The emptiness was the strangest thing. Turning each corner on the muddy path, there was only absence. Absence of the man with the two stubborn dogs who won’t let him put on their leads as he swears vile threats into their floppy ears. Absence of the father and son, former teaching latter how to ride a bike away from the peril of the roads and footpaths. Absence of the strange old lady with her Bag-for-Life, pulling twigs and needles from the winter trees and stuffing them into the polythene sack. It was still the winter when all this began. Already there’s so much more to collect from the trees and shrubs, perhaps she daydreams each morning of shoots and buds between her four walls of mandatory isolation.
I walked on past the river, stepping onto the verge now and then to let a different memory pass. I used to enhance the trudge of walking our own dog with earphones and podcasts and playlists. Now there is too much to listen to. The forest and fields scream with questions and accusations. Where has everybody gone? What do you expect of us now? I shrugged. I don’t have the answers, and in that at least, I’m not alone. The one thing that binds us in our concealment; we don’t know what happens next. We seemed to have forgotten that, somehow.
I returned to the car park. A lone car I could have left anywhere, at any angle, doors ajar, but I must have longed for normal order between the definite lines of a pre-marked space. A bird sat on a post opposite. Red and white lollipop tape rustled in the wind and a printed sign on the playground railings overstated the obvious. Closed due to Covid-19. I reversed out of the space. I rolled the window down and turned the radio off. At the entrance gate, I passed another car. We exchanged a nod, and then a wave. It almost felt ceremonial. Changing of the guard. Passing the baton.
I was well used to waiting a minute or more at that junction, it was a busy B-road and popular cycle route. Of course, the road was empty, but I waited just the same. I looked in my mirror at the other vehicle turning into the car park. He too, neatly lined up into a space, next to the one I had parked in. I indicated left and pulled out of the junction. It was a terrific morning for a walk. I expect the other man thought the same. I tried to remember to tell him myself, whenever I could.
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