This story was originally published in Proem Vol. 2 (2020), available in print only.
At dusk, the old man jogs slowly to a halt. He’s been jogging an hour. Three laps around the park. He’s slow. Many young walkers overtake him. But those young ’uns tire after one lap. Then they climb on their motor-bikes to ride 500m home. Other young people have come, not to walk. At dusk, when he jogs to a halt, all he wants is an empty bench to stretch his legs a bit. He’s been jogging three laps a day, every day, for forty years. Now, after a run, his knees throb slightly sore. Sometimes he walks around the whole park again, a fourth unplanned lap, without finding an empty bench.
At dusk the lovers claim the park-benches. They all bring books. The books sit between them on the bench.
The shier lovers sit on the grass, a little way in from the jogging-path. The shier lovers are time-pressed. Their books lie before them. Their sweet nothings are exchanged between turning the pages.
He doesn’t grudge them the benches. He enjoys their music. The woodwinds section of evening’s orchestra. In the soprano section the cuckoo’s still calling for a mate. Down in the brasses, the warblers are still quarreling for territory. At the head of the rhythm section, the watcher-crow is sounding evening azaan. Punctually, his friends gather. Each alighting on the electric wire with a single caw. Present, sir.
What he minds is the lovers walking along, at snail’s pace. Forbidden to hold hands, afraid for a friend to see them walking too close together – the lovers walk sprawled across the jogging-track. He weaves past them, sometimes missing them by an inch.
What he minds is the lack of room for lovers to do their lovering. He cannot imagine lacking room to do his jogging. How can they stand it?