A Weekend Stroll

I’d been walking for hours with my hat pulled low, shading my eyes from the insane glare of the mid-winter sun when I stumbled upon him. If I hadn’t been walking with my head down, maybe I never would have detected the smell of sweat, and diarrhoea coming from what looked like a pile of clothes in the bushes by the river.

I remember being annoyed at first thinking: Another fuckin’ junkie passed out by the river path, stinking up my air, but then something stopped me. Something, I didn’t know what, just something didn’t feel right. I was moving towards him before I made the conscious decision to do so. My guts were twisting with the butterflies of frightened anticipation.

I pushed through the bramble, barely feeling the sharp branches as they struck out at my face. As he slowly came into view I realized that this person was not “a junkie passed out by the river path.” This person, whoever he was, was dead and in that moment, all my preconceived notions of what I might find in the bushes are shattered. This was not a bum, a bottle-picker, a vagrant; his clothes are too new, the cut of his overcoat too fine, his shoes too shiny. He’s just an old guy who stumbled into the bushes and died. Except for his age, he could be me.

I stood for a moment, staring; instantly sobered by the sight of death. He was lying in a heap amongst the brown grass, mud and leaves, his head facing the river, one hand underneath him, the other gripped tightly around something I couldn’t make out. I was suddenly very aware of my breathing, the air from my lungs condensing in the cool air as I exhaled, and the beating of my heart was deafening in my ears.

I don’t even remember pulling out my mobile phone to call the cops, but the look on the old guy’s face is now etched into my memory for eternity: eyes open, mouth slightly agape, a look of pain and confusion about his face.

A bicyclist flew past me, ringing his bell as I stepped back out onto the river path. I looked down the blacktop in both directions and thought about how strange it was that there was nobody about on this Saturday afternoon. Stumbling backwards, I landed on my ass on the opposite side of the pathway, a cloud of dust surrounding me as I hit the brown grass with a thump. I stared down the path again, the bicyclist now only an indistinct shape vanishing into the shadows beneath the fourteenth street bridge, in the other direction, a pair of greyish, nebulous shapes were moving towards me. Shapes that could be the police, a boy and his dog, a pair of joggers, or maybe an old couple out for a pleasant afternoon stroll.

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