By Parson Thru
The man was sitting on a stone wall staring out across the river.
“Evening!” I called out to him.
He turned his head and briefly watched me labouring up a rise in the road towards him.
I walked the last few yards under the dripping limbs of a naked beech and stopped.
His eyes were straight ahead. I followed them across the fast-flowing river and patchwork of fields and dry-stone walls to the high limestone crags catching the last of the afternoon sun.
The fields were lush, everything else taking on the geological grey, patched with verdant colonies of moss. The sky brought ice-blue relief between scudding pewter clouds.
“Nice view.” I ventured.
The man nodded slowly.
“Not a bad evening for enjoying it, either.”
“No.” he answered without looking at me. “I suppose not.”
“Mind if I sit there with you?”
The man shook his head.
I stepped over the ditch and up the verge. The coping stones of the wall were uneven and the moss was damp, but I settled myself a few feet from him and quietly took in the view.
The river tumbled and churned over its rocky bottom at the far side of the road. Water dripped from overhanging clusters of trees. Beyond the river, store lambs were nibbling the coarse grass. A dog barked somewhere.
“Been out walking?” I asked my companion.
“No.” was all he said.
I let it go and watched a pair of crows beat their way up the valley.
I began to wonder whether I should have walked past and left him in peace. He was the only person I’d seen all day. It gets quiet up here out of season. It’s not one of the more frequented dales. I thought it might be nice to round the day off with a chat.
Maybe if I got up now and passed a valedictory pleasantry. Yes, that would be best. A parting wave and on down to the village.
“You can see a lot in that river.”
I turned to look at him. He seemed transfixed by the water.
“Yes.” I answered. “You can.”
“You don’t know what I’m on about, do you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Your whole life going by. You don’t get to live any of it again. Not a stick or a stone of it. Once it’s passed here, it’s gone for good.”
I watched the river streaming past our length of wall.
“Yes. I suppose you’re right.”
“Come walking here often?” he asked.
“As a matter of fact, no.” I answered. “I haven’t been up here for years.”
“More than fifteen, but not twenty.”
“That’s a while.”
The air began to chill and I felt the sweat cooling on my back. More crows flew towards the wood. A quad-bike was rising and falling unseen along a track somewhere among the network of grey walls. The dog barked again and was answered by another further along the valley.
“Are you local?” I asked.
“You might say that.”
“You know this place?”
“Oh, aye. I know it.”
We watched the water. The sheep had migrated down the field, moving with the stealth and persistence of a minute-hand. The limestone wall was making my backside ache. I decided to pick my moment and move on.
“Well, I could sit here all day.” I said.
“I do.” he answered.
I looked at him. He was still looking straight ahead.
“All day. Every day.”
“Why?” I asked, forgetting the ache.
“I’ve been waiting for a dream.” he answered.
I stared at the side of his face.
“And now it’s come.”
He slid off the wall and looked at me.
“I’ll be off, then.”
He stepped heavily over the ditch and walked along the road in the direction of the village. As he rounded the corner behind the stone wall, he paused and turned.
“Nice to see you at last." he said. "Enjoy the view.”