Short story: “Harry”
I knew him only as Harry. We had never formally met. I only knew his name because Iâ€™d overheard someone call out his name. Harry was a loner; rarely did one see him with a companion. Today I was having my lunch on the riverbank. It was an escape from the office for a few precious moments.
Harry came wandering along the path muttering to himself. He stopped at a nearby bin searching for discarded drink containers.
â€œHe must be short of cash,â€ I thought. â€œI hope I never get that desperate.â€
â€œHello,â€ said Harry suddenly as he approached the bench where I was sitting. â€œIt is a beautiful day and I am so glad to be alive. Are you enjoying your lunch and the warming sunshine on your back?â€
I was in a slight state of shock and couldnâ€™t answer for a few seconds. The food in my mouth almost choked me in my astonishment. Harryâ€™s voice was deep and clear, like one suited for radio announcing or television news reading. I nodded. As I finished chewing my food I observed the raggedly dressed man who had now seated himself alongside me. His coat was torn, grubby and far too big for his slight, angular body. His shoulder length hair straggled out over the ragged collar. The dirty t-shirt hung loosely from the patched up jeans that were somehow held in place by a length of rope. The tattered sneakers appeared about two sizes too big. They had flopped along as he had approached my seat.
â€œYou must be escaping from the jungle they call an office.â€
â€œHow can you tell?â€ I asked.
â€œIt is quite obvious, my dear friend. You keep looking at your watch, and you have that look on your face as if the boss still has you on a leash.â€ He chuckled.
â€œItâ€™s not funny,â€ I retorted, piqued by his sarcastic laughter.
â€œSorry, I didnâ€™t mean to be disrespectful.â€ He sat musing for a few moments. â€œItâ€™s just that you could have been me a dozen years ago. Until.â€
â€œUntil what?â€ I asked as my curiosity began to be aroused by this enigma alongside of me. â€œWhat happened to you?â€
â€œI had a breakdown,â€ he said simply. â€œI could no longer cope with the pressure to perform. I spent over six months recovering. I hardly spoke to anyone, I hardly did a thing, I often did not getâ€¦ could not get out of bed for days. I lost my job. I lost my family. I lost my house. I basically lost everything except my clothes and a small investment.â€
â€œWhere do you live?â€
â€œI had just enough money to buy a small river shack near here. I made it quite cosy. I donâ€™t really need much. It isnâ€™t the grandiose mansion I once dreamed of but it is my castle. I have a little vegetable patch and a few fruit trees. All in all I have a wonderful lifestyle. I am totally free to enjoy wonderful days like this.â€ He smiled contentedly.
I offered him my second roll. I suddenly didnâ€™t feel so hungry.
â€œThankyou.â€ His deep blues eyes sparkled as he looked at me.
I turned and watched the ducks gliding past. An egret stalked his lunch in the shallows. Two pelicans ponderously flew downstream. A honeyeater called somewhere in the trees above. Turtledoves cooed softly from some nearby bushes.
I turned back to speak to old Harry.
He had silently slipped away.
The knot in my stomach seemed to tighten and the leash had become a noose.
All rights reserved.
Copyright 2007 Trevor W. Hampel.
This story was first published in “The Write Angle” May 2006.
I would appreciate readers’ comments and responses after reading this story.