The Boy and the Bench

a little boy sits on a bench,
the same time every day,
anxious to meet his best friend;
there is writing on the back of the bench:

“BUDDY BENCH”

he thinks it apropos
to sit here since, after all, 
it’s name implies that here,
as you sit, you will find a buddy;

so this is where he sits,
everyday, wearing a red hat,
waiting for his buddy;

an old man sits on a dilapidated bench;
his arthritic fingers curl around a cane,
breathing in the fresh oxygen
noting the tank is nearly empty;

eyebrows, long and gray, frame kind eyes
that have seen enough of the world;
enjoying the nostalgia,
the lone figure on the bench
goes unnoticed;

Not long after he sits down,
his buddy appears; they both smile,
happy to finally talk to someone
and be noticed;

they know each other well;
they talk video games,
high scores and low, Star Wars,
professional wrestling,

and sadness;

he pulls his overcoat closer,
shielding himself form the cold
that hurts his chest when he breathes;
shallow puffs of breath create
soft condensation clouds
as cold air mixes with warmth;

he waits;

other kids walk by and mock
the kids on the bench; they call them
names, as young boys are prone to do;
the boys on the bench pretend not to notice;

but both notice;

they talk about giving up;
no one would care if they were not there;
their demise would certainly go unnoticed;

and this is often the subject they discuss;

each is happy to share sadness;

it is good to talk with a friend;

exhaustion seeps into his bones,
deep and perpetual; winter air
seems to be getting warmer, yet
the temperature remains unchanged;

a sudden gust of wind brings with it
a presence seated to his left;

for the first time on the bench,
a smile graces his tired lips;

“it’ll be OK” each says to the other;

and they both believe it;
they are, after all, best friends to the end;

he smiles;
his voice is tired;

“it has been a long time, my friend”

his eyes become glassy,
his cheeks shiny;

“you saved my life all those years ago;

you understood; you listened”

he paused for breath, his breathing is labored;

after a moment:

“thank you for friendship”

the cane slips from his hand;
his eyes become distant,
looking beyond the horizon;

the two friends talk everyday for two years;

Then, one day, as the boy is heading to recess
ready to meet his friend on the bench,
another boy he has never seen before
asks him if he wants to play basketball;

“of course” is his quick reply;

this boy also wants a friend;

so he and the new boy
run towards the court,
sparing not a glance
for the bench that sits empty;

he would not sit on the bench again…

until

his glassy gaze looks on the horizon,
breathing becomes shallow;
the familiar presence comforts him;

a little boys red hat sits in his lap;

the boy places the old man’s hand in his own;
“it’ll be OK”

a little boy comforts an old man on a bench;

the condensation ceases.

two boys rise from the bench
and begin walking toward the horizon;
one of them places a red hat atop his head;

both spare not a glance for
the bench left behind;

faded, cracked paint
on the back of the bench,
worn by time, reads

BUDDY BENCH.

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