A huge thanks to local writer Rik Lonsdale for sending us this topical and timely story for the web even though we cannot publish this in the magazine. Enjoy.
I was out for a run, my daily exercise, and I’d stopped to sit on a park bench for a couple of minutes to get my breath. That’s when I first saw him. I pulled an earpiece out. ‘Sorry, what did you say?’
‘I asked if I could sit here,’ he said.
‘Sure, it’s more than two metres away.’ I was putting the earpiece back in when he said, ‘It’s just that I need to sit down for a minute.’
That’s when I took a proper look at him. He was an old guy, maybe about a hundred, I don’t know, but ancient, wrinkly and grey. He was wearing a grubby old coat and he had a stick he was leaning on. He tried to lower himself onto the bench but his knees sort of gave way halfway down and he landed with a thump. It knocked my water bottle over.
‘I’m sorry, really I didn’t mean to…’
‘Hey, it’s alright, nothing broken, nothing spilled, got the lid on see.’ I showed him the bottle.
‘What’s that? A vacuum flask?’ he said.
I laughed. ‘Haven’t you seen a water bottle before?’
‘Not that colour,’ he said, ‘and we used to call them canteens.’
‘What’s wrong with the colour?’
‘It’s a bit bright,’ he said.
‘That means I don’t loose it in the grass. I can see it miles away.’
I unscrewed the lid and took a drink. ‘No plastic, see, not like the old bottles. I’m doing my bit.’
‘Doing your bit?’
‘Yeah, for the environment, not using plastic, saving the planet.’
‘Good, it needs saving.’
‘I can’t offer you a drink, social distancing and all that.’
‘I’ve got my own,’ he said. He rummaged in the inside pocket of his old tattered coat and pulled out this ancient thing.
It was a sort of bottle, but it was wrapped up in some old, brownish cloth, and had frayed straps around it. Tatty it was, with holes in the cloth. I could see the dull metal underneath. Wouldn’t want to drink out of it myself.
I watched as the old man pulled a cork out of the top. A cork! Then he took a drink. ‘It’s always best to use your own canteen,’ he said.
I laughed. ‘It sure is,’ I said and took another swig of water, then watched as he took a swig from his bottle.
‘You don’t want to leave that anywhere,’ I said, ‘you’ll never find it again, that colour.’
‘That was the idea when I got it, that it’s hard to spot.’
‘Why wouldn’t you want to find it?’
‘Not me, hard for others to see,‘ he said.
‘It looks ancient. Where’d ’you get it?’
‘I got it when I was doing my bit,’ he said. ‘But back then we were only saving the country, not the planet.’