Bill sat on a bench by the village green. He figured it was a Sunday as the little shop was to be closed all day. He read an old newspaper he’d found until he got so hungry that he couldn’t concentrate on the words, then he allowed himself a slice of the stale bread that was stuffed into his battered rucksack.
Children played football on the green behind him, so he turned around and watched for a bit, counting the goals. He decided the girl with bright red hair was the best player, she had pace and finesse that outmatched all the other kids.
People walked past in bursts; dog-walkers being pulled along, couples hand in hand, families out for a stroll before their Sunday lunch. Bill tried to meet their eyes, tried to get some confirmation that he was part of this world, but none of them looked back. They kept their heads down, or looked up and away, suddenly very interested in the houses around them. It was something he was used to from his time begging in towns and city centres and had grown numb to the insult of being disregarded and ignored. People were caught up in their busy lives, he understood that, going to and from work or dates, or in the middle of hectic weekend shopping, and they didn’t have time to interact with strangers. Especially desperate strangers lurking on corners and in doorways. But the fact that it was happening to him now in this peaceful village, where people were few enough and far enough between, on a Sunday, a day of peace and rest, where one could be mindful of one’s surroundings, cut him fresh.
The tired August sun started to set at last, turning everything a beautiful mellow orange. The children were called back to their homes, leaving in twos and threes. He imagined that he would congratulate the red-haired girl on her good game, but she ran past at speed, making a purposeful diversion around the spot where he sat.
Without warning Bill began to cry like he hadn’t in years. It took him by surprise as he didn’t even think it was possible, being as dehydrated as he was. Big sharp tears forced their way out of his eyes and down his cracked face, disappearing into greying bristle.
He cried because he realised that he didn’t really exist. And if he didn’t exist then there seemed to be no reason that he should sit on this bench and take up space that might otherwise be taken by someone worthwhile, someone real.
But without looking he knew there was nothing pointed enough in his rucksack, nothing sturdy enough or heavy enough either, or enough money to get enough gear. There was no choice but to go on, like a ghost, and that was the most painful thing.
A service bus rumbled past, its deep rattling pulling him out of his dark thoughts and making him look up.
A small girl in a puffy blue coat looked out at him from one of the stained windows and waved.
He stared through his saturated eyes and managed to wave back. He saw her smile and rock in her chair before the bus disappeared around the corner.
Maybe he did exist after all.
Daniel Paton was born in 1996 in Stratford upon Avon and studied Creative Writing at the University of Gloucestershire. He has had poetry, short fiction and articles published, and also writes screenplays and stage plays, one of which was performed at a Stroud Theatre Festival 2018. He currently lives in Belfast, continuing his studies at Masters level at Queen’s University, looking to develop his Screenwriting skills and complete his debut novel.