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  • Writer's pictureAubrey Clyburn

Yes, Park Bench Guy, I Did Put You In My Journal

Updated: Jul 26, 2020

By Aubrey Clyburn


This story is only a little bit true.

 

It was just cold enough to make for pleasant outdoor weather, and my poor neglected journal was begging for an entry. There was a flowery little park outside the church down the street from the Airbnb, and my head began to fill with sentences as I walked there, wishing I had eaten more for breakfast. I picked the least watery bench, across the park from a woman with a wobbly, enthusiastic toddler, and sat down to ruin some paper with my words. I had been there long enough to fill two pages when I heard squeaky tennis shoes coming up the brick pathway. To my utter dismay, they stopped by my bench and the voice belonging with them asked, “Excuse me, can I sit down?” The man belonging to the voice and the tennis shoes was medium-sized and excitable-looking. His glasses were slightly too big, and I could barely see the Iron Man symbol on his worn t-shirt. He looked as if he woke up every day and was thrilled about it. It would have been like saying no to a golden retriever. “Sure,” I said, and compromised by returning pointedly to my journal. His enormous backpack made a *whoomp* sound as he let it drop to the ground. “Thanks,” he said, dropping himself onto the bench, which became suddenly very small. A full minute nearly passed while he cleaned his glasses, and I was settling into the expectation of odd but companionable silence when he added, “What are you writing?” I swallowed a sigh as my quiet morning slipped away before my eyes. This is what happens when you have a friendly-looking face. I began to wonder how to avoid more of these situations as I replied, “Just journaling.” “Journaling, huh?” He pulled one foot up onto the bench and began fully unlacing his tennis shoe. “That’s very good, journaling. Helps with mindfulness, you know. Living intentionally. I read people who journal regularly even live longer, did you know that?” “No, I didn’t.” Maybe heavy eyeliner. And a few piercings. “Yeah, I read somewhere it’s supposed to be very good, so, you know, good for you.” He really was unlacing the entire shoe. “You’re one of the special ones!” “I suppose I am.” Perhaps it was time to invest in some of those heavy headphones. But then people want you to take them off. Connect. Hang up and hang out. Having gotten the lace free of its sneaker prison, he began rethreading it with disconcerting vigor. Those shoes were not coming off. “What are you journaling about?” “It’s sort of a travel diary.” Damn it. Damn it, damn it. Too much information. He brightened, and gave his shoelace a cheery tug. “Travel, huh? You’re not from around here, then. Or have you just come back from traveling?” I couldn’t back up the lie of being a local, so I went with, “No, I’m just passing through.” “Oh, me too!” He abandoned the shoe entirely. “Well sort of, anyway. Just on my way to the train station, in fact. My train doesn’t leave for two hours, though, but I like to be early. Where are you headed next?” I’d brought this on myself. What was I thinking, going to a park in a foreign country all by myself? The woman with the toddler was gone. “London.” I was not headed to London. I hoped he wasn’t either. “Good for you! I love London. My brother lives there and he hates it, says it’s too crowded. Or I guess he still lives there. He might have moved again by now. I haven’t been in a while anyway, I went to a conference a couple of years ago but that kind of thing doesn’t happen often. They’ve got some excellent museums, will you visit any museums while you’re there?” I wanted to be sure I could identify him if it came to that, so I finally looked properly up from my journal and square into his face. He had missed a smudge on his glasses. His eyes were wide, eyebrows a little bit raised, both shoulders facing me. He looked like the loneliest person in the world. I set my pencil down. “I’ve heard good things about the V&A.” “Oh, yeah, the V&A, that’s really good. They’ve got some, what is it, Raphael stuff that’s just fantastic.” He nodded, scratching his nose, and added, “Yeah, you’re in for a treat there.” “I hope so.” I watched him finish tying his shoe – he belonged to the bunny-ears methodology – and stamp his foot on the pavement decidedly. “Well, I’d better go. Don’t want to miss the train. My best mate’s funeral, it’d be a shame if I weren’t there.” I couldn’t even manage *I’m sorry* as he shouldered the massive backpack. He pushed his glasses up and asked, nodding to my journal, “Will I be in there?” “Sure you will.” He beamed. “The weird guy who kept talking at you when you were just trying to write in your journal, yeah?” And why then did I want to cry? (Because I had spent too long being the weird girl for whom any talking was too much?) “No, no. You will be…” Oh, god. What could I give him? What did I always want to be given? “You will be my new friend, who I’ll never see again.” I could have lit a pack of birthday candles with that smile. “Well, I guess that’s right, then. Enjoy the museums!” And he squeaked away, leaving me alone in the park with a new friend and another hungry page.

 

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