of her visit. ‘If you wanted to exercise so diligently, shouldn’t you have walked from your home which is four blocks away from the park?’ His generation was so different from these youngsters who were only fooling themselves with this fraudulent act.  

For a moment he only kept staring on the now empty path. He desperately wished to find someone new in the park just so he could have something to shift his attention to. On eventually failing, he heard his worst thought, ‘Was it worth?’

It’s impossible to not have this thought in contemplation, in loneliness. A man can sit by himself and try not to wander to the same dark places of his mind; he can sit and keep observing the surroundings, the people around him, but for how long? There comes a moment when eventually the consciousness loses the battle and gives in to the one question that’d keep haunting it. In this man’s case, ‘Was it worth?’

However, he’d certainly find solace in these dark alleys of the park on a wintery night. The temperature was dropping but he still sat there, on the cold wooden bench. He usually walks around or two around the park and then settles down, but today, he realised that he has aged. His frozen knees couldn’t tread further. His breaths grew deeper and he now thought he shouldn’t have smoked up. Remembering the things that he shouldn’t have done, the list went endlessly.

‘Years ago, when I’d started losing more than I could bear, it was my choice to hold on to the few remaining ones. Loneliness scared me. But trying to lace my fingers with a closed fist scared me even more. So when everything began being unreciprocated and I decided to snip every thread, it was my choice. Yet now I’m contemplating, thinking if I should’ve held on, no matter how fake they became, just for the sake of company. Months have passed and I still see them when I sit here every day in this empty park. I see the disturbed teenage boy, presumably stressed over his broken relations; the park keeper, trying to find the little forceful positivity in his dead-end job and the lady, too keen on pretending to be fit. I’ve told myself over and over again that they’re not there. It’s just me seeing what I once was. Someone disturbed over a relationship, someone trying to stay positive in the meaningless job and someone as keen as a young girl finding joy in physical exertions.

I can say that in my head every day and yet I will see them every single day in this dark empty park, telling me that loneliness has driven me mad.’

Lunatic as they inferred him to be, but he was just like the people, finding solace in the darkness of the park in their heart which was once lively.  

 

Collaborated/co-authored with 
Vatsal Thakore
Blog link: theinceptedpath.wordpress.com

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