My bubble of isolation was burst this wet Monday when a youngster – I’m no good at ages, but a teenager, taller than a child, and with fluff on his chin that ought to be stubble – sidled up and asked “Do you mind if I sit here, Sir?” I’d been looking the other way and hadn’t seen him coming, so I was taken aback by his sudden appearance, and also by his manners. They weren’t big on manners on the Caxton estate. “Sure, it’s a public park and a public bench, help yourself” I said, as warmly as I could, whilst thinking I’d have to shift in a minute or two, but not wanting to offend him by leaving straightaway. He looked rather glum, in his bedraggled school uniform, his fine fair hair soaked, and raindrops on his elegant cheekbones like tears. I notice faces, and bodies, and form. How people turn out fascinates me – I’ve known the children of friends – and my brother’s – grow up to be plain when they started beautiful, and vice versa. I have a theory that everyone has a decade when they look absolutely their best. I’m still waiting for mine. I’ve had five.
“I’ve seen you here before” the boy said. A variant on “do you come here often?”, I suppose. “I’m surprised anyone notices me! I usually stop off after work before home. It’s nice to sit outside in the weather”. “Even the rain?” “Oh yes, I like the rain best”. But I wasn’t going to tell him why, as that might come across as rude, given that he was invading my space. “And you – just home from school?” “School, and the gym. Not a nice day”. “How come?” “Had to take the bus, and the guys there were taking the piss. And school was boring. And I hate the gym”. I didn’t know where to start with that – all I could connect to was school being boring, which for me it was, until the sixth form, and my guess was that this lad wasn’t there yet. “Why do you go to the gym if you hate it?” “My step-dad makes me go. He paid for membership. He thinks I need to beef up to get a girlfriend”. “I shouldn’t think a chap with your looks needs to beef up at all to get a girl, and I’m not sure the sort of girl who’d be impressed is the sort of girl you’d really want”.