A tale of the lone and the lonely.

The Empty Bench

Twenty Years Ago

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One day, twenty years ago, she just appeared on the bench when the ferry arrived.  She had a job at the English bookshop, it was as sudden as that, it was the first time I had seen her.  She was sitting on the bench eating her lunch watching the ferry disembark.  Then she came to the bookshop door when the afternoon ferry came.

I asked her once who she was waiting for but she didn't say.  She just smiled.

I said that maybe he had forgotten, this man she was waiting for, or maybe he had lied when he promised to come for her.  Still she said nothing.

Then for a while I took to saying maybe tomorrow when I saw her coming back from the bench.  And she would smile at me.

It must have been a year before I hit on the idea of asking her to recommend a book.

I remember a blond young man asking the question loudly as he entered her shop. I remember berating myself for not thinking about talking to her about books.

I waited a week before I asked. She smiled, the smile I was becoming quite familiar with, she thought a while then suggested The Stranger. She had it in more than one language, I could choose. I chose English. I didn't realise it was a translation until I opened the book that evening to read.


The next day as I waited for the lunchtime ferry to arrive, I took my coffee and sat on the bench in front of my office in the sun to read my book.  

When she came passed I told her his mother died.  I had only read the first page and didn't know what to say.  It is the first thing that happens in the book and I wanted to say something.  

Maybe a thank you would have been better.  Or I could have just held up the book to show her what I was reading.  

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She looked confused, shocked even and I realised my faux pas.  I looked in the book and read the first line of the book: Maman died today.  Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.  

She smiled and said something like oh, or that’s alright then.  Even though it had gone badly it became the routine, or perhaps because it had gone badly I tried to make it better the next day.  And the next.  I would read a few pages every day and tell her what Monsieur Mersault was up to.  

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The conversations I hoped the book would spark never came.  Her comments about the book were decisive, complete.  Her observations were beyond my understanding, I was never able to do any more than nod.  Never able to repost, or counter, or add.  I am still not sure what she meant by Camus being a moralist despite his simplification.

I admired how clever she was.  I admire how clever she is but being clever did not mean she did not do something very stupid.

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Ten Years Ago

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