15th April
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A Favour to Old Age

Then the sun came out. As if by accident, as if it didn’t mean to but forgot itself. Twenty minutes earlier the sky had been a big grey leaking blanket and everything was wet. It had been like that for days, weeks: long enough, anyway, that you couldn’t remember the last sunny day. Cold too – miserably so. Even when it wasn’t raining the air had felt heavy, full of chill moisture. Damp eating into your bones, rotting your skin. But then, by miraculous chance, the sun came out.

Twenty minutes was all it took, and you felt that bone-destroying, skin-sapping process thrown into reverse. Bright blue holes appeared in the blanket, joining up to make bigger expanses. Soon there were just a few grey rags remaining up there. The roads and pavements were being steam-cleaned. Steel and glass on buildings gleamed and winked. People stretched themselves, pushed back hoods, lowered and shook and folded umbrellas. They smiled. Everything was going to be dry again. The heat on your shoulders – how soon you remembered the goodness of that! You wanted to be a lizard, flat out on a stone, absorbing, making the most of it.

You ate your sandwich on a bench in the public gardens. The wooden slats were dry and warm. An old man sat down at the other end. You glanced at him, but he was oblivious to you. He had a newspaper. He folded it carefully, brought his face down to within two or three inches of the page, and started to read. The intensity of his concentration was fascinating. When he reached the bottom-right-hand corner of the section of page he was on, he refolded the paper and started again from the top-left-hand corner.

You had to return to work. You sensed that the old boy wouldn’t be shifting as long as he still had some news left to read. And you hoped that, for as long as he had, the sun would stay out. A favour to old age: I’m here now so I’ll stay. You were envious of him sitting on, of his reading every word, even of his shortsightedness. You stood up to leave. He did not notice.

Reader: Kate Molleson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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