A Bench With A Name

by Erika Byrne-Ludwig

Benches could tell you many tales if they could see and talk. I'm privileged: I can do both. To begin with I'm quite an antique, been here for probably a century now, though I've lost count of the years passing by. I'm standing, firmly bolted down, under a plane tree in a park. My seat is made of durable material, comfortable I like to think, though sagging a little under the weight of heavy visitors, of age and weathering. A functional bench, as tested by many, with relaxing armrests. But who notices my elaborate design when all they concentrate on is their own interests ... A connoisseur could work out my age and study my fine leaf and bird details, but those who seek my comfort are not seeing me as a collector's item.

On one occasion, a notable rarity, a visitor came with an album and showed me photos of benches he'd seen in many countries he'd visited. Amazing craftsmanship, I thought, judging them with a critical eye. Long-lost siblings and friends, I ventured to say in my very low voice which he might not have heard. (It seems that only my close friend, Clovis, can hear me.) He talked about his hobby as he flipped through the pages, and pointing to one picture said: that's you. I felt proud to belong to a group of multicultural benches.

As you can imagine my life is not all that lively. Days are not eventful as my visitors tend to be the daily ones. This last week, however, left me with an indefinable malaise that spread throughout the ornate twists of my frame and left me with a touch of wobbliness which I'm sure would have made me limp had I been able to walk. To alleviate my worries, I knew I would have to tell my friend the same evening.

A young boy had come, munching his chocolate, dangling his legs, his eyes riveted to the road waiting for the school bus to arrive. He came back the next day and the following day. It was the fourth day that puzzled me. The boy came as before. He had been sitting a few minutes when a man approached him and introduced himself as his uncle Paul. “Don't you remember me?” The boy blocked his chewing while he looked at him candidly. (I recall myself warning him but my voice didn't reach him.) Simple questions and answers followed till they both left hand in hand, the man looking down at him and the boy looking up. I watched them reach the road, the parked car in which they disappeared. I memorised the number plate.

On the bench the chocolate wrap, still scented, rustled in the light rain, fluttered awkwardly, before alighting like a pair of dented butterflies, trembling until it lay there, spongy on the grass, the word chocolate glistening with droplets of water. Or were they tears?

This encounter had left me with a numb feeling. Long reasoning gave me no comfort. I waited a little more anxiously for my friend to join me and to share my disquiet.

Clovis, the undertaker, arrived at the usual time, slowly, walking like a robot.

“We're old friends, aren't we Leon?”

“Indeed, we are, Clovis. What's new over there in the yard?”

“Two more burials.”

I was quietly thinking of the ephemeral state of things. “You know, I've probably been here long enough to be reborn twice.”

“Lucky you're not made of bones.” He laughed.

“Clovis,” I said after a pause. “Can you do me a favour?”

“Just ask, Leon. I'm your walking legs.”

“Just a suspicion I have. Could you go to the police and have a number plate checked.”

In my very low and slow voice, which only he heard distinctly, I told him about the small hands holding the chocolate bar and the big hand taking the boy away.